“Muslims have increasingly felt that they are stigmatized because of their beliefs,” said Rhodes.

CAIRO, March 7, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) – Muslim minorities across Europe have been experiencing growing distrust, hostility and discrimination since the 9/11 attacks, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) said in a report released on Monday, March 7.

The report, the Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in the EU, said that a growing number of attacks on Muslims have been registered, ranging from verbal harassment to physical assaults and vandalism.

It covered racist attacks and anti-Muslim sentiments in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

“Pre-existing patterns of prejudice and discrimination have been reinforced and Muslims have increasingly felt that they are stigmatized because of their beliefs,” Aaron Rhodes, IHF’s Executive Director, said in a press release posted on its Web site.

Stereotypical Coverage

In the aftermath of September 11, the report said, media have increasingly been criticized for reinforcing negative stereotypes against Muslims.

“There is a tendency in the media to write about issues related to Muslims with a stereotypical approach, resulting in reports which reinforce public misconceptions,” the 160-page document said.

“Muslim representatives also regret a tendency in the media to give wide attention to Muslims with extremist views, which are not representative of the majority of Muslims.”

The report lamented that the internal diversity of Islam is often overlooked in media, and Islam is depicted as a “monolithic and one-dimensional religion that is fundamentalist and threatens western democratic values.”

Media also portray Muslims as “alien” to EU societies, “an enemy within” and as a “fifth column.”

British media, for instance, “have created the impression that the country‘s criminal justice system is successfully prosecuting ‘Muslim terrorists’”, said the report.

“In reality only three out of hundreds of [British] Muslims arrested under terrorist legislation are known to have been convicted of terrorist crimes and a vast majority of those arrested have been released without charge,” it maintained.

In Germany, the report said more than 80% of those surveyed in 2004 associated the word “Islam” with “terrorism” and “oppression of women.”

Unemployment

The report said that Muslims of immigrant background have a higher unemployment rate and a comparatively lower standard of housing than members of the majority population.

“Muslims are reportedly subjected to discrimination, inter alia, in employment, at schools and universities and when seeking access to service in places such as town halls, hospitals, shops and banks.”

In Sweden, the report said, studies have shown that up to every fifth job is closed for people with Arabic-sounding names because of discriminatory hiring practices.

In the UK, Muslims have the lowest employment rate of any religious group, and their unemployment rate is three times the national average and twice the level of other religious minorities.

Racist Attacks

The report further said Muslim women wearing hijab and Muslim men with turbans and long beards were often the victims of harassment.

The French Organization against Islamophobia (CCIF) said that during the period from October 2003 to August 2004, 26 cases of verbal and physical assaults on Muslims, 28 cases of vandalism and attempted arson targeting mosques, and 11 cases of desecration of Muslim graves have been registered.

“Four of the attacks on individual Muslims were considered grave, and over 70% targeted Muslim women wearing the headscarf,” the report said.

The CCIF also listed a considerable number of internet sites spreading anti-Muslim propaganda.

According to reports from the UK, Spain , Greece and other countries, Muslims have been further subjected to arbitrary identity checks and arrests by police since 9/11.

Hijab

French Muslim schoolgirl Cennet Doganay shaved her head  in protest at the hijab ban.

In the last few years, hijab has become the subject of increasing controversy in European countries.

“In several of the countries covered by the report, discussions have evolved around the use of the headscarf in the public domain. A major theme of these discussions has been the compatibility of the use of the headscarf in schools and other public institutions,” it said.

Muslim organizations have reported that discrimination against Muslim women wearing hijab peaked since September 11, the report said.

“Because of the discriminatory treatment often faced by veiled Muslim women, public employment offices reportedly consider the use of the headscarf a ‘disability’ in the job search process,” it added.

The report said that the debate surrounding the adoption in 2004 of a French law prohibiting religious attire in public schools helped encourage intolerance and discrimination against hijab-clad Muslim women.

Veiled women were “prevented from marrying, voting and taking university exams,” said the report.

Mosques

A file photo of a mosque in a Dutch village in the wake of an arson attack.

The document additionally provides examples of opposition to mosques in different countries.

“In several cities, plans to construct mosques have met with strong protests, and citizens’ movements have been established to oppose the realization of such plans,” it said.

In Greece , the Orthodox Church has campaigned against the construction of a mosque in downtown Athens as well as in the vicinity of the capital‘s international airport.

The report said the lack of an adequate number of Islamic prayer spaces in France to meet demands remains a problem.

It noted that most of the Islamic places of worship are located in private apartments, factory buildings and warehouses.

Such places have only limited capacity and do not meet public health and security standards.

“We are concerned that these developments threaten to undermine positive efforts at integration and further increase the vulnerability of Muslims to human rights violations and marginalization,” said the IHF’s executive director.

“We are also concerned that they may reinforce pre-existing feelings of resentment and frustration among Muslims and erode their confidence in the authorities and the rule of law.”