|The Daily Telegraph and the EU Observer have covered the findings of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) annual report for 2011.|
ECRI is tasked with combating “racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at the level of greater Europe and from the perspective of the protection of human rights.” Each year, its annual report outlines the main trends in racism and intolerance, with the purpose of showing “the context in which ECRI must continue its efforts and step up its action in the future.”
Amongst its findings for 2011, is a warning that economic austerity is fuelling racism and intolerance in Europe and that this has contributed to the growth in xenophobic political parties, with the further consequence that Muslims have become the ‘most prominent “other”’ in Europe.
Some of the main trends highlighted in the report include the following:
The economic crisis
“The ongoing economic crisis has created a vicious cycle in which many of the groups of concern to ECRI (vulnerable groups) are trapped. Diminished economic opportunities and welfare cuts push them into poverty, which breeds negative feelings on both sides of the social divide. Immigrants and some historical minorities are perceived as a burden to society. Old myths about yielding influence in the financial world are revived. The “multiculturalism model” is questioned. Discrimination in employment is rife. Racism and intolerance are on the rise in Europe today and the resulting tension sometimes leads to racist violence.”
Rise and fall of xenophobic political parties
“Xenophobic discourse has been mainstreamed during the past decade, gaining increasing social acceptance. In several countries, the tone of the political debate is set by the growing number of parties which share the same rhetoric: immigration is equated with insecurity, irregular migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees either “steal jobs” or risk “capsizing our welfare system”, while Muslims “are not able to integrate in western societies”. The latter have recently become the most prominent “other” in the xenophobic debate throughout Europe. Xenophobic parties have obtained more support in recent elections and gained seats in government coalitions and/or the parliaments of several European countries...In ECRI’s opinion, political leaders must at all costs resist pandering to prejudice and misplaced fears about the loss of “European values”, terrorism and common criminality. ECRI joins other voices in Europe calling upon member States for a strategy for the democratic management of diversity in our continent.”
Migrants and asylum seekers
“Some European countries failed on several accounts in their reaction to the sudden influx of migrants in 2011 – resulting inter alia from the events in North Africa.
ECRI deeply regrets the fact that some member States - often using their anti-terrorism legislation - have removed or tried to remove from their territory non-citizens who had obtained interim protection by the European Court of Human Rights.”
Nationwide censuses and collection of equality data
“ECRI has always stressed the need to follow closely manifestations of racial discrimination in a number of key social fields. This is why ECRI has regularly called on governments to collect equality data, i.e. statistics broken down by citizenship, national/ethnic origin, language and religion. During 2011 a number of Council of Europe member States launched nation-wide censuses which in some cases included non-mandatory questions on ethnic, linguistic and religious affiliation. ECRI hopes that after this round of censuses, it will be possible to focus on the situation of vulnerable groups about which little information is otherwise available and to understand better the context in which racial discrimination occurs. This will also help to assess the effectiveness of policies targeting these groups, so as to be able to make necessary changes and adjustments.”
Internet, extremism and racist violence
“Advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence continues to be a major problem in Europe today. Social media have recently proven singularly effective in encouraging radicalisation. Websites focusing exclusively on Muslim immigration in Europe and allegations about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy amplify the risk of extremism. This is partly the result of virtual communities’ refusing to talk to each other, as various Internet fora often attract like-minded people who encourage/reinforce each other’s prejudices…ECRI is aware that countering these phenomena without undermining freedom of expression is not an easy task. While trying to meet these Internet-specific challenges, governments are also encouraged to address the problem of hate speech in general, including the responsibility of the media and politicians.
Tragic events…have shown the danger of complacency vis-à-vis some forms of extremism and have amply demonstrated how the cumulative effect of various forms of hate speech can lead to extreme forms of racist violence. At the same time, ECRI country reports continue to highlight instances of small-scale but persistent attacks targeting historical minorities, such as the desecration of cemeteries and widespread racist graffiti. ECRI has invited authorities not to neglect these phenomena and to react promptly, in order, inter alia, to avoid escalation.”
Religious discrimination and intolerance
“ECRI notes that tensions continue to exist between religious communities, between members of some religious groups and members of other minorities, as well as between certain States and certain religious groups. ECRI is of the opinion that the authorities must protect everyone from religious discrimination and intolerance, while remaining strictly impartial in their relations with the various communities involved. They must also recognise that, in some cases, religion is used as a pretext to cover for discrimination on other grounds. At the same time, ECRI is pleased to note that religion and religious organisations, including of course those of the majority, play a positive role in promoting a culture of "living together" based on pluralism and dialogue.”
Multiple discrimination and its gender dimension
“ECRI quite often deals with cases of multiple discrimination, in which persons are denied rights or opportunities on several grounds. Muslim women are, for example, subject to prejudice not only because of their religion but also because of their gender and, quite often, their migration background. Many of their difficulties in finding employment or housing are linked to their choice to wear a headscarf. ECRI has noted that multiple discrimination is rarely monitored. It has, therefore, invited national authorities to set up systems of data collection which would also take account of the gender dimension of racial discrimination.”
Need for positive messages supported by facts
“It is a mistake to consider that the fight against racism and intolerance is only of interest to vulnerable groups. A fairer society is of benefit to all… Countering the widespread negative stereotypes of vulnerable groups with positive messages based on facts is the strategy to follow, in particular emphasising the multifaceted contribution they have made to the cultural richness and economic well-being of European societies.”
The report mirrors somewhat the findings and recommendations of the report published in April by Amnesty International on Discrimination Against Muslims in Europe, which identified increasing intolerance towards Muslims in Europe, and emphasised the role of mainstream political parties in fuelling intolerant rhetoric. The Amnesty report also highlighted the multiple discriminations faced by Muslim women, particularly those who choose to wear a headscarf.
The report’s emphasis on the links between the internet, social media and racism was covered in the Demos report, ‘Inside the EDL', ’which identified the far-right English Defence League as a “Facebook group with a militant wing”. Policing of comments made on social media platforms which incite racial hatred, and cases of prosecution, have recently been in the news including the arrest of five men in north east England, as well as the arrest of a man who threatened an ‘Oslo-style’ bomb attack on Asian restaurants in the South Shields area of Tyneside.
Moreover, the Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on multiculturalism at the Munich Security conference in February 2011, in which he labelled it a ‘failure’ is just one example of the way in which politicians have ‘mainstreamed’ the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant attitudes of far right extremist parties.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s speech to the University of Leicester in January 2011, in which she said Islamophobia in the UK had ‘passed the dinner –table test,’ is a sober reminder of what the ECRI report observes in the “the danger of complacency vis-à-vis some forms of extremism” and “how the cumulative effect of various forms of hate speech can lead to extreme forms of racist violence.”
The full report by the ECRI is available to download here.
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