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Tough Times for Muslims in Europe

Anita Purcell (jen)March 13, 2005

A report by human-rights watchdogs confirms something many Europeans may have noticed on their own: Life has gotten harder for Muslims in Europe since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Showing allegiance to GermanyImage: dpa

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights surveyed 11 of the 25 EU countries for its report on discrimination against Muslims in Europe.

It found that Muslims in these countries have felt increasingly stigmatized, partly based on the current widespread fight against terrorism, and partly because of a perceived threat of religious extremism in Europe.

Verbal abuse, job bias

Helsinki Federation Executive Director Aaron Rhodes said discrimination against Muslims has risen as the fight against terrorism has intensified.

"They’re very often subjected to verbal abuse on the street and public transportation...We found that in France 70 percent of all attacks on Muslims were comprised of attacks on women wearing headscarves," he said. "And people with Muslim or Arab sounding names are less likely to be invited to job interviews."

Anschlag auf moslemische Schule in Eindhoven, Niederlande
Women and children outside a Muslim school that was bombed in the NetherlandsImage: AP

The report by the International Helsinki Federation, a group of 44 human rights NGOs that aims to uphold human rights standards, said the 2004 French law prohibiting religious attire in public schools helped encourage discrimination against Muslim women.

In Sweden and many other countries, studies have shown that people with Arabic sounding names had a reduced chance of being invited for a job interview, despite having the same qualifications as other applicants, the report said.

Polizeischutz vor Moschee in Paris
A policeman stands guard at a Paris mosqueImage: AP

The report also took the media and right-wing and conservative parties to task. They have reinforced patterns of prejudice against Muslims, Rhodes said.

"Media accounts very often use stereotypical and negative one-dimensional language and they tend to contribute to a popular perception of Muslims as aliens or dangerous," he said. "The rise of right-populist parties has a had a distinct impact on debate about immigration and integration issues in the EU."

Far-right parties in Italy, Belgium and Austria depict Muslim immigration as a threat to the security and values of EU countries, according to the report.

'Islam' equals 'terrrorism'?

Rhodes pointed out that in Britain, the media have hailed the country’s criminal justice system for successfully prosecuting Muslim terrorists, despite the fact that only three out of hundreds of Muslims arrested were actually convicted.

In the Netherlands, people believe that Muslim schools undermine integration efforts, while in Germany, 80 percent of those surveyed associated the word "Islam" with "terrorism" and "oppression of women," Rhodes noted.

Even lobby organizations, such as animal rights groups in Denmark, are calling for restriction of religious freedoms to ban Islamic and Jewish ritual animal sacrifice.

Frau mit Kopftuch Demonstration in Edinburgh Schleier
Muslim woman during a protest outside the French Embassy in Edinburgh, Scotland against the French decision to ban headscarves in schoolsImage: AP

Such discrimination could encourage moderate Muslims to join extreme groups in order to protect their cultural and religious identity, Rhodes said.

"They challenge the moderate parts of these communities and they sometimes divide them and threaten them," he said. "And the terrorist agenda -- which is to obviously create terror -- is also to polarize society and generate fear. When that is allowed to happen then the terrorists are winning."