In European societies, increasingly reshaped by migration, the fight against racism and xenophobia is a key challenge for democracy and civil life. Despite anti-discrimination legislation that is in force in EU Member States, there is still a fundamental problem in identifying different forms of racism and xenophobia. These may consist of physical attacks against people or of verbal abuse through hate speech, that is, ‘racial’ and xenophobic discourses “which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin” (Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation 97(20).
A hate crime is never an isolated act; it is usually triggered and fostered by hate speech, consisting of discourses that express disdain, hatred, prejudice, etc. Such discourses are performed not only in direct face-to-face communication through public and private conversations, but they also take place online, in political discussions, in the media, as well as in other institutional contexts. Hate crimes may also follow from hate-oriented communication practices based on other communication levels, such as voice, body language and images. Finally, racist discourse often does not simply consist in explicit hatred, prejudice and disdain, but it may also take the form of an apparently benevolent recognition of the differences that presupposes a stereotypisation of an individual’s cultural and social identity. In this case, what may seem like a respectful recognition of differences masks underlying stereotypes and prejudices that ultimately become labels and stigmas for the individuals.
Furthermore, it has become increasingly difficult for judges, the police, politicians and the public to identify whether a physical offence is triggered by xenophobia, because it has to be interpreted within the context in which it has taken place. For this reason, it is often the case that ‘racial’ hate crimes are not recognised as such, which leads to an underestimation of the phenomenon. Treating crimes that are motivated by ‘racial’ hatred as non-‘racial’ crimes leads to the violation of fundamental human rights. It is therefore essential that law enforcing and legal authorities, along with journalists and politicians, have tools for correctly identifying the motivation that underlies such criminal acts.
The project sets out to address two different needs:
- to provide tools to distinguish between non-‘racial’ and ‘racial’ physical violence. Indeed, it is difficult to identify when there is a ‘racial’ motivation behind a physical offence, because it has to be interpreted within the context in which it has happened.
- to define tangible criteria for identifying non-physical, ‘racially’-marked offences, based on verbal, paraverbal, non-verbal and visual communication practices in written, spoken, as well as interactional discourses.
The main objectives of the project are:
- comparing existing legislation in the different partner countries as well as relevant academic and non-academic studies
- identifying specific communication practices through words, voice, body language and visual elements in mass media and social network debates about hate speech and hate communication
- understanding the mechanism of hate-oriented communication practices in their communicative techniques, procedures and strategies
- working out a face-to-face and online training concept to provide concrete tools for recognising such communication practices and contributing to prevent hate crimes
- elaborating good practices, recommendations and tangible tools for the legal and police sectors