'Islam Online' Distorts Facts While Raising Alarm about Bulgarian Muslims

Society | June 18, 2011, Saturday // 17:38|  views

Pictured: the violent incident on May 20, 2011, in Sofia in which far-right activists of the Ataka party (left) assaulted praying Muslims at the Sofia mosque (right) has shocked Bulgaria, while also hurting Bulgaria's image as a tolerant country with Musl

In a report about recent incidents with Bulgarian Muslims, Islamonline.net, a global website for Islamic news, society, and culture, has also published incorrect information, and has copied an article of Novinite.com without acknowledging its source.

The report entitled "Muslims Suffer Violent Attacks in Bulgaria" published by Islamonline.net on June 17, 2011, informs about the incident on May 20, 2011, in which activists of the Bulgarian nationalist party Ataka assaulted praying Muslims in downtown Sofia during a protest rally against the loudspeakers of the Banya Bashi mosque.

The incident, which shocked Bulgaria leading to a massive condemnation of the extremists who committed it, was covered extensively by the largest Bulgarian English-language media Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency).

According to the report of Islamonline, however, which sees the incident in Sofia as one of "many episodes of ethnic cleansing by the crusaders and later by the Communists in Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece" the nationalists from the Ataka party were protesting "against the Muslim community in the country."

The denouncable nature of the recent incident in Sofia aside, such a statement is indeed far from the facts as even Ataka party leader Volen Siderov himself, and even far more extreme nationalists have always publicly acknowledged that a number of ethnic Bulgarians and Bulgarian citizens are Muslims, and see them as part of the Bulgarian nation.

The report further states that the violence erupted after "an Ataka activist tried to play patriotic music on the loudspeakers of the mosque" - another deviation from facts as the Ataka activists were actually playing "patriotic music" on speakers that they brought with them trying to silence the loudspeakers of the mosque; technically, there was no way Ataka activists would have access to the loudspeakers of the mosque.

Islamonline further states that the Bulgarian Muslims have "grave concerns that the Muslim community could be deprived of their constitutional rights of religious expression if the extremist Ataka party's leader takes power in the upcoming election", omitting several technicalities – that the next elections in Bulgaria are presidential and local, and not general elections in which a part can "come to power", or that the Ataka party itself has about 2%-3% electoral support, according to latest polls.

The report of Islamonline.net also talks about the reactions of the Bulgarian Chief Mufti's Office to incidents with Muslims. In this section, Islamonline.net copies in its entirety an article published by Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) on June 13, 2011, entitled "Muslims Say Bulgaria Plagued with Islamophobia, Vow to Defend Themselves", without any citation or acknowledgement of the source whatsoever.

The Editorial Staff of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) hereby expresses its protest against the unacknowledged copying of its stories and against interpreting them out of their original context.

The report of Islamonline shily omits, however, the brief description provided by Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) of the Bulgarian Muslim community: "The Muslim community in Bulgaria can be perceived as rather diverse as it consists of indigenous Muslims - ethnic Bulgarian Muslims (also known as Pomaks) and ethnic Turks – as well as immigrants from the Arab countries and Iran."

The report of Islamonline distorts facts by presenting the ethnic Bulgarian Muslims also known as Pomaks as a separate ethnic group, apparently mixing national and religious affiliations.

In its description of the Bulgarian Muslims, or Pomaks, as "the main Muslim ethnic group in Bulgaria", the report of Islamonline fails to acknowledge that the Bulgarian Muslims community also consists of ethnic Turks as well as a number of ethnic Arab expats. While precise statistics about how many ethnic Bulgarians, Turks, Arabs, or Iranians are Muslims in Bulgaria are hardly available, an example in hand is a recent estimate that only the ethnic Arab Bulgarian citizens eligible to vote are about 15 000.

While describing some of the measures designed to assimilate the Muslims in Bulgaria during the communist period, the report of Islamonline omits to explain that they were part of an assimilation campaign of the Bulgarian Communist Party and the communist dictator known as the Revival Process – a campaign widely denounced in Bulgaria ever since the communist regime collapsed in 1989. Blurring different and merging different periods in Bulgaria's history, the report appears not to differentiate between them and claims that the measures of the notorious Revival Process refer to all of them.

While the state of religious freedom and religious tolerance – for which Bulgaria is traditionally known – in a certain country should always be a matter of concern and should always be defended by the civil society of a democratic country on a local and global level, it should also be covered and reported fairly and true to the facts. Any deviations from the objective facts - such as the ones that can be found in the report of Islamonline, for whatever reasons, willing or unwilling, actually defeat the purpose of defending such high values.

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Tags: Bulgarian Muslims, muslims, Chief Mufti, Chief Mufti's Office, Islam, Islamophobia, Ataka, far-right, nationalists, Sofia Mosque, Banya Bashi, Arabs, Arab, ethnic Turks, ethnic Turkish


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