EU'S FRA DROPS THE BALL ON ISLAMOPHOBIA IN ITS LATEST REPORT

The flagship report of the EU on fundamental rights, which was submitted to the European Parliament on June 15, did not even include the term “Islamophobia” and made no references to anti-Muslim hate crimes. Instead it identified asylum issues, dealing with the Roma and data protection issues as the challenges confronted in 2010 by the EU and its member states. In the wake of Norway's terrorist attack by a Christian fundamentalist, many in Europe started to question how this could happen and began to look back for signs they might have missed in spotting this kind of terrorist activity. Some blamed the lack of attention by national and international authorities on Islamophobic and xenophobic tendencies, which have been on the rise on the continent for some time. Others accused the mainstream political parties of paying lip service to far-right and extremist movements. In a press statement, FRA Director Morten Kjaerum also did not mention challenges stemming from the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment across the 27 member states. He said major fundamental rights challenges last year included “barriers in the way of getting access to justice, high levels of discrimination, as well as violence against children. The EU and its member states must also face up to the marginalization of the Roma, inadequate conditions for asylum seekers in particular at the EU's external borders and threats to the protection of personal data.”

In chapter 6, which dealt with discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity in member states, the report missed the violence and discrimination on the basis of religion but rather focused on tracking racially or ethnically motivated incidents. “Court cases and studies published in the EU show that racism remains a significant problem in the areas of employment, healthcare, housing and education. Racially motivated crimes are committed every day on European soil,” the report said. While there was clearly an oversight on the growing threat of Islamophobia in annual reports issued by the FRA, its predecessor, the EUMC, in the past commissioned independent studies to report on Islamophobia. While the EUMC warned of an impending threat originating from Islamophobia in a series of reports, its successor downplayed the threat or missed the signs completely.

In a study published in 2006, titled: “Perceptions of discrimination and Islamophobia -- Voices from members of Muslim communities in the European Union,” the EUMC said even when Muslims are citizens of a member state, they can still feel a sense of exclusion. They feel that they are perceived as “foreigners” who are a threat to society and treated with suspicion. The report was based on individual interviews with Muslims living in the EU. Another EUMC report issued that same year attempted to analyze discrimination against Muslims and Islamophobia in a much more detailed way. Making references to incidents like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the US, the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, the Madrid and London bombings and the debate on the Prophet Muhammad cartoons, the report said, “The central question is how to avoid stereotypical generalizations, how to reduce fear and how to strengthen cohesion in our diverse European societies while countering marginalization and discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or belief.”

Stressing that European Muslims are the second largest religious group of Europe's multi-religious society, the report said “discrimination against Muslims can be attributed to Islamophobic attitudes, as much as to racist and xenophobic resentments, as these elements are in many cases inextricably intertwined.” A much earlier report published in 2002 studied Islamophobic incidents in the EU since 9/11. The report highlighted occasions on which citizens abused and sometimes violently attacked Muslims. Discrimination included verbal abuse, indiscriminately accusing Muslims of responsibility for the attacks, removing women's hijab, spitting, using the name "Usama" as a pejorative epithet and assaults. The report concluded that "a greater receptivity towards anti-Muslim and other xenophobic ideas and sentiments has, and may well continue, to become more tolerated." EUMC was replaced by FRA in 2007 by a European Council decision.

In contrast to the EU, the Council of Europe, Europe's largest intergovernmental human rights watchdog, has been much more forthcoming in the threats posed by anti-Muslim hate movements on the continent. It has warned that intolerance toward Islam and Muslims in Europe has been increasing in recent years and urged immediate action to halt violence against Muslims. In a report titled “Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe,” the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) noted last year -- with deep concern -- that in many of the Council of Europe's 47 member states Muslims feel socially excluded, stigmatized and discriminated against, stressing that they have become victims of stereotypes, social marginalization and political extremism because of their different religious and cultural traditions. The report lambasted some member states where far-right parties have changed their traditional hostile campaign against immigration and foreigners and now exploit the public fear of Islam. The PACE report underlined: “Their political campaigns encourage anti-Muslim sentiments and the amalgamation of Muslims with religious extremists. They advocate the fear of Europe being swamped by Muslims.”

It listed political parties such as the French National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the Swiss People's Party, which have been very successful in running campaigns against Islam and, thus, contributed to the stigmatization of Muslims. “Through simplifications and negative stereotypes, these parties conveyed a distorted image of Islam,” the report said. The PACE report underscored the need for support for Muslim immigrants in member states. “Muslims should be supported by member states to integrate into European society culturally, economically and politically,” it said.
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