VIENNA – A Muslim couple who received their little baby Asel only a few minutes into 2018 was greeted with a wave of racism, disgust, and hate, which was soon countered by love and support messages.
“In the first hours of her life, this sweet girl was already the target of an unbelievable wave of violent, hateful online commentary,” Klaus Schwertner, secretary general of the Vienna chapter of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, wrote on his Facebook page, The New York Times reported.
“It is a completely new dimension of online hate, targeting an innocent newborn,” he said.
As part of the Austrian newspaper’s tradition on New Year’s day, the names of “New Year’s Baby” are announced in the paper.
Instead of well-wishes, the new girl and her family—especially the mother, whose smiling face was encircled by a bright pink hijab—received a wave of racism on social media.
“I’m hoping for a crib death,” wrote one user. “Deport the scum immediately,” read another posting to Heute’s Facebook page, it reported on Thursday.
Though both the Freedom Party and the conservative People’s Party of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz campaigned on anti-immigrant platforms, Schwertner sought to turn the sentiment around, calling on his followers to stand up for the young family in an outpouring of social media support.
By Thursday, more than 10,000 people had shared his message and more than 17,000 people posted hearts, along with words of congratulations, support, and encouragement.
“Welcome to the world little one. May your life be blessed with love and peace,” Liesbeth Halbertsma wrote on Facebook.
“I know it doesn’t always look like that in the world … but there is so much beauty and love. Sending you much love.”
Barbara Unterlechner, the director of a center that provides legal counseling and support, #GegenHassimNetz, or “Against Online Hate,” lamented the rise of anti-Muslim hate after the recent refugee influx.
“A certain stereotype about Muslims has become increasingly common on social media,” Ms. Unterlechner said in a telephone interview from Vienna. “Whether refugees or those wearing headscarves [hijab], there is no differentiation, but anyone appearing to be Muslim is cast as an enemy of our culture.”
Welcoming people’s response to Schwertner’s call for support, Unterlechner said she was not sure if there are any legal challenges to the hateful comments.
“Hate speech is ultimately a social problem, which can’t always be solved by the law,” Unterlechner said.
“So it can be helpful to change the direction of the conversation online.”