For nearly two weeks beginning on September 23, hundreds of government representatives, international experts, non-governmental organizations, and activists arrived in Warsaw, Poland to attend the annual Human Dimension and Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting, which has been described as “Europe’s largest human rights conference” is organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In the past, members of the organized Islamophobia movement have attended the HDIM to distribute their anti-Muslim message and work to influence policy. This year’s meeting was no exception.
Over the years, the Islamophobia movement’s OSCE-related activities have largely been organized by the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) – a Virginia-based organization that coordinates the efforts of an international network of many of the Islamophobia movement’s most prominent organizations and individuals. At this year’s HDIM meeting, ICLA members and colleagues presented a paper titled, “The Problematic Definition of ‘Islamophobia.’” The paper asserts that because the term “Islamophobia” is supposedly poorly defined, it should not be used “as it destroys clarity and hampers mutual understanding.”
The reality is that the term does have a definition. Islamophobia is “a hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, especially when feared as a political force,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. In obfuscating or even outright ignoring this definition, the ICLA and others within the organized Islamophobia movement are actually the ones destroying clarity and hindering mutual understanding. In doing so, those presenting the ICLA paper or endorsing it are hoping that by challenging the most basic foundations of the conversation, they can further hide from the fact that they are acting upon deep-seated bigotries and anti-Muslim prejudices. Representatives from the ICLA and its colleagues present at the HDIM include the following:
- Christopher Knowles, ICLA Director and European Coordinator, was also involved in founding the English Defence League
- Ned May, former Director of ICLA when it was still known as the Center for Vigilant Freedom and founder of the anti-Islam blog Gates of Vienna
- Jean-Michel Clément (aka Alain Wagner), founder of L’Alliance or Alliance to Stop Sharia, and the website Vérité, Valeurs et Démocratie which campaigns against the construction of mosques in France
- Stephen Coughlin, a senior fellow at Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy
- Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, representing the anti-Muslim think tank Bürgerbewegung Pax Europa. Sabaditsch-Wolff also leads ACT! for America’s international chapter based in Austria.
- Valerie Price, founder of ACT! for Canada, an affiliate of ACT! for America. Price and her organization have organized recent events for anti-Islam activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in Canada.
- Dave Petteys, ACT! for America based in Colorado
ICLA’s leadership also overlaps with Islamophobia’s other primary umbrella organization, the International Free Press Society (IFPS).
Back in America, anti-Muslim activists like Frank Gaffney paid close attention to the ICLA and its associates’ efforts during the HDIM. Gaffney dedicated the entirety of his September 26 radio program to the topic of “Confronting the Dangers of Radical Islam in Europe.” Stephen Coughlin, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, and Ned May were all guests on the program, calling in from Warsaw.
By no coincidence, Warsaw was also the site of the seventh annual Counterjihad Conference where anti-Muslim activists representing twelve countries gathered to discuss the supposed problems that Islam and Muslims are perceived to pose to European society and elsewhere. While there was some overlap in participation with the HDIM and Counterjihad Conference, not all participants were present at both events. However, the ultimate goals of each event remain the same: defend and maintain the ability to demonize Muslims and the religion of Islam without facing the criticism and opposition one would receive if such animosity targeted other groups.
The motivations behind anti-Muslim sentiment are no different than those that fuel other strains of bigotry such as anti-Semitism, racism, or sexism. Self-professed “human rights activists” such as the ICLA and others in the organized Islamophobia movement must not be given power to control the global conversation on human rights as a means to advance a discriminatory agenda and further entrench division in our society.