New head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell against Islamophobia: “Islam did not arrive in a rubber boat: it is part of the European culture”

Borrell (r) holding a press conference with Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Madrid. © Salam Plan
The acting Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, will become the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy next Novembre. In his new job as head of European diplomacy, Borrell will also deal with issues including the common European defense and migration from outside the EU.

While being Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, the socialist politician has expressed on more than one occasion his interest in tackling hatred and prejudice against Muslims, be it the 25 million Europeans who, it is estimated, follow this religion, or foreigners. There are two key statements he has made in this regard this year, which offer a hint to what his approach might be in regard to Islamophobia as the new head of European diplomacy:

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1. “Islam did not arrived in a rubber boat (…). It is part of European culture,” he said at the opening of a series of conferences entitled “Dialogue on open societies”, promoted by his Ministry in Casa Árabe, a Spanish public institution whose missions include the fight against Islamophobia.

The minister underlined that day, on January 14 of this year, that Spain is the part of Europe where Islam has been most lasting and remains “alive in language, in architecture, in Spanish demography.” In Spain, Muslims make up 4% of the population, with about 2 million Muslims and 43% of these being Spanish.

For Borrell, it is the presence of more than seven centuries of Islam in Spain that grants its country part of its character of “exceptionality” that is adduced in Europe. He stressed: “We must integrate the Islamic factor in an appropiate measure. Yes, there is an Arab [and Muslim] pillar in the European culture.”

Borrell said in that conference as well that “in the face of closed and xenophobic visions, we must bet on an open society” and regretted that in Spain “there are emerging parties that want Muslims to be considered enemies who must be expelled from the country.”

2. “We are studying – because it seems reasonable to us [the Spanish Administration]- that Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, is considered a manifestation of hatred towards other human beings and receives the same kind of condemnation.”

This was Borrell’s response to Salam Plan in a press conference, when this website asked him about the possible specific classification of Islamophobia in the Spanish Penal Code or the separate registration of Islamophobic hate crimes in the statistics, in line with what United Nations and international experts ask for. It was during a press conference offered by the Spanish Foreign Minister after meeting with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in Madrid last March.

Together we have to share a fight against the messages of xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism … in general against hate messages. Join our struggles against terrorism and extremism, common enemy, “he had previously declared.

The need to legally reflect Islamophobia separately is clear to both the UN and the OSCE or the editors of the European Report on Islamophobia. “It would be necessary to know in how many cases have been prosecuted hate crimes against the Muslim community [to] know the seriousness and extent of this problem,” UN special rapporteur on the rights of minorities, Fernand de Varennes, explained after visiting Spain in January.

The breakdown by ethnic and religious groups in statistics of hate crimes for him is “indispensable”. The rapporteur, did not want to give an opinion on the need or not to penalize specifically Islamophobia in the Spanish law on that date, as he recognized he needed to study the Spanish situation more in depth before drawing a conclusion on that respect.

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