Which countries discriminate against Muslims

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

The well-known International Helsinki Federation (IHF) recently published a report on Muslims as victims of intolerance in the EU. It says that discrimination against Muslims has been going on since the 9/11 attacks. increased further. More from Ala Al-Hamarneh

The 160-page IHF report draws on information from a number of sources: public institutions, non-governmental organizations, mass media as well as individual religious and human rights activists from the respective countries of the community. The paper consists of three sections:

An introduction and some recommendations addressed to the EU member states are followed by a summary of the conditions under which Muslims live in the EU, and finally there is a detailed discussion of intolerant attitudes and discrimination against Muslims, with the report covering the eleven European countries concentrated with the largest Muslim communities.

Perception of Muslims in society

The main aim of the report is stated to be "to contribute to a greater awareness of intolerance and discrimination and a greater respect for religious freedom of Muslims in the EU". A wide range of topics are covered in this context.

For example, it is about how Muslims are perceived in public (by the media, by politics, in education and on the labor market), but also about migration, integration and asylum legislation.

How Muslims practice their religion (where they pray, what forms of religious education there are, what attitudes and regulations are relevant with regard to headscarves or funeral rituals) is just as much a topic as the encouragement received by ultra-right anti-Muslim parties.

In a separate section, the report also addresses cases of Muslim leaders promoting intolerant intellectual property or violence.

No homogeneity among Muslim communities

On the one hand, the report points out that the nearly 20 million Muslims in Europe do not live in uniform communities: “The communities are not homogeneous, but have different ethnic, cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds.

They also belong to different Islamic traditions. On the other hand, the EU is also not homogeneous in socio-economic or legal terms. This becomes clear when one looks at the different situations of Muslims in the eleven countries examined.

In Austria, for example, Islam has been officially recognized as a religion since 1912, and in Belgium since 1974 - with all the advantages that such a status brings with it. There are also big differences when it comes to civil rights.

More than 50% of Muslims in France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium are nationals of these countries, while the rate in Germany or Denmark is below 20%. These two factors are of importance for the relationship of the respective states to the local Muslim community, which should not be underestimated.

Nonetheless, the report also finds commonalities among the Muslim communities in the EU: the average age of their members is typically lower than that of the rest of the population, they live in urban areas and metropolitan areas, have entered the country as immigrants or are of immigrant descent, and due to high birth rates rapid growth can be expected.

Existing prejudices are given a boost

At its core, the IHF report states that "the social climate in which Muslims live has deteriorated significantly in the countries surveyed since September 11th." Existing prejudices against Muslims and corresponding discrimination have been given a new impetus. For example, xenophobic attacks on Muslims in public spaces have increased.

Mostly it stayed with verbal attacks, but cases of physical violence and vandalism are also documented. According to the report, many attacks were not even reported to the police because the victims did not believe that the police would follow them up.

The report states that in some countries it has become "legitimate" again to be "openly hostile towards Muslims and to use intolerant expressions". Nevertheless, the courts seem to have generally done their part to protect the rights of Muslims.

In Austria, for example, the constitutional court ruled in October 2004 that parts of the country's new asylum legislation were unconstitutional and had to be withdrawn. Another important decision was taken by the Danish Supreme Court when it sentenced a member of a far-right party to probation after verbally vilifying Muslims.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric and how politics deals with it

The renewed dynamic of xenophobic and neo-fascist right-wing parties in Europe after September 11th represents a major challenge not only for the ethnic and religious minorities, but also for the political democracies of Europe themselves.

Muslim communities have a particularly difficult time here, as the rhetoric of these parties is often not only unspecifically xenophobic, but also explicitly anti-Muslim. The "war on terror" makes it easier for the far-right parties to put xenophobic and intolerant content on the political agenda by using anti-Muslim phrases and reservations about migration.

The French Front National, for example, argues that the "ethics of Islam" are "incompatible with the values ​​of French civilization". (The party's leader, Le Pen, was fined in April 2004 for "inciting racial hatred" for a newspaper article he wrote.)

The extreme right-wing Danish People's Party accuses Muslims of "undermining democratic values ​​and propagating violence". The murdered Dutch populist Pim Fortuyn even spoke out in favor of a new "Cold War against Islam".

Unfortunately, some representatives of democratic parties and even ruling governments have occasionally adopted the extreme right-wing rhetoric of the Italian Northern League, as have the German republicans and the NPD, the Belgian Vlaams Blok or the Austrian FPÖ.

The IHF report cites some anti-Muslim statements by leading democratic politicians, such as that of the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, according to which "Western civilization is superior to Islamic ones". The concept of the "Leitkultur" as represented by the German CDU is also cited.

The role of the media

The report also finds that in the vast majority of the countries surveyed, the media generally report in a one-sided and scandal-oriented manner on issues related to Islam or Muslims. Nevertheless, reports are apparently still more tolerant in the Austrian, Spanish and Belgian public than in other EU countries.

The report notes that "since September 11th there has been a tendency in the media to portray Muslims in a negative and stereotypical manner". In the German media, for example, reports on conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East serve primarily to "connect Islam with terrorism" and therefore have "a negative impact on attitudes towards Islam and Muslims".

The British media are accused of contributing to prejudice and distrust of Muslims by "irresponsible and unbalanced reporting."

Recommendations to the EU member states

The IHF makes a number of recommendations to the address of the EU member states. In political terms, the Federation is concerned that the Muslim communities are an integral part of European societies and that they must be protected against all forms of discrimination.

Freedom to practice one's religion must be guaranteed, and the handling of immigration and anti-terrorism legislation must be based on international conventions for the protection of human rights.

It is also recommended that the individual states investigate discrimination against Muslims and systematically promote tolerance and dialogue, both in the dealings of citizens with one another and in dealings with Muslims by institutions and the media.

And finally, in the opinion of the IHF, the member states should actively seek dialogue with the Muslim communities and find ways of creating space for the religious needs of Muslims in all areas of society.

Think globally - act locally

The IHF's call for stronger action against discrimination against Muslims in Europe is downright groundbreaking. Last but not least, it shows that the fight against terrorism and the image of Islam and the Muslims living in Europe, which has been deteriorating steadily since September 11, can also be viewed from a completely different perspective than is normally the case.

Anti-Muslim attitudes are incompatible with democracy and human rights - just like other forms of discrimination against minorities.

An intercultural dialogue to be conducted in Europe based on openness, tolerance and curiosity about the "foreign" can, however, contribute to a revision of multicultural concepts, with the perspective of replacing the current coexistence with real coexistence.

On the one hand, governments, political institutions, non-governmental organizations and individuals must come to understand that Muslims are an integral part of modern Europe. On the other hand, an integration process is never a one-way street.

Muslims too must find creative and practical ways of adapting their lifestyle to European societies and the corresponding cultural environment.

There is no secret magic formula with which intolerance, discrimination and at the same time the difficulties of integration can be overcome in an instant. It is a process that requires the full attention of everyone involved on a daily basis. The IHF report, however, is a first step in the right direction.

Ala Al-Hamarneh

© Qantara.de 2005

Translated from the English by Ilja Braun


Aiman ​​Mazyek
Under general suspicion
Aiman ​​Mazyek said in his comment that many moderate Islamic organizations are exposed to growing hostility and the need to justify themselves in view of a sharper discussion about the dominant culture and the ability of Muslims to integrate.

Muslim elite in Europe
Islam describes faith as identity
For two years, the sociologist Jytte Klausen worked on a study of the political elite of European Muslims. In an interview she speaks about the perception and acceptance of Muslims in Europe.

Muslims in German media
Linking Islam and Terror
Due to a lack of knowledge and stereotypes, the media and politicians often fail to correctly draw the line between Islam, Islamism and extremism. In order to isolate radical Islamists, it is up to the Muslims themselves, writes Sabine Schiffer in her essay.

Allah in France
Islam as a challenge to the republic
France's Muslims make up around a tenth of the total population, but only a fraction is religiously active in the mostly improvised places of worship. The state tries to defend the secularism of the republic, for example with the headscarf ban. Foreign funding for mosques and imams remains a concern. From Christian Müller

Young Muslims in Britain
The lost generation
Britain has one and a half million Muslim immigrants; A good third of this population group has not yet reached the age of majority, is struggling with orientation problems and sees little social prospects in front of them. By Tahir Abbas


IHF report in English (518KB)