Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Why are Polish people so wrong about Muslims in their country?

The exaggeration of the size of the Muslim community in Poland is tied with political changes in the country in the last couple of years and increasingly divisive nationalistic rhetoric around the imagined presence of Muslims in the country. The 2015 elections won by the right-wing Law and Justice party opened up a space in Parliament to members of the far right National Movement.
Politicians have frequently invoked Islamophobic rhetoric, empowering far-right groups and contributing to a climate where not only Islamophobia, but also anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and other expressions of hate seem permissible. This in turn empowered far-right groups that organised several anti-refugee and anti-Muslim demonstrations in 2015 in cities that are home to Muslim minorities such as Białystok. Wrocław, Gdańsk and Kraków.
While Muslims were previously disliked as an ‘external enemy’ and usually mentioned in the context of terrorist attacks abroad or through the Polish involvement in military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the figure of the Muslim as a dangerous Other slowly transformed to an ‘internal enemy’ who was supposedly posing a threat to Poland.
The refugee crisis helped in cementing views that Muslims were taking over Europe. It mattered less that this was predominantly an imaginary threat as the substantial inflow of migrants and refugees to Poland has not taken place. The new Polish government has been particularly reluctant in opening its borders to refugees and as such, Poland did not experience a ‘migration crisis’ and was never even a transit country for refugees.
And yet Poles believed in the divisive rhetoric of many of its leaders about an imagined inflow of Muslims. Why? The media bombardment of stories about a Muslim invasion certainly fueled some of the misconceptions. Several conservative mainstream Polish news outlets in Poland published front cover images depicting Poland being ‘flooded’ by Muslims, for example carrying bombs, and drawing parallels to a famous image of Nazi invasion of Poland in the 1930s, with Muslims now being portrayed as German soldiers.
In contrast to other European countries where Islamophobia is on the rise, Poland’s minorities are too small a group to challenge these false ideas. Instead, they have painfully felt the country’s’ increasing hostility towards all forms of Otherness. Our research on Islamophobia in Poland has confirmed that there has been an unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim sentiments resulting in attacks on individuals, mosques and places of business such as kebab shops(for a detailed chronological review of recent attacks see the European Islamophobia Report 2015 and the forthcoming 2016 report).
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