Europe’s largest intergovernmental human rights watchdog has warned that intolerance toward Islam and Muslims in Europe has been increasing in recent years and urged immediate action to stem violence against Muslims.
In a report titled “Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe“, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) noted with deep concern that in many of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states, Muslims feel socially excluded, stigmatized and discriminated against, stressing that they become victims of stereotypes, social marginalization and political extremism because of their different religious and cultural traditions.
PACE made recommendations to the Council of Europe saying, “Discrimination against Muslims must not be tolerated in Europe, as it violates the European Convention on Human Rights.” “Freedom of religion of Muslims must be fully guaranteed, but this freedom must not be used to deny other fundamental freedoms and human rights, in particular the right to life by non-Muslims, the right to non-discrimination by women or minorities, the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of religion by non-Muslims,” it also added.
The report lambasted some member states where far right-wing parties have changed their traditional hostile campaign against immigration and foreigners and now exploit the public fear of Islam. The PACE report underlined: “Their political campaigns encourage anti-Muslim sentiments and the amalgamation of Muslims with religious extremists. They advocate the fear of Europe being swamped by Muslims.”
It listed political parties such as the French National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Belgian Vlaams Belang and the Swiss People’s Party, which have been very successful in running campaigns against Islam and largely contributed to the stigmatization of Muslims
Postscript: While the recommendations outlined above are welcome, the PACE report is seriously flawed in other respects, particularly with regard to its analysis of political Islam. It states:
“Islamists pursue a model of society incompatible with the values and political structures of a democratic, tolerant and pluralistic Europe. Their claims challenge democracy, secularity and human rights. Islamists are not willing to submit to a national legal framework as this is perceived to go against their religious belief….
“Islamists do not really want Muslims to integrate in European societies and therefore instigate them to reject European values and norms…. Islamism plainly refuses key features of European culture and fundamental values shared by all European countries…. Islamism rejects multiculturalism and can only lead to intolerance.”
This is a one-sided and inaccurate depiction of Islamism. It could be applied to sectarian currents like Hizb ut-Tahrir but bears no resemblance to the practice of other trends within Islamism which are distinguished precisely by their readiness to engage with political processes in wider society. Indeed, one of the main reasons why political Islam came under attack in the UK was because supporters of the Iraq war were enraged by the success of an alliance between Islamists and the Left in mobilising popular opposition to that war.
An example of the ignorance demonstrated by the authors of the PACE report is their claim that the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park is among those European mosques which “used to be centres for Islamists”. The reality is, of course, that the Finsbury Park Mosque was once run by representatives of an extreme and untypical variant of Islamism, namely Abu Hamza and his supporters. They were ousted by more mainstream representatives of political Islam, namely supporters of the British Muslim Initiative, in co-operation with the Muslim Contact Unit of the Metropolitian Police.