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EU: Report Says No Anti-Muslim Backlash In Europe

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> The report concludes that the government and Muslim community acted quickly after the 7 July London bombings (AFP) A report released in Brussels yesterday by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) concludes that prompt and coordinated action by governments and Muslim community leaders has staved off a major backlash against Muslims in the European Union in the wake of the 7 July bombings in London. But members of the European Parliament from minority ethnic groups who attended the launch of the report say that confrontations such as the ongoing riots in France can only be avoided if immigrant communities make an effort to integrate, and if host societies display a greater understanding of the difficulties the immigrants face.

Brussels, 10 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Contrary to widespread fears, the 7 July suicide bombings in London -- claimed by Al-Qaeda but carried out by locally born Muslims -- have not produced a noticeable reaction against broader Muslim populations, whether in Britain or elsewhere in the EU.

The number of hate crimes against Muslims rose briefly in the wake of the bombings, but they have now returned to levels recorded in previous years.

These are some of the findings of the report by the EU's official antiracism watchdog, the Vienna-based EUMC. The report covers the period from 7 July to 5 October.

Beate Winkler, the head of the EUMC, said in Brussels yesterday that Britain avoided an anti-Mulsim backlash largely thanks to the "firm and quick" joint action of both the British government and Muslim community leaders.

"The key message of the report is that firm action and leadership works," Winkler said. "The U.K. government, the police, and the Muslim community in Britain all reacted swiftly -- both to condemn the attacks and to make it clear that any retaliation on the Muslim community would be unacceptable."
"The U.K. government, the police, and the Muslim community in Britain all reacted swiftly -- both to condemn the attacks and to make it clear that any retaliation on the Muslim community would be unacceptable."

Winkler said the British reaction in the aftermath of the attacks was a "model" for the future.

She added that most other EU governments adopted a similarly firm stance with similar positive results. Governments with significant Muslim minorities drew a clear distinction between the acts of the suicide bombers and the Muslim faith.

The report says that, as a result, only "isolated incidents" targeting Muslims took place in just a small number of EU countries.

It says the determination of Muslim leaders in all EU countries to distance their communities from the attacks and condemn them also helped the situation.

But, Winkler said, a "climate of suspicion" persists in much of Europe with regard to Muslims. Ethnic and religious minorities still suffer from significant levels of discrimination and remain excluded from many areas of life in their host societies.

Winkler said the challenge for the EU now is to continue making engagement with the Muslim communities a lasting priority. She said both EU governments and Muslim communities need to work toward this end.

Syed Kamall, a Muslim British member of the European Parliament who spoke alongside Winkler on Thursday, said Muslim communities themselves must proactively tackle integration.

"I believe there should be more emphasis on the Muslim community -- and I say that as a member of the Muslim community -- that we should be more open to dialogue as well," Kamall said. "I think part of that, if you look at some of the mosques up and down Britain -- and I've been, on different Fridays, I try and pray in different mosques in different parts of London -- and I've been to some mosques where English is not even used as a language. How are we supposed to try and engage in dialogue with non-Muslim communities when English is not even being encouraged in the mosques?"

Kamall said English should not be preferred to the exclusion of Urdu, Bengali, or Arabic. But he said that without sermons in English it is impossible to "teach young Muslims in Britain how to live a religious life in the context of a modern Western society."

He also suggested that imams in Britain who don't know English are not qualified for the job.

Addressing the recent disturbances in France, Kamall said they are not motivated by religion. He said the riots, in which hundreds of cars are torched nightly, are ethnically based and a matter stemming from France’s history and its fraught relations with its North African community.

Kamall said Islam has, on the contrary, been mobilized to quell the unrest.

"Actually interestingly enough, the use of -- if you like -- the Islamic community, the Islamic element has actually been quite positive in many ways, where they've got imams to pronounce fatwas [religious edicts] and to go on the streets to encourage the youth to go home and stop burning cars and say how anti-Islamic it is," Kamall said.

Claude Moraes, a British Asian, is another ethnic minority member of the European Parliament. He noted that while neither France nor Britain have succeeded in integrating their Muslims well, Paris might have some things to learn from London.

According to Moraes, unemployment rates among French North African immigrants are four to five times the national average, which hovers just below 10 percent.

In Britain, on the other hand, unemployment figures among the most disadvantaged groups are only double the national average.

Moraes said this has been achieved after decades of purposeful anti-discrimination policies that were put in place by British governments in the wake of the 1980s race riots in the country.

He noted there was a similar "stark contrast" between Britain and France in other areas.

"We are also disturbed by the fact that France doesn't have ethnic monitoring in any of its public agencies, major companies, so it doesn't know what levels of discrimination exist," Moraes said. "And the other issue is policing. In the 1980s in the United Kingdom, we had riots, we had the Scarman report, [and] policing has fundamentally changed. It is not perfect, but it is in a huge contrast to French policing which has no guidelines in relation to how ethnic minorities should be treated -- i.e., equally."

Neither Moraes nor Kamall directly addressed the issue of whether the current French unrest has the potential to spread elsewhere in the EU.

Kamall noted, however, similar fears after the 1980s riots in London and Liverpool did not materialize.
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