Inequalities, racialization: is Europe Islamophobic?
Islamophobia is bias, hostility or hatred directed against Muslims. It encompasses any distinction, exclusion, restriction, discrimination or preference against Muslims with the aim or effect of suppressing recognition, human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal footing in the political, economic, social, cultural or other aspects of public life. It manifests itself across Europe through individual attitudes and behaviors as well as organizational and institutional policies and practices. It involves physical or verbal attacks on property, places of worship and people, especially those who display a visible representation of their religious identity, such as women wearing the hijab or niqab, as well as verbal or online threats of violence, defamation and abuse.
Across Europe, Islamophobia manifests itself in policies or legislation that indirectly target or disproportionately affect Muslims and unduly restrict their freedom of religion, such as banning the wearing of visible religious and cultural symbols, laws prohibiting the concealment of the face and banning the construction of mosques with minarets. It is also evident in ethnic and religious profiling and police abuse, including some provisions of the counter-terrorism law. Enmity towards Islam has been fueled in recent years by public concern over immigration and the integration of Muslim minorities into the majority cultures of Europe. These tensions intensified in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis and the rise of populist nationalist politicians.
At a time of increasing diversity in Europe, Muslim minorities have been characterized as disaffected and eager to live apart from the rest of society. Government policies have failed to ensure equal rights for all, leaving significant segments of Muslim minorities unemployed, impoverished and with little civic and political involvement, which exacerbates discrimination.
Minorities are frequently used as scapegoats during economic and political crises. Islam and the approximately 20 million Muslims living in the European Union are described by some as intrinsic threats to the European way of life, even in countries where they have resided for generations. The notion of a continued ‘Islamisation’ or ‘invasion of Europe’ has been fueled by the growth of xenophobic and populist parties across Europe. Indeed, Europeans exaggerate the proportion of Muslims in their population.
Examples to count
France has assumed the rotating presidency of the EU for the next six months, which French President Emmanuel Macron will no doubt use to push Europe towards its goal of greater “strategic autonomy” in the world. Some in Brussels fear that a hotly contested presidential election in April could undermine France’s European leadership before the conclusion of a critical meeting on the future of Europe. Muslims in France fear Islam has become a major battleground in the country’s presidential election campaign, amid outbursts of anti-Muslim sentiment. Significantly, many European Muslims are worried about France’s EU presidency out of fear that the French anti-Muslim political discourse that is dividing France could dangerously infiltrate EU policy-making. There are fears that France could use its EU presidency to push for even tougher anti-Muslim legislation across Europe.
Belgium has banned the slaughter of animals that meet halal standards. Muslims in Belgium have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the country’s ban on the halal slaughter of animals. According to a survey by the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies, up to a third of Norwegians, or more precisely 31%, agree with the statement “Muslims want to take control of the ‘Europe’. The vast majority agreed that Islamic values were incompatible with those of Norwegian society, in whole or in part. Additionally, almost a third expressed a desire to socially distance themselves from Muslims.
Previously, Inger Stjberg, the former Danish immigration minister, has sparked controversy when he says Danish Muslims should be banned from working during Ramadan because of the dangers associated with daytime fasting. Stjberg has since been impeached, and while she may be a political aberration, it’s hard not to see Denmark’s tough approach to “integration” and refugees, which includes a law allowing the country to transfer asylum seekers outside the EU while their cases are being processed, driven in part by fear of Muslims.
Similarly, with anti-Islam sentiment reaching dangerously high levels in Europe, another incident occurred in early 2022, with vandals damaging around 30 headstones at a Muslim cemetery in Germany. This attack is the latest sign of growing anti-Islam sentiment in Europe. According to a published report titled “European Islamophobia Report 2020”, the Federal Criminal Police Office in Germany recorded 901 Islamophobic crimes in 2020. In the same year, Germany saw 18 anti-Islamic protests and 16 organized by German anti-Muslim and xenophobic Pegida. movement.
Also, a group of Greek extremists attacked a mosque in Greece. The country’s hostile attitude towards its Muslim population is not new. Until recently, Athens was known as the only European capital without a mosque, although the greater Athens area is home to around 300,000 Muslims. In November 2020, Athens witnessed the inauguration of an official mosque for the first time, as years of effort by the Muslim community finally paid off.
Islamophobia, according to former Council of Europe human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, is a symptom of the disintegration of human values. These values are supposed to be inherent in European societies; indeed, they are the foundations of the EU and of the Council of Europe.
Notably, due to a lack of relevant data, the extent and nature of discrimination and Islamophobic incidents against European Muslims remain undocumented and underreported. Similarly, many institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Belgian Collective against Islamophobia, recognized the rise of this worrying phenomenon and the worsening nature of the incidents.
For example, the 2017 EU survey on minorities and discrimination found that, on average, one in three Muslim respondents had experienced discrimination and prejudice in the previous 12 months, and 27% had experienced racially motivated crimes. Furthermore, research indicates that Islamophobia can have a disproportionate impact on women, for example in the labor market, as highlighted in a recent study by the European Network Against Racism.
Muslims in Europe want to interact with other Europeans and participate in society on an equal footing, but are frequently subjected to various forms of prejudice, discrimination and violence, which aggravate their social exclusion. European governments should refrain from discriminating against Muslims through legislation or policy and instead make religion or belief a prohibited ground of discrimination in all areas. It is time for Muslims to be recognized as equal and dignified members of European societies.