Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) called the European Union (EU) institutions to recognise Islamophobia as a specific form of racism.
The call came after on 12 March the European Parliament hosted a debate on strengthening the fight against hate crime, racism and xenophobia in Europe. During the debate, the EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said that racism, xenophobia and hate crimes, as well as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia anti-gypsyism, were all manifestations “incompatible with European rules” and with “the basis on which Europe is founded”. However, the European Parliament did not include the term “Islamophobia” in the adopted text of its resolution and referred only to “religious intolerance”
The plea also comes with the release of ENAR’s shadow report 2011/2012 on racism in Europe which the EU-wide network of NGOs presented on 20 March. The key findings of the report highlight, in particular, the experiences of Muslim communities, while the study is claimed to be the first pan-European qualitative survey of Islamophobia.
Discrimination against Muslims in Europe is widespread, the report said. According to the study covering 26 national reports, Muslims continue to experience discrimination in a range of areas, more specifically in employment, education and access to goods and services.
“Muslim women and girls are most affected and face double discrimination on the basis of both their religion and their gender”, Sarah Isal, an ENAR Bureau member, told reporters at the launch press conference in Brussels. She further explained that for this reason, Islamophobia needs to be addressed as a gender issue in addition to being a religious one.
Moreover, Isal stressed that increasingly hatred against Muslims in Europe manifests itself as opposition to, as well as protests against, the building of mosques and property damage to Islamic places of worship. The ENAR representative gave the height restrictions for mosques in Austria and the attacks by activists of the Bulgarian party ATAKA on the Sofia mosque and Muslim worshippers as examples of this type of Islamophobia manifestation.
The newest ENAR report also found that Islamophobia is promoted both by extremist political parties, as well as mainstream parties to gain votes and popularity. Isal gave Italy as an example, where Mario Borghezio from the Lega Nord Party and current member of the European Parliament (MEP) recently proposed taxing Muslims who have too many children in order to ‘slow down the great Islamic advance in Europe’.
Last but not least, Isal pointed out that media has contributed to the rise of Islamophobia in Europe through biased reporting. In Belgium, for example, 51% of complaints on the ground of religion targeting Muslims in 2011 related to media and the Internet.
The shadow report 2011/2012 also looked at other communities vulnerable to racism in Europe, such as Roma and Black Africans, concluding that they continue to be the most vulnerable to discrimination, together with immigrants.
More specifically, the study found that the public perception of ethnic minorities in most countries remains negative, highlighting that segregation of Roma pupils in education remains a pressing problem in some countries and one which some governments “appear reluctant to address or uncertain how to do so.”
Moreover, ENAR’s report said that National Roma Integration Strategies, even adopted, are still lacking satisfactory levels of quality and implementation.