Anti-Muslim sentiment rising in E.U.

By Batuk Gathani, The Hindu, Saturday 25 May 2002

BRUSSELS MAY 24. According to the latest report published by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), physical and verbal abuse against Muslims in the European Union has been on the rise, particularly since the attacks of September 11.

The report indicates that the current abuse is more serious in some northern E.U. States, where racist physical assaults have risen in Britain, Holland, Denmark and Sweden. The situation is compounded by a rising tide of Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers. According to observers, xenophobic and racist attitudes have dramatically risen in the E.U.'s three largest countries—Germany, France and Italy—where authorities are working to curb further rises in immigration.

Muslim women and schoolchildren wearing headscarves have reportedly been prime victims of this increase in hostility, which also extends to Sikh men wearing turbans. Numerous attacks against mosques have also been reported. The EUMC Director, Beate Winkler, was today quoted as saying: An atmosphere has been created in which Muslims have to justify themselves that they are not terrorists.

The EUMC Chairman, Bob Purkiss, said: September 11 has acted as a detonator of feelings which have not been properly addressed. If it is right for Europe to give a lead where there is ethnic tension in the world, then it is imperative that it puts its own house in order first. Currently, E.U. Governments are discussing a number of possible options as part of its drive towards a common asylum policy. The report appears against a background of recent political victories by centre-right parties all over Europe, each emphasising strict agendas to curb the rise of non-European immigrants and asylum seekers. The political mood has changed so dramatically that even moderate European leaders like the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Spanish President, Jose Maria Aznar, have recently called for a new strategy and drive against illegal immigration.

The report is highly critical of the way asylum seekers are treated in some E.U. States as no more than political capital. It does praise the responsible attitude of most European leaders following racial attacks, but it is critical of comments made by politicians like the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi and the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.Austria ranks highest in its percentage of foreigners with 9.2 per cent, followed by Belgium and Germany with less than nine per cent; most other E.U. countries have about five per cent. But the recent swing to the far-right has dramatically fed prejudice against immigrants and refugees. Last year, some 380,000 people—a substantial portion of whom were Muslim—openly sought refugee status in the E.U., many of whom claimed instant rights to housing, education, health care and welfare. But many of them were also denied the right to work and subsequently were forced to live off social security, which has caused much concern among native populations.