There must be zero tolerance for hate speech, which is increasingly present on the internet and in political discourse, FRA Communication and Outreach Department Head Friso Roscam Abbing said at a hearing of the European Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) to discuss antisemitism, Islamophobia and hate speech on 29 June.
It is not just explicit manifestations of prejudice that constitute hate speech, but also more subtle expressions of bias and discrimination that convey messages of hate, he said in his remarks, adding that the EU needs to work harder to achieve open and inclusive societies. To help realise this aim, FRA is stepping up its awareness-raising efforts, as human rights education and a sense of civic responsibility are vital to ensure that everyone in the EU knows their rights and responsibilities, and understands the principles of fundamental rights.
"The flip side to hate and intolerance is respect and inclusion, and these are the key to developing a cohesive society based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. But there are many people in the EU who experience exclusion and prejudice on an everyday basis," he said.
For example, FRA’s 2008 Minorities and Discrimination Survey of 23,500 people with a minority background found that 40% of Muslim respondents stopped by the police believed this was specifically due to their minority or immigrant status. Such discrimination excludes young people who have more often than not been born in the EU, have grown up and gone to school here, rather than recognising and rewarding talent, skill and experience, regardless of religion or ethnic origin.
According to European Network Against Racism Chair Sarah Isal, “generalist approaches” won’t work, so while there can be an overarching strategy to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia in the EU, they must take all the specificities into account. Her calls for specific policy goals in Member States for combating these phenomena were echoed by MEPs, who said concrete proposals were needed, as well as clear leadership from national leaders to say that violence or hatred against any group is unacceptable.
In closing the hearing, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans talked about the need for civic education to stem hate speech on the internet and elsewhere, and called for use to be made of FRA’s experience in collecting promising practices from around the EU.
Also taking part in the debate were Robin Sclafani, Director of CEJI - A Jewish Contribution to an inclusive Europe, Jonathan Biermann, Deputy Mayor of Uccle in Belgium, Haras Rafiq, Managing Director of the Quilliam Foundation in the UK, Intissar Kherigi, Chair of the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations, Paul Iganski of Lancaster University, and Katalin Adamis-Császár, Legal Advisor at Milieu Law & Policy Consulting.