|Amnesty International have issued a report looking at prejudice and discrimination faced by Muslims in Europe. ‘Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination against Muslims in Europe’ is based on field research conducted in Belgium; France; the Netherlands; Spain and Switzerland, and aims “to focus on discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and to illustrate some of its consequences on Muslims in Europe.”|
The report states:
“Muslims in Europe face discrimination in several areas of life because of their religion, their ethnic origin or their gender, or a combination of these grounds. Discrimination has a negative impact on their lives and affects their exercise of many human rights. It blights their individual prospects, opportunities and self-esteem and can result in isolation, exclusion and stigmatization. For example, legislation and policies restricting the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress often have the effect of excluding from employment Muslim women who choose to manifest their religious, cultural or traditional background by wearing specific forms of dress and thus indirectly contribute to their own marginalization... Such legislation and policies are detrimental to women’s equality and autonomy.
“Muslims should be given the possibility to make independent choices in relation to the expression of their cultural and religious backgrounds… Muslims should be able to make these choices free from any pressure or coercion from family or community and any form of stereotype and prejudice from other private citizens or state institutions.
“Discrimination against Muslims in Europe is fuelled by stereotyped and negative views, which fail to take into account basic demographic and sociological factors such as the diversity of Muslim groups as well as their cultural and religious practices across the region. Regrettably, some political parties’ messages and the portrayal of Muslims in some sections of the media reinforce these views. There is a particular responsibility for public officials and those seeking political office not to promote or strengthen stereotypical views which are likely to foster intolerance and discrimination.”
The report looks at the rise of political parties which promote anti-Islam and anti-Muslim discourses and their role in characterising Islam as Europe’s enemy while promoting notions around a ‘clash of civilisations'.
The report also looks at the situation facing Muslims in Europe in the context of international and regional human rights standards with a specific focus on employment; freedom of religion or belief and of expression; religious and cultural symbols and dress, particularly the face-veil, and gender-based discrimination. The report assesses the observance of human rights standards across these areas in each of the country's studied based on domestic legislation, trends and practices.
In its conclusions, the report states that:
“Amnesty International is concerned that anti-discrimination legislation is not effectively implemented in several European states and that European institutions are failing to tackle this problem. Muslims are discriminated against on the ground of religion or belief in employment even in countries where such discrimination is prohibited under domestic legislation…Regrettably, public authorities have not put in place effective mechanisms to prevent private employers to discriminate on the ground of religion or belief. At times states have introduced general bans on religious and cultural symbols and dress in public employment in order to achieve aims, such as enforcing neutrality and secularism, which are not per se legitimate under international law.
“Restrictions on the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress have sometimes been introduced in education and lead to violations of the rights of Muslim pupils to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. On some occasions states have introduced general bans in public education without proving that they were necessary and proportionate for the achievement of a legitimate aim.
“Restrictions on the establishment of places of worship have limited the exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief in countries and regions such as Switzerland and Catalonia (Spain). Last but not least, some European governments have introduced legislation resulting in general bans on the wearing of full-face veils, often not on the basis of reliable data and without consulting women affected by such prohibition.”
The report puts forward recommendations to the countries studied as a whole; to the relevant regional bodies, and to countries in particular based on their own issues and practices. These include:
• For all governments to establish national equality bodies to monitor and advise on anti-discrimination legislation and discrimination-related issues.
• The introduction of, or improvement of current anti-discrimination legislation in relation to employment as well as in other areas, including that domestic legislation protect against discrimination on the ground of religion or belief.
• Informing Muslims and the public about redress mechanisms in relation to discrimination.
• Avoiding the introduction of general restrictions on religious and cultural symbols and dress in public employment. If adopted, such restrictions should serve legitimate purposes and should be proportionate to and necessary to achieving those purposes. Where such restrictions are in place, states should monitor the effects and impact on religious and ethnic minorities, including Muslims.
• Avoiding the introduction of general bans on the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress in education. Where such bans are adopted, ensuring that they are based on an objective and reasonable justification. The report makes specific recommendations for France to regularly review its legislation in this area.
• Restricting the building of places of worship only proportionate to the achievement of legitimate aims (eg. Public safety). The report makes specific recommendations for Switzerland to repeal its prohibition on the building of minarets.
• Avoiding the adoption of legislation which imposes a general ban on full-face veils.
Notably, the United Kingdom does not feature in the report, despite some similar trends in public discourse and practice to those observed by the report in the European countries studied. For example, a report by the Equality and Human Right Commission published last year, found that, “relative to other religious groups in Britain, Muslims report and experience discrimination of a greater frequency and seriousness than other religious groups.
“At the same time, the research evidence continues to identify aspects of ‘visible religious difference’ being a particularly salient part of ‘religious discrimination’, especially in relation to Muslim women and clothing and following 9/11 in relation to physical attacks on Muslims and others perceived to be Muslims by virtue of aspects of their clothing."
Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on radicalisation and Islamic extremism, which he made in Munich last year labelled multiculturalism in Britain as a ‘failure’; the speech has given momentum to the far-right who claim that immigration has been the passage through which Europe has been ‘Islamised’.
Furthermore, there have been attempts by members of Parliament to introduce, or call for, bans on face veils in the UK. The aggregated and cumulative impact of this and further evidence points to an increasingly hostile environment for Muslims in Britain and in Europe.
Amnesty International’s full report is available to read here.
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