Thursday, 27 January 2011
Viewpoints: Anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe
Baroness Warsi, the chairman of the main party in Britain's governing coalition, has said that anti-Muslim prejudice has "passed the dinner table test" and become socially acceptable in the UK.
Here are the views of Muslims from around Europe on whether they think anti-Muslim attitudes are now considered acceptable in their countries.
Prof Anne-Sofie Roald, professor of religious studies at Malmo University and a Muslim convert
I would say in Sweden there is much more sensitivity around this than, for example, in Denmark. Even when there was a suicide bombing in Stockholm, there was much in the media saying we should not blame Muslims and terrorists. Many were talking about him as one lonely person who was fed up with life and wanted to commit suicide.
In Sweden, there is this negative idea that we haven't integrated immigrants in a proper way, which I think is not accurate. It becomes self-fulfilling, it makes Muslims feel there is no good in integrating.
I used to wear a headscarf but I found that my work was not being accepted or taken seriously. I had put myself in a situation where I isolated myself, whereas when I took my headscarf away and became very secular, I suddenly became part of society in a different way - I let myself be accepted.
Muslims feel accused and stigmatised - that's why they creep into their own minority thinking: that we are discriminated against, they don't like us. It is not only the majority discriminating against the minority, it is the minority isolating themselves from the majority. It's not a coincidence that the [anti-Islam party] Swedish Democrats came about now - they are playing on this anti-Muslim sentiment.
Sami Zemni, professor of political science at the University of Ghent
There is nothing new there. This kind of anti-Islamic sentiment has been going here for years with the [anti-immigration party] Vlaams Blok.
They suddenly realised that going on about anti-Islamic sentiment is easier than talking about racism. "We criticise a religion," they say, "not the people themselves." The argument they use has become widespread, and it has spread to all political parties.
There was a study in Flanders a year ago on anti-Islamic views - more than half of the Flemish population said they had no problem with anti-Islamic views. "It's the Muslims' fault because they are uncritical of their religion, which is backward," they say.
"Muslims are anti-'people who think differently'," they say. "It's because of their Islam, it's not adapted to modernity."
Kubra Yucel Gumusay, freelance journalist and columnist
Ever since Thilo Sarrazin's book [which said Muslim immigrants were a drain on German society], people began to think that a group like Muslims are genetically incapable of being successful and integrating. He was trying to prove scientifically that having prejudice against Muslims was OK. Before this, people could not say those thoughts openly, but now it looks like there's scientific proof for what they think.
My friends have stories of people shouting at them, being spat at, not getting seats in restaurants. A year ago people would have said this is not OK, but these days people just tolerate these situations. This for me is proof that being anti-Muslim is becoming OK in society, even in academic circles.
It does not matter if you are a practising Muslim or not, you just have to look like you're from a country where Muslims are from.
We say racism has now become "salonfahig", meaning it is acceptable in polite society.
I personally do not get upset, because it's my work, even though I received a death threat a couple of days ago. But other Muslims - they feel personally affected. Many of my friends feel like leaving for the UK or Canada where things are better.
Mario Scialoja, retired Italian diplomat to the UN who converted to Islam, currently with the Islamic Cultural Central in Rome
Apart from in northern Italy, there is very little anti-Islamic feeling and there have been no acts of Islamophobia; it is not socially acceptable. Personally, I have no experience of such acts, but it might be different for immigrants from North Africa.
The absence of anti-Islamic feeling may be because, up to now, there has not been the kind of massive immigration seen in other large European countries such as France. It started much later in Italy than it did in other European countries, and this might explain the situation.
In northern Italy, where the right-wing Northern League is prevalent and they don't like immigrants in general, there may be some anti-Islamic feeling. There have been some isolated incidents, such as when some stones were thrown at the mosque in Treviso, or when someone brought a pig before the mosque in Pisa.
Laila al-Zwaini, Dutch-Iraqi lawyer specialising in Islamic law
Many of the problems in our society that are related to Muslims and Islam are more often immigration problems, not about Islam as a religion.
At a political level, and with the presence of the Freedom Party (FP), the language on this issue has become very negative and confrontational. The FP speak first and everyone has to react to them. They're looking for guinea pigs, not solutions. Muslims are not treated as individual people - they are treated as a group.
The media don't chose to speak to scholarly Muslims, who speak on behalf of these issues. But also, there are not as many Muslims in Holland as in England who are highly educated and willing to speak on these issues.
The Dutch history of a "pillarisation" of society - where if you are Catholic you vote for one party, if Protestant for another - is the way they now treat Islam, as if it's a pillarisation with a church-like hierarchy, which is not the case.
Dutch society has changed how it looks at me - it didn't used to care if I was Muslim, Catholic, Jewish - but now it matters. Before, I was a Dutch native with an exotic background, but now my identity has changed without me changing at all, putting Islam as my primary identity. It's not a problem, but it is different.
The political language has certainly changed for the worse, with the Freedom Party at the forefront, but still the majority of the public do not accept this language.
It's the minority that is negative, but it's the minority that gets the attention.
Naser Khader, MP in the Danish Conservative Party and founder of Democratic Islam Organisation
I do not agreed that we have anti-Muslim sentiment in Denmark. We have it among a few but it is not the general option.
To be anti-political Islam is not the same as being anti-Muslim. Our challenge is to underline that, as a Muslim, you have to accept that your religion is challenged, that any religion should be challenged. Any religion that does not accept criticism is, in my opinion, weak. It becomes stronger if you criticise it.
One of the most positive results of the cartoon crisis in Denmark is that we no longer say "the Muslims". The Danish people discovered that there are different kinds of Muslims - and that the majority supported Denmark.
A well-known Danish company owner told me that before the cartoon crisis, he didn't want to hire any Muslims - it was the same as accepting trouble, he said. The crisis was an eye-opener for him, it showed him that Muslims were Danish and were democrats. It made him more tolerant - before, we were a heterogonous group that only wanted trouble.
I and my friends established the Democratic Muslims Organisation for those Muslims in Denmark who are successful, who are educated, who are loyal to Denmark. Before they cartoon crisis they didn't have a platform, they were not well-organised. But the Islamist groups were, so when the media went to speak to Muslims, they spoke to Islamists who only represented the minority.
I think you need a cartoon crisis in the UK!