European Union must prioritise the fight against Islamophobia
The rise in Islamophobia is an issue that we must all take seriously and one that concerns me greatly. Along with anti-Semitism and racism, it is a grave threat to Europe’s future. Not only this, but it is a direct violation to the principles upon which the European Union was founded – democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Islamophobia can manifest itself in many forms and can be perpetrated by states, non-state actors or in some cases both. Muslims are often unfairly targeted by policies or legislation in relation to freedom of religion or belief and are often subjected to ethnic & religious profiling by police & security forces too.
However, the most concerning form remains the verbal and physical violence over the past few years. In Belgium alone, Islamophobic incidents have increased by 94% since 2011. In 2013 a pregnant Muslim woman was attacked in Paris for wearing a head scarf, miscarrying as a result of the attack. An example that highlights the problem we face across the continent.
In terms of Islamophobia, 2015 was a turning point in Europe. The terrorist attacks in Paris & Copenhagen and the rise of DAESH in the Middle East & North Africa have led to increased levels of anti-Muslim hatred.
We only have to look to the on-going refugee crisis to see the increase in Islamophobia, with public anxiety over the number of Muslim refugees and their integration into European society.
At the same time reformed extremists must never be portrayed as representative of Muslims. Former jihadists have been promoted as spokesmen for European Muslims by member states and the Commission alike, albeit possibly inadvertently, but this is still plainly wrong and must stop.
In my role as Vice-President of the European Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) and Chair of ARDI’s Islamophobia Working Group, I will call on the European Commission to prioritise actions to combat Islamophobia. A decisive response led by the EU would send a strong signal that Europe is committed to fighting Islamophobia and affirming it as an open and tolerant continent that welcomes religious, ethnic and cultural diversity.
I welcome the Commission’s initiative to focus on anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred at the first Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights which looked at concrete recommendations for projects, policies & legislation designed to combat hate crime, hate speech and discrimination against Jews & Muslims.
Regarding policies and legislation, I believe the Commission should adopt a National Strategy on Islamophobia similar to the existing National Roma Integration Strategy, as well as strengthening EU & national legal basis to tackle all crimes of hate speech & crime and to ensure investigation and prosecution of racist crimes.
I also want to stress the important role that political leaders and media can play in combating Islamophobia. In the UK, the Leveson Inquiry established a media manipulation to present Muslims in a certain light. In 20 years of public life, I have lost count of the number of times the media have not used mainstream, Muslim opinion provided to them, using minority extremist expression of hate instead.
It is vital for them to be careful how they speak about Muslims and the possible repercussions of their actions if we are to see any change in attitudes, and it is attitudes that we must change. Without this transformation, we risk losing the principles of what the European Union was built on.
Sajjad Karim MEP