Inequalities, Racialization: Is Europe Islamophobic?

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Islamophobia is a bias, hostility or hatred directed toward Muslims. It encompasses any distinction, exclusion, restriction, discrimination or preference directed toward Muslims with the intent or effect of nullifying the recognition, human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal footing in the political, economic, social, cultural or other spheres of public life. It presents itself throughout Europe through individual attitudes and behaviors, as well as organizational and institutional policies and practices. It involves physical or verbal attacks on property, places of worship and people, particularly those who exhibit a visible representation of their religious identities, such as women wearing the hijab or niqab, as well as verbal or online threats of violence, vilification and abuse.

Across Europe, Islamophobia is manifested through policies or legislation that indirectly target or disproportionately affect Muslims and unduly restrict their freedom of religion, such as prohibitions on the wearing of visible religious and cultural symbols, laws prohibiting facial concealment and prohibitions on the construction of mosques with minarets. It is also evident in ethnic and religious profiling and police abuse, including some provisions of counterterrorism law. The enmity toward Islam has been fostered in recent years by public worry over immigration and the integration of Muslim minorities into Europe’s majority cultures. These tensions have been heightened in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis and the rise of populist nationalist politicians.

In an era of increasing diversity in Europe, Muslim minorities have been characterized as disaffected and desiring to live apart from the rest of society. Government policies have failed to provide equal rights for all, leaving major segments of Muslim minorities jobless, impoverished and with little civic and political involvement, all of which exacerbate discrimination.

Minorities are frequently used as scapegoats during economic and political crises. Islam and the roughly 20 million Muslims living in the European Union are portrayed by some as intrinsic threats to the European way of life, even in nations where they have resided for generations. The notion of a continuing “Islamization” or “invasion of Europe” has been fueled by the growth of xenophobic, populist parties across Europe. Indeed, Europeans exaggerate the proportion of Muslims in their populations.

Examples to count

France has assumed the rotating EU presidency for the next six months, which French President Emmanuel Macron will undoubtedly exploit to move Europe toward his objective of greater “strategic autonomy” in the globe. Some in Brussels fear that closely contested presidential elections in April may jeopardize France’s EU leadership before the conclusion of a critical meeting on the future of Europe. Muslims in France are concerned that Islam has turned into a significant battleground in the country’s presidential election campaign, amid outbursts of anti-Muslim sentiment. Significantly, many European Muslims are anxious about France’s EU presidency for the fear that France’s divisive anti-Muslim political discourse may dangerously infiltrate EU policymaking. There is concern that France may use its EU presidency to advocate for even harder anti-Muslim legislation across Europe.

Belgium banned the slaughter of animals to halal standards. Muslims in Belgium brought an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against the country’s prohibition of halal animal slaughter. According to a survey conducted by the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies, up to a third of Norwegians, or more precisely 31%, agree with the statement “Muslims want to take over Europe.” The significant majority agreed that Islamic values were incompatible with those of Norwegian society, either entirely or in part. Also, nearly a third expressed a desire to socially distance themselves from Muslims.

Previously, Inger Stjberg, Denmark’s former immigration minister, sparked controversy by saying that Danish Muslims should be prohibited from working during Ramadan due to the dangers associated with daytime fasting. Stjberg has since been impeached, and while she may be a political outlier, it is difficult not to see Denmark’s hard-line approach to “integration” and refugees, which includes a law authorizing the country to transfer asylum seekers outside the EU while their cases are being processed, as motivated in part by fear of Muslims.

Similarly, with anti-Islam sentiment reaching dangerously high levels in Europe, another incident occurred at the start of 2022, with vandals damaging approximately 30 gravestones in a Muslim cemetery in Germany. This attack is the latest sign of Europe’s growing anti-Islam sentiment. According to a report published titled “European Islamophobia Report 2020,” the Federal Criminal Police Office in Germany registered 901 Islamophobic crimes in 2020. In the same year, Germany saw 18 anti-Islam demonstrations and 16 organized by Germany’s anti-Muslim and xenophobic Pegida movement.

Furthermore, a group of Greek extremists attacked a mosque in Greece. The country’s hostile attitude toward its Muslim population is not new. Until recently, Athens was known as the only European capital without a mosque, although the greater Athens area is home to an estimated 300,000 Muslims. In November 2020, Athens witnessed the inauguration of an official mosque for the first time, as years of effort by the Muslim community finally paid off.

Islamophobia, according to former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, is a symptom of the disintegration of human values. These values are supposed to be inherent in European societies; indeed, they are the foundations of the EU and the Council of Europe.

Notably, due to a lack of relevant data, the extent and nature of discrimination and Islamophobic incidents against European Muslims remain undocumented and underreported. Similarly, numerous institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Belgian Collective Against Islamophobia, have acknowledged the rise of this concerning phenomenon and the increasingly aggravated nature of the incidents.

For example, the 2017 EU Minorities and Discrimination Survey discovered that on average, one in every three Muslim respondents faced discrimination and prejudice in the preceding 12 months, and 27% were victims of racist crime. Additionally, research indicates that Islamophobia can have a disproportionate impact on women, for example, on the job market, as highlighted in recent research by the European Network Against Racism.

Muslims in Europe desire to interact with other Europeans and participate in society on an equal footing but are frequently subjected to various forms of prejudice, discrimination and violence, which exacerbate their social exclusion. European governments should refrain from discriminating against Muslims through legislation or policy and instead make religion or belief a prohibited ground of discrimination in all spheres. It is time for Muslims to be recognized as equal and dignified members of European societies.


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