Syed Arif Ahmad
In the late 1950s and 60s labour migration led to the establishment and growth of new Muslim communities in several EU Member States. Initially these immigrant communities were composed mainly of working age males and were defined primarily in terms of their economic function (as Ã¢â‚¬Ëœguest workersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢), their colour or nationality. With the restriction of primary economic migration in the 1970s a process of settlement and of family reunification began. As men were joined by their wives and children, attention turned to the development of community infrastructure. An increasing proportion of the Muslim population is now second and third generation European-born Muslims. In the 1980s, Muslims also arrived in northern Europe as refugees seeking asylum, initially from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, and then in the early 1990s from the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Somalia. In some cases these were skilled professionals arriving from urban centres.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001, many Muslims in EU Member States have been seriously affected by a difficult climate-as the EUMC (European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) documented in 2001 and 2002 in a series of reports which showed how Muslims had become targets of increased hostility. This is in spite of positive initiatives, involving Muslims and other religious groups, which aim to promote mutual respect and improve the social participation and positive integration of Muslims into EU societies.
Based on evidence gathered by EUMC over the last few years indicates that since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, European Muslims have been seriously affected by an increasingly hostile social climate. Subsequent incidents, such as the murder of the Dutch film director Theo van Gogh and the Madrid and London bombings further exacerbated prejudices and fuelled more incidents of hostility and aggression.
Though many Muslims acknowledge that they themselves also need to do more to engage with wider society, to overcome the obstacles and difficulties that they face and to take greater responsibility for integration. However, engagement and participation also need encouragement and support from mainstream society that needs to do more to accommodate diversity and remove barriers to integration. It is also to be noted that discrimination against Muslims and Islamophobia are entirely incompatible with European values, and to urge European Member States to fully and effectively implement EU laws against discrimination and racism.
Herewith an analysis of the survey based on interviews conducted between August 2005 and January 2006 by the European Monitoring Centre with European Muslims in ten Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom.
Changes since 2001
The report suggest that many Muslims in the European Union feel that they are under intense security. For most of the respondents in the survey feel that a great deal changed from 11 September 2001, the date of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. From that time onwards respondents in different countries have reported an increase in open incidents of everyday hostility. Most of those interviewed agreed that the situation had deteriorated over the last five years.
Citizenship and exclusion
Many Muslims in the European Union feel excluded from economic, social and cultural life. This is stated to be particularly the case in those Member States where a large part of the Muslim population does not have access to citizenship. Examples are given how the vulnerability of those without citizenship is sometimes exploited by state officials, employers or landlords.
Further even when Muslims are citizens of a Member State, they can still feel a sense of exclusion. They feel that they are perceived as Ã¢â‚¬ËœforeignersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ who are a threat to society, and treated with suspicion. According to the survey, this feeling is reported to be stronger among young European born Muslims than their parents. While the second and third generation are in many ways more integrated than the first, at the same time their expectations are greater and so the consequent exclusion is more keenly felt.
Demands on integration
Respondent felt that the demands on Muslims to Ã¢â‚¬ËœintegrateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ are often unreasonable and inconsistent. The younger generation who get particularly frustrated by this because they feel that they have done all they can on their side to Ã¢â‚¬ËœintegrateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. They felt that although integration is a two-way-process, yet the constant pressure on Muslims to integrate means that in practice only one side is emphasised. They argue that a sense of belonging is intimately linked to equal treatment that they expect from wider society. Thus Islamophobia, discrimination, and socio-economic marginalisation have a primary role in generating disaffection and alienation.
The respondents feel that, increasingly, acceptance by society is premised on the assumption that they should lose their Muslim identity. They feel that there is an assumption that their values are not compatible with Ã¢â‚¬ËœEuropeanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ values. In some instances the fact of having religious values is seen as a source of conflict with the majority European secular values. Furthermore most of the respondents feel that Islam is portrayed as undermining key values of European societies, whereas in their view the values of the average Muslim are entirely consistent with European values.
To Be Continued…
Syed Arif Ahmad is a graduate student at an European university.
Photo: Grand Mosque, Paris