Fears of Islamophobia renewed in Poland after attack on Muslim Centre

Attack took place amidst deepening Islamophobia in Poland

News Desk December 07, 2017
Some Polish people offered sympathy after the attack on the centre in Warsaw PHOTO: Muslim cultural centre

On Friday, November 27, two men destroyed the Muslim Cultural Centre in Warsaw, Poland, breaking its windows with stones and pieces of concrete, Al Jazeera reported.

The attack took place amidst deepening Islamophobia in Poland, even though Muslims comprise just 0.1 per cent of the population. CCTV footage from the night confirmed the incident, however, the attackers have yet to be confirmed.

"I hope that the perpetrators will be caught soon", said Mariusz Blaszczak, Minister of Interior, Poland. So far, the men have not been named.

"This was not the first attack against our centre," said Anna Lukjanowicz, a Polish convert to Islam who works at the institute, citing three previous attacks. In October, a masked man threw a bottle against the front door of the centre leaving visible marks.

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"Recent events are part of a politically fuelled, unpleasant atmosphere of xenophobia and racism in Poland," she told Al Jazeera. "Because of the verbal and physical attacks against not only Muslims, but also people who 'look like Muslims' - that is people with a darker skin, and the attack against the Muslim Culture Centre, Muslims living in Poland are losing the sense of security."

Earlier this year, employees of the centre wrote to Polish officials, including the president, prime minister (PM), both chambers of parliament and all parliamentary parties, expressing concern over "biased media coverage of Islam and its followers" as well as "consolidation of anti-Muslim attitudes" in political debate.

According to authors, these could lead to the increase in xenophobia and violence against Muslims. In, 2016, police figures revealed the second highest number of hate crime incidents after 2015, with 765 reported cases of violence. In 2014, police recorded 262 incidents.

Since 2015, the number of attacks against Muslims rose from 192 to 362, followed by attacks against Jews and Roma people. The letter generated little response. In the only reply, despite of evidence to contrary, office of Senate said "physical attacks against the centre were unlikely".

"Facts from the Polish tradition and history show that Christian Orthodox people, Protestants, Jews, Tatars, Ukrainians and Belarusians lived in peace with Poles in our country, making a great contribution to its development," the response read.

"Apart from reporting on worrying events, which take place in some countries of Western Europe, we have not noticed any references towards the Muslim community, which has been living in Poland for years, that would be worth condemning".

Anna Tatar from anti-racist 'Never Again Association' believes the political narrative in response to refugee crisis has contributed to increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in Poland. The Association has been monitoring hate crime incidents in Poland since last two decades.

"The main reason for this change is the way the Polish debate about the humanitarian crisis and the possible acceptance of refugees was conducted. This is a problem which does not concern Poland at all because there are almost no refugees here, but the hysterical way in which the issue was discussed, used and manipulated for political ends has contributed to the increase in violence," Tatar said.

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"There are a number of examples of statements made by representatives of the authorities, which show that they do not want to see the problem or that they neglect it. For example, at the recent 'Independence March', a number of openly racist banners were present. Yet, there was virtually no explicit condemnation of the events," she said, an opinion shared by the wider Muslim community.

"Public media and nationalist internet sites discriminate against Islam and Muslims and manipulate the public opinion, trying to convince Poles that Islam is a religion of violence, terror, that it is primitive," said Imam Youssef Hadid, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Muslim League in Poland.

A study by Center for Research on Prejudice published in 2015 showed that although 80 per cent Poles do not know any Muslims, two-thirds declare they would feel uncomfortable in their presence.

This story originally appeared on Al Jazeera.


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