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EU: New Report Confirms Upsurge In European Xenophobia

  • Don Hill

A new study shows that Western Europeans have engaged in an upsurge of racist incidents, mostly against Muslims, in the months following the 11 September attacks against the United States. The study says, however, that citizens of the 15 European Union member states also have acted responsibly to counter xenophobia.

Prague, 14 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A teacher in a Dutch school told her 8-year-old Muslim pupil earlier this year that the little girl was to blame for the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.

In Austria, a job applicant of Arab descent received an e-mail saying that he should "go to Afghanistan and die."

An assailant tore the head scarf from a 14-year-old Muslim girl in Denmark. Similar attacks occurred in a number of other European countries.

The Vienna-based European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, the EUMC, says in a new report that an upsurge in verbal and physical attacks on Muslims and Islamic institutions occurred in EU member countries in the months following the terrorist attacks.

In a telephone interview, EUMC Director Beate Winkler told RFE/RL that an increase in xenophobia across Europe is affecting attitudes toward immigrants, asylum seekers, and job applicants. She said it affects Muslims, but also Jews and foreigners of various kinds. "We have to be very careful that after...the end of the Cold War, we are not creating new enemies. And what is important is to see the problems, to see the conflicts, but also to strengthen intercultural dialogue," Winkler said.

In Ireland, a man on a motorbike stopped and slapped a Japanese tourist, shouting that she was to blame for the attacks on America.

Portuguese police stopped a turban-wearing Sikh, saying, "Bin Laden, show me your documents." The United States accuses Al-Qaeda terrorist network leader Osama bin Laden of ordering the terror attacks. Incidents of harassment of Sikhs have occurred in several European countries, though Sikhism is a 500-year-old religion unrelated to Islam.

The pilot of a Premair airliner in Sweden summoned airport security officers to eject from his aircraft three men of Arabic origin on their way to vacation in Spain.

Winkler said the EUMC's survey also lists a number of attacks that were more serious and frightening, including physical and armed assaults, vandalism, and arson. The news, however, she added, is not all bad. "But there are also very positive elements. One positive element is, for example, that politicians, mainly, acted very, very responsibly and very, very carefully," Winkler said.

She said one clear finding of the study was that many of the attacks were directed at people wearing outward and visible signs distinguishing them from the population majority, principally head scarves for women and turbans for men.

The EUMC director said the terrorist attacks have resulted in an increase in interest in Islam and in numerous initiatives to dampen racism. She said European sales of the Koran soared in the aftermath of the attacks. "The most hopeful signs are that there have been many initiatives for intercultural dialogue, in the field of religion, in the field of culture, in universities, [and] in research centers," Winkler said.

The report documents cases in which anti-Islamic xenophobia spread over into anti-Semitism and anxiety about other ethnic minorities.

In Greece, some newspapers published accounts of rumors that Jewish office workers employed in New York's World Trade Center, who were secretly forewarned of the disaster, stayed home on 11 September and thus were not among the victims. The rumors were unfounded.

Although Austria's political parties, including the nationalist Freedom Party, condemned anti-Islamic reaction, the Freedom Party then called for fingerprinting of all future immigrants. And former Freedom Party leader Joerg Haidar said that the EU should close its borders to all asylum seekers other than other Europeans.

When announcing the report's findings, EUMC Chairman Bob Purkiss said: "Islamic communities and other vulnerable groups have become targets of increased hostility since 11 September. A greater sense of fear among the general population has exacerbated already existing prejudices and fueled actions of aggression and harassment across Europe."

The EUMC based its report "Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001" on 15 locally prepared, individual country reports.

EUMC spokesman Bent Sorensen said yesterday that the center plans to issue two companion studies next month. "We will have an overview on anti-Semitic incidents following the crisis in the Middle East during the first couple of months, or during the first half-year, of 2002, and [based on] our findings, we will try to make some conclusions and recommendations on how to cope with this problem," Sorensen said.

The other study will be on employment discrimination. "We find that there are many companies that are resistant to recruiting members of ethnic, cultural, [and] religious minorities, also in the aftermath of 11 September," Sorensen said.

He said that the EUMC will issue a more comprehensive report on Islamophobia in its annual report due for publication in November. He said the annual study will place anti-Islamism, anti-Semitism, and employment discrimination in a larger context.

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