Separate and Unequal Islamphobia in the EU

Study: a Vienna-Based Watchdog Suggests Widespread Racism Against Muslims in Europe

News | Nayeli Urquiza | February 2007

In some parts of Europe, press reports describe Muslim communities – Turks in Germany, North Africans in France, Pakistanis in parts of the U.K. – that have kept themselves consciously apart. In many more places, however, Muslims in Europe have tried to integrate. The problem is that even when they want to, research has shown that the obstacles are high.

According to a study released Dec. 18 by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), a Vienna-based EU agency, many Muslims are excluded from the job opportunities essential to assimilation.

"Many European Muslims, particularly young people, face barriers to their social advancement," the study reports, barriers which could lead to "feelings of hopelessness and social exclusion."

The report cites differences in wages, types of employment, and differing unemployment rates for Muslim migrants indicating exclusion, disadvantage and discrimination; in some cases, this even affects people only thought to be Muslims, but who in fact practice other religions.

With testimony from Muslims all across Europe, the report shows that discrimination occurs in a wide range of settings: in the workplace, at school, in dealings with law enforcement authorities and elsewhere. In France, the simple fact of having a Muslim name reduces the chances of getting a job interview.

In a 2004 study by the University of Paris, for example, job applications with CVs identifiable as being North African had five times less chance of getting a positive reply.

"We face Islamophobia in [the small incidents of] daily life," said a woman in Austria to EUMC researchers. "You have to listen to, ‘Oh, somebody who wears a headscarf has nothing to do in this country.’ Or somebody walks his dog and says Fass! (German for "catch") to a Muslim. You try and not let these things get to you, but some days they wear you down."

And it’s not just Muslims. Researchers in Austria, for example, found more discrimination against Africans.

While the EUMC could not state conclusively that widespread and religiously targeted Xenophobia against Muslims exists, they found many indications. However, without uniform standards of data collection, it is extremely hard to be sure of the extent, explained Anastacia Crickley, Chair of the EUMC Management Board.

Some countries, such as France and Italy, have a lot of information on discrimination in housing, while others like the UK collect information on "potentially Islamophobic incidents" within the category of criminal offences. This disparity brings different results, and prevents researchers from doing a comprehensive comparative study between EU countries.

In addition, panelists cited an unwillingness among Muslims to report cases of abuse, not wishing to be perceived as ungrateful for the opportunities they have in Europe.

Islam’s presence in Europe dates back to the era of the Ottoman Empire, the largest numbers coming from the areas of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia that were formerly under European control. Nor are "the Muslims" a homogeneous group. While both Sunnis and Shiites have been present in Europe for a long time, the majority is of Sunni-descent.

But these too can be broken up into different strands. The 13 million Muslims in Europe, some 3.5% of the population,  come from Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and the former Yugoslavia. And while many came in the major waves of immigration in the 1960’s and 1980’s, many young European Muslims are treated like immigrants.

"I am asked, ‘Where do you come from? Are you going back (to the Middle East)?’" said a young woman from Netherlands. "I say ‘I was born in Rotterdam, so where would I go?’ It is really a painful question, I think, and it makes you feel like a foreigner, and I think you accept you are a foreigner at some point."

The 9/11 attacks brought Muslims into the glare of an unwanted spotlight. Polls taken after these events, as well as after the 2005 bombing in London, showed that more people thought of Islam as a fundamentalist and extremist religion than prior to the events.

"Before 11 September, we were always insulted for being Arab. Our religion was never mentioned," a young man in France told EUMC researchers. "Since 11 September, that’s all we hear- (the word) ‘Muslim’ has become an insult."

But are Muslims the sole targets of Xenophobia and racism in Europe? At the press conference announcing the reports release a questioner accused the EUMC of disregarding the persistence of European anti-Semitism. Muslims couldn’t be singled, admitted Beate Winkler, Director of the EUMC.

"Hostility against Muslims (must) therefore seen in the more general context of xenophobia towards migrants and minorities," she said.

However, the illusiveness of the issue for Muslims may have unique features that may be hard to quantify, but that is nevertheless real. In Germany, a girl reported that her schoolmates assumed that, as a Muslim, she must be oppressed. "I’m disappointed and helpless," she said. "Because we are not oppressed. I try to show them, but most of them don’t want to understand."

Winckler emphasized that integration is a two-way process.

"Many European Muslims acknowledge that they need to do more to engage with wider society," she continued. "At the same time, Europe’s political leaders must make a stronger effort to promote meaningful intercultural dialogue and tackle racism, discrimination and marginalization more effectively."

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