Apr 27 2012
A new aim for the European Union (EU) – banish racism!
One of the main purposes of creating the entity now known as the European Union was to make any future war between France and Germany, or any other Member State, impossible. In that aim the European Union is spectacularly successful – it is one of the major achievement s in the history of mankind.
So successful has the European Union been that many young people I speak today find such a concept of world war starting in Europe incomprehensible – how could such a thing have been possible in the past? No they think Europe is about free movement and free trade and being able to like work and study in any country within the EU. And that is true, because we have banned war.
The European Union needs a new idealistic task that young people can relate too and I think that should be to remove racism from our societies.
‘For if we do not confront the scourge of racial and religious hatred today, then the Europe of tomorrow may well become more like the place we all hoped had been left behind in the pages of history’ – warns a academic
The recent shocking Amnesty International Report on systematic and intensifying discrimination against Muslims in Europe makes sobering reading. Based on extensive field research focusing on five countries – Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland – the 100-page plus report documents an alarming increase in public fear and suspicion toward Muslims; as well as a disturbing acceleration of state practices that marginalise Muslims because of their faith, ethnic origin, gender or a combination of these things.
The report focuses on the impact of new legislation and policies restricting the wearing of religious and cultural symbols. It finds that far from contributing to social integration, this pattern has had the opposite effect – blighting individuals’ ‘…prospects, opportunities and self-esteem”. It, therefore, results in “isolation, exclusion and stigmatisation’.
Tragically, the biggest victims of these trends are the most vulnerable. They are Muslim women and young people – the same people that European states often claim they are defending. ‘Muslims, and especially Muslim women, can be discriminated against in access to employment and at work simply because they wear specific forms of dress’, notes the report. This is detrimental to women’s equality and autonomy.
Similarly, various types of bans on religious symbols or dress in schools mean that Muslim pupils or students have been excluded from mainstream educational institutions. More broadly, the report notes that anti-Muslim stereotypes and prejudices against religious and cultural practices have curtailed or prevented the establishment of places of worship, further excluding communities from public life.
The Amnesty report confirms the paradoxical fact that in the very name of promoting freedom, Europe is in fact sliding dangerously back into the exclusionary politics of the 1930s. European states are, with increasing impunity, riding roughshod over the fundamental freedoms protected by most domestic state legislatures – upheld by the European Convention on Human Rights and enshrined in international human rights law.
Although the report’s case studies do not include Britain, other studies of recent years confirm that the country is very much part of this trend.
Successive reports over the last decade by a range of agencies – from the Runnymede Trust’s Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in 2004, to the Open Society Institute in 2005 as well as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2009, and the European Muslim Research Centre in 2010 – prove clearly that discrimination against British Muslims across education, employment, criminal justice and media discourses. They also show hate crimes are at record levels.
British policy-makers would, therefore, do well to take note of Amnesty International’s wide-ranging recommendations.
In particular, the human rights group urges that governments establish national equality bodies that could monitor and police the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation relating to employment, education, and other areas; as well as measure the nature and impact of discrimination affecting religious groups, especially Muslim women and girls. The British government has certainly taken a positive step forward in establishing the Cross Party Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes. But the focus needs to be much broader, and further action needs to have teeth.
If we do not confront the scourge of racial and religious hatred today, then the Europe of tomorrow may well become more like a Europe we all hoped had been left behind in the pages of history.
Don’t let history repeat itself – let’s make exorcising racism from the EU the great crusade of the coming years.