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EU: New Report Says Muslims Face Broad Discrimination

  • Jeffrey Donovan

A French Muslim participating in a demonstration for head scarves in January (epa) December 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Muslims in Europe, amid a worsening climate of "Islamophobia," face discrimination in education, housing, and employment.


That's the conclusion of a report issued today by the European Union's European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). The study is the first of its kind because it examines the conditions of Muslims across the 25-nation EU.


The 117-page report comes as Europeans increasingly link Islam with terrorism and intolerance toward Western values. It says these concerns have joined preexisting xenophobia to create a climate of Islamophobia in many areas of European life.


On The Margins Of Society


But the report also notes that Muslims need to do more to counter negative perceptions driven by terrorism and upheavals in the Islamic world, such as the violent response at the beginning of the year to cartoons published in the West depicting the Prophet Muhammad.


"It is clear that integration is a two-way process," EUMA Director Beate Winkler told RFE/RL. "Many members of the Muslim community should be more engaged in public life -- they should do more. But at the same time, they also need encouragement. All of us should move in order that we have an inclusive society."


Entitled "Muslims In The European Union -- Discrimination And Islamophobia," the report includes many interviews with mainly young Muslims. They describe their experiences living on the margins of European life, even as native EU citizens.

Many Muslims interviewed for the report also say they could do more to help themselves, such as making greater efforts to engage with the wider European society.

Presenting polls and case studies across the EU, the report says numerous social barriers prevent many, mainly young, Muslims from advancing socially. "Feelings of hopelessness and exclusion," the report says, are often the result.


Europe's 15 million Muslims account for 3.5 percent of the EU population. Yet, Winkler says they are disproportionately represented at the bottom of EU society.


"Many Muslims in the European Union are discriminated against. Their educational achievement falls below average," she says. "They are living in poorer housing conditions. Their unemployment rate is higher than average, too. And Muslims are often employed in jobs that require lower qualifications."


Patterns Of Segregation


Many see these ills as being at the root of recent social tensions in Europe, including last year's massive rioting in France by mostly Muslim youths and sporadic violence in Berlin schools.


Those interviewed said women with head scarves faced the biggest obstacles getting jobs. Many European employers fear that women with scarves, when employed in the service sectors, will drive away customers.


Winkler says discrimination starts in the recruitment process.


"For example, in France, people with a Maghrebi [North African] name have a five times less chance to be invited for an nterview than people with a purely French name," she says. "So it starts with the recruitment process. Applications should be dealt with in a much more anonymous way."


The report notes that in the Netherlands, some Muslim students have been placed in classes segregated along ethnic lines and that they had been labeled as foreigners, even though they were Dutch-born.


The survey urges EU policymakers to implement fully antidiscrimination directives, mandate diversity training for police, ensure that school classes are ethnically integrated, and encourage balanced media coverage to avoid unfair and inaccurate portrayals of Muslims.


Many Europeans see Muslims as intolerant of Western values, such as women's rights and freedom of speech.


Winkler says such rights must be defended, but not at the cost of racism.


"There are, in the end, no contradictions between freedom of speech and the fight against racism," Winkler says. "We make it very clear in our report: equal opportunities for all, but also fundamental rights for all. These must be respected by everybody."


Many Muslims interviewed for the report also say they could do more to help themselves, such as making greater efforts to engage with the wider European society.


Some Muslims also said their local religious leaders are not addressing important problems they face in secular Europe, such as sexuality and drugs.


"The imams are not capable of giving us the right answers," said on young Muslim man in the Netherlands. "They say, 'No, according to our tradition and culture you should not even think about joining a dinner or party.' But they don't realize that when you don't do this, you are becoming a solo person not joining the group, so you will never join the group."

Islam In A Pluralistic World

A Muslim woman (left) watches a Christian procession in Madrid in March (AFP)

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CONFERENCE ON ISLAM: A major international conference on Islam concluded in Vienna in November 2005 with strong appeals from prominent Muslim leaders to recognize international terrorism as simply "terrorism." Political figures from Islamic countries, including the presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan, argued that it should never be labeled "Islamic" or "Muslim" terrorism because Islam is based on peace, dialogue, and tolerance. "Salaam" -- meaning "peace" -- was the key word of the three-day conference, titled "ISLAM IN A PLURALISTIC WORLD."
Iraqi President Jalal Talibani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the word in their remarks to emphasize the peaceful nature of Islam. Other speakers quoted passages from the Koran to the effect that all men and women, regardless of faith, are creatures of God and should live in peace with each other without discrimination...(more)



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Listen to UN special envoy LAKHDAR BRAHIMI's complete address to the Vienna conference (in English):
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