Muslims are increasingly becoming victims of violence in Poland1. Since 2000, the number of cases of religiously and ethnically motivated crime in Poland has risen more than tenfold. In 2015, the prosecution service carried out a record number of 1500 inquiries into this kind of crime. Moreover, in the first six months of 2016, 863 inquiries on hatemotivated crimes were launched across the country (this is 69 more inquiries than in the first half of 2015, an increase of 13%). In recent years, there has been a notable increase in acts of violence against a new target – Muslims, or persons identified as such by the perpetrators. In 2016, this was the case in as many as 250 inquiries, which made up almost 30% of all cases motivated by racism or xenophobia. In particular, there were numerous online publications reported to the prosecution service, the authors of which wrote about refugees by calling them “wogs”, “disease-spreaders”, or called for “the re-kindling of the ovens in Auschwitz”.
According to opinion polls, most Poles mainly come into contact with Muslims via the media. As stated by CBOS, only 12% of respondents have had any personal contact with Muslims or residents of countries regarded by respondents as Muslim (these were mainly Arab countries in the Middle East or North Africa). It should therefore be highlighted that Arabs are among the ethnic groups most disliked by Poles. 67% of respondents declare their dislike of Arabs, which is an increase of 21 percentage points compared to a corresponding study from four years ago. As few as 8% of respondents felt friendly towards Arabs. Especially important in the context of the conclusions of this report is the rather high percentage (57%) of people expressing reluctance to accept refugees from Arab countries. The CBOS poll also points out the correlation between the attitude of Poles towards Muslims and events such as terrorist attacks in other countries (most recently in Brussels, Paris, Bardo in Tunisia and others), in the aftermath of which there is a notable increase in negative attitudes towards Muslims.
Researchers are increasingly pointing out the crucial role of the language of public communication in the process of shaping the image of representatives of ethnic and religious minorities. Radicalisation researchers Mabel Berezin and Melissa Williams show how radical content formulated by radical political groups, including content that is discriminatory towards minorities, is slowly seeping into the rhetoric of centrist groups.
The animalisation of the discourse on refugees in Europe can serve as an example here. On the one hand, we can point to remarks made by extreme right politicians such as Marine Le Pen, who described the migrant crisis as “bacterial immigration”, on the other there are remarks by centrist politicians. For example, David Cameron described Syrians arriving in Great Britain as a “swarm”. In his book, Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offence and its Threat to Democracy, Cherian George points to the mechanisms that consolidate patterns of branding, stigmatisation, distance, discrimination and violence through aggressive language. In his opinion, we are not only dealing with the popularisation of a particular kind of language here, but also with deliberately planned campaigns of slurs and insinuation, whose aim is to negatively mobilise voters and whose side-effect is an increase in prejudice against religious minorities.
“The level of prejudice, especially towards the Muslim community, is on the rise. Once every three to four days there are acts of aggression taking place in our country” – this is how Adam Bodnar, the Commissioner for Human Rights, began his meeting with representatives of the Muslim community in Poland on 21 June 20166. This report, prepared by the team from Kultura Liberalna’s Public Debate Observatory and commissioned by the Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office, is also pertinent to the discussion on the subject of branding, stigmatisation and discrimination of representatives of the Muslim community in Poland. The aim of our research was to recreate the linguistic image of representatives of this community. At the outset, we have adopted the hypothesis that this image is to a large extent impacted on by ideas about Muslim communities in other European states, as well as representations of refugees from the Middle East and Africa in both Polish and international media, specifically related to the migrant crisis, which reached its highest point in 2015-2016. We monitored seven selected press publications and four online portals over the period September 2015 to September 2016 in order to document and analyse examples of Muslims and their community being described negatively. We also considered the context in which references were made to the Muslim community in general, even if the words used were not of a negative or stigmatising nature. As well as this, we devoted a part of the report to analysing ways in which commentators representing different views on Islam and the migrant crisis communicate. We did this in the belief that the language of their dispute can in itself be a vehicle for social prejudice. The examples indicated allowed us to describe the important features of the fragment of the linguistic worldview we were
interested in, as preserved in the Polish press and on the internet. It should be understood that current socio-political events in Europe that have attracted so much attention in the media – including terrorist attacks and the ongoing refugee crisis – can cause social alarm. Nothing prevents this unease from being articulated. Varying suggestions on how to react to these events, e.g., by accepting and integrating refugees
or refusing to implement such policies, are also permitted. The same applies to the criticism of behaviour or views inherent to some representatives of Muslim communities. What is fundamental here, however, is the issue of the form, including its linguistic and visual aspect, of the ongoing dispute. The media can have a significant impact on increasing tolerance towards minority groups or integrating them into the majority group, or, conversely, they can serve to fuel the stigmatisation and discrimination of a minority.
This is also relevant for the Muslim community in Poland, both the historic Tatar community, which has resided in Poland for centuries, and the contemporary Muslim community, consisting of those who have recently arrived in Poland, either over the last few decades or as a result of the ongoing refugee crisis.
We hope that this analysis will encourage journalists and columnists to reflect upon how opinions about representatives of Muslim communities both in Poland and abroad should be formulated. Perhaps it will also make the media more sensitive to possible malpractice in this respect.