The European Union has appointed a new anti-“Islamophobia” coordinator after Muslim rights activists complained that the EU was “downgrading Muslim concerns” by leaving the position vacant for more than a year. Islamist groups in Europe have long sought to exert control over the politically sensitive position to expand the definition of “Islamophobia,” presumably to restrict free and fair discussion about Islam. Observers warn that they are now a step closer to achieving their objectives.
Marion Lalisse, a French national and an EU civil servant with diplomatic experience in Mauritania, Morocco, and Yemen, will fill the post, formally known as the Coordinator for Combating Anti-Muslim Hatred. Her job will be to will be “work with EU member states, European institutions, non-governmental organizations and academia to strengthen policy responses in the field of anti-Muslim hatred,” according to an EU statement.
Lalisse, an Arabist with a low public profile, will report to the EU’s Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, who said that the coordinator will be responsible for monitoring and tackling “all instances of anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination.” Dalli — a left-leaning politician from Malta who issued guidelines prohibiting the use of terms related to Christianity, including “Christmas,” in official EU correspondence — added that the EU “must fight anti-Muslim hatred in all areas of life including education, employment and social policy.”
Lalisse’s job description and mandate as described in the EU statement is far more expansive than that of her predecessors, who were accused by activist groups of failing to achieve “tangible progress on [sic] the fight against Islamophobia across Europe.” The expanded mandate suggests that the EU has succumbed to pressure from Islamist groups to give the Islamophobia czar greater policymaking powers.
In July 2018, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and 20 other groups — known collectively as the European Coalition Against Islamophobia — published an open letter urging the European Commission, the EU’s powerful administrative arm, to “make important strategic changes” to “work meaningfully on the issue of Islamophobia as a form of racism.”
The letter criticized the EU’s “disappointing results to date” and included a series of recommendations, including giving Muslim communities and anti-racism NGOs far more “meaningful participation” in formulating policy. The letter also insisted that the coordinator should be a Muslim.
The letter was signed by an array of Islamist groups, many with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, including the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF). Other signatories included CAGE, a UK-based group that has defended jihadists, and ENAR, a Brussels-based group funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, which have commissioned numerous reports about “Islamophobia” in Europe. In 2015, ENAR’s director, Michaël Privot, a Belgian convert to Islam, revealed that he was a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
French academic Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, said that the Brotherhood had “dictated” the job description of the coordinator on anti-Muslim hate and warned that Lalisse’s appointment “favors the Brotherhood’s strategy of penetrating EU institutions, universities and civil society.” Djemila Benhabib, a Canadian author who lives in Brussels, agreed. She noted that the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy is to force the European Union “to normalize the victimhood discourse of Muslims in the West,” thereby “removing responsibility from Muslims” and “making the West feel guilty.”
The EU established the anti-Muslim hate coordinator position in December 2015 together with a similar post to combat anti-Semitism. (The EU does not have a coordinator to combat anti-Christian hate.) The positions resulted from the First Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights (basic rights that belong to everyone) held in October 2015. The EU created a third position, Coordinator for Combatting Racism, in July 2021. Each of the three positions has an annual budget of €180,000 a year.
Muslim rights groups have long complained that the anti-Semitism and racism positions have received supplemental funds to hire staff members while the anti-Muslim hate position has not. “The appointment of one dedicated person does not replace strong political will, actions and effective policies,” the European Coalition Against Islamophobia wrote in the June 2018 open letter.
The anti-Muslim hate position has been vacant since July 2021, when the previous coordinator resigned for reasons that have never been fully explained. Since then, leftwing pan-European publications, including the EUobserver and Euractiv, a Brussels-based news agency funded by the Open Society Foundations, have operated a relentless media campaign focused on pressuring the EU to fill the position.
Muslim activist groups have accused the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, of deliberately leaving the position unfilled. In June 2022, for instance, more than 40 NGOs signed a joint declaration to express their “concerns” at the EU’s “denial of Islamophobia.”
The French government, which held the rotating EU presidency during the first half of 2022, denied that it was ignoring Muslim concerns, but European media outlets reported that at the European Council summit in March 2022, EU leaders dropped references in its final summit statement to the importance of the coordinator on anti-Muslim hatred after Poland said if that was to be in the text, then it wanted a special coordinator on Christianophobia in Europe as well.
The EU’s naming of a new “Islamophobia” czar comes on the heels of the appointment of Amira Elghawaby to a similar position in Canada in late January. She has since been called on to resign because of anti-Quebec statements made in 2019.
Soeren Kern is a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow.