It’s time to take action against Islamophobia in Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The English Defence League in a rally against islam [Clive Chilvers/Shutterstock]

The English Defence League in a rally against islam [Clive Chilvers/Shutterstock]

Islamophobia is one of the most violent and frequent forms of racist violence and discrimination in Europe today. But it remains unrecognized, leaving the EU powerless in quantifying and countering this phenomenon, writes Elsa Ray.

By Elsa Ray, spokeswoman of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a member organisation of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).

Imagine a country where Muslim women are banned from restaurants and beaten on the street. Where Muslim bearded men can’t sit in the metro without being avoided like the plague or insulted. Imagine a country where mosques are being vandalised every week. Where Muslim cemeteries are defaced every month. Now, imagine that these cases happened in Europe in recent years. In France, the Collective Against Islamophobia (CCIF) recorded 691 Islamophobic acts in 2013 (an increase of 47% compared to 2012), with women being the primary victims (78% of the total number of incidents). The United Kingdom’s biggest police force, the Metropolitan Police, recorded 500 Islamophobic hate crimes in 2013.

The situation is already critical and the phenomenon is steadily increasing. However, there is no comprehensive Europe-wide data collected on Islamophobia, and no political will of EU Member States to combat this worrying phenomenon. The Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union issued a report on discrimination against Muslims in 2009 and reported that on average, 1 in 3 Muslim respondents stated that they had experienced discrimination in the past 12 months. However, no further meaningful investigation or political action by key European bodies such as the European Parliament and the European Commission have taken place since.

Data collected by NGOs show that in the UK, France, Belgium, northern and southern European countries, women are the main targets of Islamophobic discrimination and hate crimes, especially when they wear a headscarf. Which makes Islamophobia a specific form of racism and sexism. These are two very good reasons for Europe to act.

2014 is the year of the European elections, and they have been marked by the rise of far-right parties and hate speech across the political spectrum. In this very tense context, the European Parliament’s role must be to combat all forms of hate, including Islamophobia. Hate speech by members of the European Parliament or by national politicians must also be systematically denounced and sanctioned. 

The lack of data must be the number one issue for the European Parliament. Indeed, without strong data on Islamophobia, policy makers cannot make a comprehensive assessment of the phenomenon and therefore cannot adopt efficient measures to stop it. This leaves the victims of Islamophobia unprotected and increasingly marginalised. Members of the European Parliament should also ensure structured and effective cooperation with civil society actors fighting racism and Islamophobia from across Europe to have a first assessment of the situation. It would also be a first step towards a true recognition of the phenomenon by the European institutions.

The European Parliament and the European Commission should encourage and support local, national and European initiatives to encourage victims to report Islamophobic incidents or hate crimes, to support victims of Islamophobia and to empower them with practical and legal tools. In addition, the European Commission should live up to its mandate and ensure that Member States are implementing EU anti-discrimination legislation, by investigating more closely countries where concerns have been raised.

Racism, and especially Islamophobia, have become commonplace. It is time to reverse the trend and for Islamophobia to be recognised at the highest level by EU decision makers. Ahead of the Council of Europe’s European Day Against Islamophobia on 21 September, a first step would be for the European Institutions to mark this day by publicly condemning the increasing phenomenon in Europe. 

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