Muslim community weighs charges against Okamura over anti-Muslim statements

Tomio Okamura, photo: Filip Jandourek

The leader of the populist Dawn Party Tomio Okamura has found himself at the centre of a scandal, endorsing a highly questionable text by his deputy on his Facebook page. In it, he suggested Czechs should shun Muslim-owned businesses or should provoke Muslims by walking pigs in the vicinity of mosques. At first, part of the community shrugged off the rhetoric; now though, representatives are considering filing charges for hate speech.

Tomio Okamura,  photo: Filip Jandourek
In the past, politician Tomio Okamura, of Czech-Japanese descent, used to describe in interviews how he suffered discrimination in both former Czechoslovakia and Japan. If he suffered, by appearances it didn’t make him particularly sensitive to difficulties faced by other minorities. Since moving into politics from the field of tourism, he has taken aim at the Roma and now at the country’s tiny Muslim population.

Regarding Muslims in the Czech Republic, just days ago Mr Okamura endorsed a text calling on ordinary Czechs to boycott Muslim-owned businesses - including kebab stands - as a means of blocking the so-called spread of the burqa. He went to pains to say he would have opted for different language than his deputy, but made clear he otherwise wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment expressed. Here’s what he told Czech TV:

“In principal, the text is in line with Dawn’s programme. If it was written by me, I would have left out the bits about pigs and kebabs.”

It didn’t take long for the text to cause a stir, inviting agreement from some, ridicule from others not least on the social networks, and disagreement from within his party: Dawn MP Milan Šarapatka, a former ambassador who lived for 15 years in Muslim countries, criticised the statements as a gross oversimplification.

“For me it is unacceptable and it invites hatred a priori and with my experience in Muslim countries I can’t accept it. I told Mr Okamura my view and I think he is making light of the situation… He said the ideas weren’t his, which is true, but he fully endorsed them as the head of a parliamentary party.”

Photo: ICRC,  CC BY-SA 2.0
Mr Šarapatka denied the rhetoric was in line with the party programme, although Dawn has always promised a tough stance on foreigners who fail to assimilate. The Muslim community, meanwhile, initially made light of some of the rhetoric:

Mohammed Abbas, the head of one Muslim association, told Czech website iDnes anyone was welcome to walk their pigs and dogs even outside of mosques and that should Mr Okamura himself show up, he would be warmly welcomed too for tea and a kebab. Since, other representatives, from the Association of Czech Muslim Communities, are considering a different approach: potentially filing charges against Mr Okamura for hate speech.