Back Muslims are discriminated against in Europe

European Muslims have met a more hostile social climate since 11 September 2001. The murder of a Dutch film director and the fatal bombings in Madrid and London have further exacerbated prejudices and fuelled more incidents of hostility and aggression. Islamophobia is a widespread phenomenon all over Europe, as findings by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) and the Council of Europe Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) demonstrate. These warning signals must be heard and effective political action taken.

Interview studies indicate a growing feeling of bitterness and alienation among Muslims in Europe. One woman in Austria, quoted by EUMC, said this:

“We face Islamophobia in daily life: small incidents, small things. For example, somebody jokes or comments with another, but in a very loud voice, so you have to listen, ‘Oh, somebody who wears a headscarf has no business in this country.’ Or somebody walks his dog and says ‘Fass!’, which means ‘Catch!’, to a Muslim. You try and not let these things get to you but some days they wear you down.”

Unfortunately, such harassment appears to be widespread. I have heard of similar tendencies during my missions in the past months. Non-governmental organisations have also reported more serious incidents of hate crimes targeting Muslims – ranging from verbal threats to physical attacks on persons or property.

Islamophobia is certainly not a new phenomenon in Europe. One indication lies in reports over several years of the difficulty Muslim communities experience in a number of cities in obtaining permission to build a mosque for themselves.

However, it is clear that the US-inspired “war on terror” has worsened the situation considerably for Muslims in Europe, as indicated by ECRI in its country monitoring reports. The global fight against terrorism has resulted in political discourse affected by racism and xenophobia, including anti-Muslim sentiment. In addition, police actions – including repeated ID controls and intrusive searches – have to a large extent been targeted at Muslims or people looking as if they originate from Arab or South Asian countries.

This, in turn, has been interpreted by some right-wing extremists as an encouragement to their xenophobic propaganda while, at the same time, Muslims have felt further victimised. This side-effect of the anti-terrorism policy needs to be corrected as a matter of priority.

The recent EUMC report focused on the situation in the member states of the European Union and tried to assess the more structural aspects of the discrimination. It concluded that many Muslims face unfair treatment in employment, education and housing in EU countries. Young Muslims in particular meet barriers to social advancement:

• Discrimination testing in the United Kingdom and France has shown that persons with Muslim names or originating from countries with a Muslim majority are much less likely to be invited for a job interview. The unemployment rate among Muslims in several EU countries is clearly higher than for people of other religions.

• Available statistics also indicate that Muslims are disadvantaged in the education system; achievements in school are poorer than for other groups. This may partly be caused by factors other than those related to religion – for instance, unemployment, poverty, language and immigration status – but clearly contributes to a vicious circle of social marginalisation.

Housing is another problem. Migrants, including those from predominantly Muslim countries, generally have poorer and more insecure living conditions than others. This, in turn, affects education and employment possibilities.

Tendencies towards discrimination also exist in some of the European countries outside the EU. I got a reminder of this myself when I visited a mosque in Kiev recently which had not been allowed to erect a minaret for the reason that people in the neighbourhood might react negatively. Also, negative sentiments in parts of Russia against Caucasian people appear to be a dangerous mix of ethnic and religious prejudices.

Manifestations of Islamophobia within European societies have taken the form of persisting prejudice, negative attitudes, discrimination and sometimes violence. ECRI has also regretted in its reports the inaccurate portrayal of Islam on the basis of hostile stereotyping, the effect of which is to make this religion seem like a threat.

Laws against discrimination as well as complaints procedures now exist in most countries. However, it is not always easy for individuals in minority groups to claim their rights in cases of discrimination. There is a need for support initiatives.

One such project is the co-operation in the United Kingdom between London’s Metropolitan Police Service and non-governmental groups, including the Forum against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR). This initiative seeks to combat crimes against Muslims, to give assistance to victims and to enhance the capacity of the police to monitor Islamophobia.

In order to meet these prejudices on a broader front, education systems should offer more factual knowledge about Islam (and other religions). The importance of teaching about “other” religions has been stressed repeatedly during the seminars the Council of Europe organised with the participation of religious leaders.

One positive example is Luxembourg, where a special course is given to final year pupils on inter-faith dialogue and the human values of different religions. This is the spirit with which further efforts must be made to put an end to Islamophobia.

Thomas Hammarberg
Strasbourg 22/01/2007
  • Diminuer la taille du texte
  • Augmenter la taille du texte
  • Imprimer la page