In November 2015, as Europeans were grappling with the shock of the Islamist terror attacks in the French capital Paris, the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, published a cartoon in response to the events. It showed a group of people, most of them clearly Muslims – as indicated by the men’s beards and the veiled women – crossing the border of the European Union. A sign advertised the EU’s open borders and the free movement of people. At the people’s feet were rats jumping the border line in the shadow of the immigrants. The cartoon provoked outraged reactions, as it was undoubtedly meant to: it had connected the influx of hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern war refugees into Europe that summer with a rising terrorist threat, and it had equated some of those border crossers to rodents. Perhaps the artist directed that comparison only at violent extremists, perhaps he did not. Either way, the cartoon’s appearance fit into a disturbing pattern. That April, controversial British columnist Katie Hopkins had published a particularly extreme opinion piece in the Sun tabloid on the topic of migrants. Parts of it read:
I come from an apple of a country. A country that is beautiful and picturesque, but the core is completely rotten and worm-ridden. The mountains are high, bare and offer a view to die for while the forests are bursting with life and diversity. The system, on the other hand, is broken and stuffed with people who don’t really care what, who or where [insert any verb], as long as they can secure a seat (any seat) in the next term. It’s like a fun game of musical chairs only that this one is ruining the country.