Call to reinstate We CAN for Human Rights Speech awareness raising activity against anti-Muslim hate speech

OPEN LETTER

Reference: NHSN-2021-OP1         24 November 2021

Addressed to: Ms. Marija Pejčinović Burić
            Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Dear Secretary General,

The No Hate Speech Network would like to draw your attention to the warning signs of anti-Muslim hatred involving the Council of Europe and Muslim people.

We are specifically referring to the tweets controversy that took place in the beginning of November, connected with the awareness raising activity against anti-Muslim hate speech under the “We CAN for Human Rights Speech” project. The activity has been the target of political hatered and manipulation by a group of French politicians who misused it for islamophobic propaganda connected to their political campaign for the next presidential elections in France.

They spread islamophobic hate speech against Muslims and accusations towards the Council of Europe of being a supporter of islam and pro-hijab.

The awareness raising activity, coordinated by the CoE Anti-Discrimination department and designed together with activists from different organizations, was ment to counter hate speech against Muslims, break stereotypes, and support the freedom of choice on how to dress and the self determination of women.

Unfortunately, a group of French politicians promoted hateful rhetoric towards it, which made the awareness raising activity the target of a storm of hate speech. As a reaction, the Council of Europe decided to take down the tweets and delete the full materials from the project page, stating that it doesn’t reflect the position of the CoE, but of the people involved in the workshop, leaving Muslim Youth standing alone as the potential targets of hate speech.

We are activists combating and countering hate speech, coming from the experience of the No Hate Speech Movement, having established good and long term cooperation with the different departments of the Council of Europe. We are also young people who believe in the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and we do want to express our concerns that what happened is a warning sign that the CoE has started to drift away from core Human Right values and its mandate to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.

The hate wave against this specific awareness raising activity shows how islamophobia is rooted in the public discourse and is a real problem in European societies. This case, in our opinion, is a clear political 

manipulation that incite the French society against Muslim people and Muslim women in particular, who are not recognized as equal persons, able to choose who they want to be and entitled to live out their freedom of religion.

Across the world women are often expected to dress according to standards they won’t choose. But the idea that all Muslim women only wear hijab by force goes against the recognition of their right to self-deteremination. We recognize that there are cases where women have no real choice and are forced to dress in certain ways, and we emphasize that  no woman should be told how to dress or not to dress, for any reason, including religious ones.

The reactions to this awareness raising activity is nothing more but clear confirmation of this pattern.  Muslims in our network often express the barriers they face in society due to personal,  religious and/or spiritual choices in different countries. We recognise it as an important issue, that is important to address and explain better, instead of taking all messages and visuals off.

Therefore, we do think, that the decision to take down the awareness raising activity because of this political attack goes against the values the CoE always has promoted, against all the recommendations on how to react to hate speech and hate storms that we developed together during the 5 years of the No Hate Speech Movement Campaign and through the current joint work we share among the No Hate Speech Network and the different departments of CoE.

We firmly believe that the reactions of French politicians is clear manipulations for political campaign reasons, fueling hate against Muslim people and giving a wrong and dangerous example to French society.

We firmly believe that Muslim activists and organizations involved in promoting human rights are under unjustifiable attack and that the CoE therefore must take a stand in solidarity with them and with all the potential targets of human rights violations.

We ask Council of Europe to reinstate the project and restore immediately the awareness raising activities under the We CAN for Human Rights Speech project, including those related to specific types of hate speech, such as anti-Semitic, anti-sexist, etc. The message that we as civil society representatives and activists perceive by not reinstating and restoring the awareness raising activities, is that there are no safe spaces for human rights based civil society organizations and initiatives, not even in the Council of Europe.

We cannot allow political hatred to keep us from upholding the fundamental Human Rights stands at the core of our European societies, we must not accept manipulations that attempt to undermine the values that inspire and guide our joint work against hate speech and for human rights: that is what a Human Rights institution should stand for.

We always stand in solidarity with the victims, there is no plan b. The Muslim people now are targets of hate speech, and we ask CoE to show clear and loud that we are all standing for the same values!

We thank you for your attention and remain at your disposal for any further dialogue.

Yours sincerely,

The No Hate Speech Network 

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