The European Parliament in Brussels recently hosted the second EU Anti-Racism Week from 20–22 March 2023. Amidst the lively conversations on racial equality in Europe, French center-right MEP François Xavier-Bellamy ignited a firestorm by questioning the motives and affiliations of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), one of the event’s co-hosts.
Shortly before the event, Bellamy released a Twitter video criticizing the EU Anti-Racism Week and ENAR, highlighting former ENAR Director Michaël Privot’s self-admitted affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. He also raised concerns about the significant funding ENAR has received from various European Commission departments since 2007.
According to Bellamy, ENAR could be considered more of a radical group with a divisive and ideological agenda rather than a true representative of the anti-racist movement in Europe. He accused ENAR of undermining European values and security by adopting the communication strategies of organizations part of political Islam and shifting the meaning of “racism” to fit their agenda. Bellamy’s claims struck a nerve, prompting ENAR to dismiss his accusations as baseless and Islamophobic and an example of those making “incorrect and irrelevant [sic] links to radical extremism.
As Bellamy’s video appeared to have been filmed on the premises of the European Parliament building in Brussels, ENAR also claimed this was “detrimental” to the image of the Parliament and ran counter to its code of conduct. However, the question remains: are Bellamy’s accusations justified, or are they merely a ploy to discredit and silence an organization that challenges racism and discrimination in Europe?
ENAR describes itself as the only pan-European anti-racism network combining advocacy for racial equality and facilitating cooperation among civil society anti-racism actors in Europe. It is comprised of 150 groups, primarily civil society organizations but also including several associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.
As Bellamy alleged, from 2010 until 2021, ENAR was led by its director Michaël PRIVOT, who in 2008 openly acknowledged that he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Privot also served in leading positions in several organizations tied to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, including as a board member of ENAR member the Forum of Muslim Youth Organizations in Europe (FEMYSO), the European Muslim youth organization founded by Ibrahim El-Zayat, essentially the leader of the German Muslim Brotherhood. Over the years, the FEMYSO leadership has been drawn from the families of influential European Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Defenders of these groups labeled these relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood as “guilt by association.” However, positions taken by ENAR on counterterrorism often overlap with those of Muslim Brotherhood groups worldwide, known for opposing almost all counterterrorism legislation proposed by governments. For example, it has demanded the EU refrain from using “vague and general labels such as Jihadism, Islamism, and political Islam,” arguing that their stigmatizing impact outweighed their analytical value. ENAR’s attempt to control the language used in counterterrorism efforts is especially telling as such language has been a constant battleground over the years, with Islamist groups attempting to prevent the using of these terms, clearly something they want to accomplish.
This is not the first time ENAR has tried to paint criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe as illegitimate and “racist”: In November 2021, it published a statement defending FEMYSO over accusations of extremist ties by members of the French government, accusing France of “silencing the voices that criticize its discriminatory policies” and saying it engaged in a “full-blown Islamophobic Witch Hunt by targeting racialized communities and organizations in Europe.”
ENAR also strongly supported its member, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), when it was dissolved in October 2020, A 2021 court hearing largely upheld the assessment of the French Interior Ministry, which affirmed that CCIF maintained “close links with supporters of radical Islamism inviting the evasion of certain laws of the Republic.” A Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) investigation revealed that the CCIF was an Islamist influence operation with ideological proximity and multiple personal relationships to organizations part of the European Muslim Brotherhood. In contrast, ENAR said the government’s action against CCIF was a “manifestation of structural racism targeting civil society” and accused French politicians of using inflammatory rhetoric fueling hatred and intolerance.
The debate ignited by Bellamy’s video exposes the tensions surrounding the EU Anti-Racism Week. While some view the event as a crucial platform for dialogue and cooperation, others regard it as a threat to European identity and security. The controversy also underscores the need for a transparent and open discussion about the affiliations and funding sources of organizations involved in the fight against racism and discrimination in Europe, despite their sometimes useful work.