By Nawab Khan
BRUSSELS, Dec 4 (KUNA) -- A high-level conference held in Brussels has warned that anti-Muslim discrimination in Europe has become a very serious problem and much effort was needed to be undertaken to tackle this dangerous phenomena.
Opening the conference titled "Tackling intolerance and discrimination against Muslims in the European Union ," Monday evening EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova noted that 25 million citizens in the EU are Muslims. "Muslim minorities are perceived as someone different ," she said and stressed that "all of us must confront this cultural stereotypes because they are dangerous and poisoning are modern secular and tolerant societies." Quoting a Pew Research Centre figures, she said that in 11 EU member states, 50 percent of non-Muslim population would not be willing to accept a Muslim as a member of their family. In some countries this number increases to 80 percent.
She said that research conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) showed that one in three Muslims in Europe felt discriminated during their search for employment.
Studies show that candidates who identify themselves in their CVs as Muslims receive fewer interview for jobs in relation to religious-neutral candidates.
"Women remain the most vulnerable victims to discrimination in particular to access in the job market," said the EU Commissioner who hails from the Czech Republic.
She called for initiatives and policies to find an adequate response to the problem.
"How do we nurture a sense of belonging that allows every Muslim to live his or her life as a Muslim in the EU alongside all other religions," she asked.
Barbara Notan, head of the fundamental rights policy unit in the European Commission who chaired the conference said "we all know that challenges being faced by Muslims communities and targeting them in Europe needs special attention." "And this conference here today aims to offer a forum to try to find a response to experiences that Muslim communities are facing in the EU," she said noting that the conference has been organised by the European Commission .
On his part, Michael O'Flaherty, Director of FRA said "we have a very serious problem in the EU and I hope this meeting is a testimony to getting more serious about tackling it." "Situation is so bad that I was in an European capital last week and a representative of an Islamic community said to me that things are getting so dangerous for my community now that people are thinking of emigrating. I haven't heard that before but it brought home to me as a non-Muslim the extent of the problem," he stated.
He said the FRA is ready to support the Muslim community in the struggle against the perpetration of attacks and expression of hate.
O'Flaherty announced that the FRA has created the first dedicated database on anti-Muslim hatred, containing most recent surveys, case laws and reports. The database is available online as from December third.
"Within Muslim community there is expressed a higher level of trust in our societies, in our institutions and in our state than you will find in the general population. This is a powerful affirmative message about Muslim communities across the EU," he stressed.
He said the FRA will soon publish a survey with data which fundamentally challenges the lie in public discourse that says somehow there is a correlation between the largely Muslim migration into Europe and a rise in anti-Semitic hate crime. "That is a lie and we will be publish evidence in two weeks time," he added.
Ismat Jahan, ambassador of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Brussels, said the 57-member organisation has consistently supported such a dialogue to develop a culture of peace, tolerance and moderation.
"Religious intolerance and discrimination in its various forms is rising globally and not only in Europe and in particular against the Muslims," she said.
Ismat Jahan condemned any attempt to link religion and Muslims with terrorism as "irresponsible" and warned that it further polarizes the society.
Malread McGuinness, first vice-president of the European Parliament, in her video message called for more contacts and dialogue between followers of different faith and religions.
She noted that Muslims amount to five percent of the population in Europe and is the second largest group after the Christians. This figure is expected to grow to around 10 percent by 2050, she said.
Shaykh Dr. Umar Al-Qadri, Chair of Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, thanked the civil societies for the important work they are doing in not only highlighting intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, but also in providing solutions to this challenge.
He said "Muslims are part of today and of tomorrow of Europe. "We are not the enemy but are allies and partners." "Many of you are in position of addressing anti Muslim rhetoric, intolerance and discrimination against Muslims by implementing policies and enforcing legislation," he said.
"On the other side Muslim religious leaders like myself and civil societies are committed to work towards a European society that reflects the values of pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men," said the Irish Muslim scholar.
A number of participants welcomed the holding of conference and called for more such meetings to tackle Islamophobia and racism in Europe.
Brahim Bouzarif, co-founder of the Centre for intellectual reformation and research based in the Belgian city of Ghent told KUNA that "it is a very good initiative to have such a conference." "It shows that the authorities like the European Commission are listening to our problems." "But the question is what comes after," he said and added that "we think that western countries do not have a good image of Islam so we are giving lectures and speeches and visiting schools to explain the good practices of Muslims and Islam." Nina Muhe, representing the Alliance against Islam and Muslim hatred in Germany, told KUNA that "it is a very important sign" that the EU has appointed a coordinator to tackle anti-Muslim hatred in Europe.
She noted that in the Alliance most are non-Muslim organisations.
Anna Stamou from the Muslims Association of Greece said these kinds of meeting are essential for civil organisations because this is the only way that we can pass on our messages to our governments.
"This meeting is more than important and must be held on regular basis because things are changing rapidly," she told KUNA.
The European Network against racism (ENAR) and a coalition of civil society organisations working against Islamophobia issued key recommendations to the conference, to tackle Islamophobia.
The recommendations include developing and strengthening funding programmes enabling civil society working against Islamophobia to develop long-term projects.
The conference gathered over a 100 representatives of national authorities, civil society, academia, the religious community, EU agencies and international organisations. (end) nk.gta