Anti-Muslim violence: A wakeup call for European governments
A police check of a Muslim woman wearing the full-face veil recently sparked riots in a Paris suburb, and has reignited a debate about the controversial ban of full-face veils in public spaces from 2011.
However, there is more at stake in such community uprisings than mere opposition to the ban; the riots should also be seen against the background of the rising violence against Muslims in Europe.
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Several violent attacks against Muslim women preceded the riots in France. One of the most severe incidents occurred on 13 June, when two men physically abused a 21 year-old pregnant woman.
Muslim women are increasingly the victims of violence.
In France in 2012, 85 percent of anti-Muslim reported incidents targeted women, and other countries demonstrate similar figures. The UK experienced a significant increase in anti-Muslim violence after the Woolwich killing, and the NGO Tell Mama recorded 12 incidents per week on average between March 2012 and March 2013. Most of these incidents concerned Muslim women.
The sharp rise in anti-Muslim attacks raises the question of responsibility. Who is to blame for the rise in anti-Muslim violence? Ultimately, individuals are to blame for their actions, but there is also a need to look critically at social and political influences.
There is a tendency to view hostility and violence towards Muslims as normal and acceptable. Prejudice against Muslims does not always carry the same social stigma as prejudice against other ethnic and religious groups.
In France and elsewhere in Europe, anti-Muslim attacks are too often met with political leaders’ and representatives’ silence rather than strong political will to protect basic human rights.
When political leaders turn a blind eye to attacks or refrain from publicly condemning violence, individual perpetrators are more likely to feel that they are ‘right’ and can act with a sense of impunity.
In France, the ban on the full-face veil makes the situation especially vulnerable for Muslims, since the ban is easily exploited as a justification for violence and abusive behavior. There needs to be stronger and clearer messages from leaders denouncing arbitrary use of the law.
Having a law against the full-face veil is one thing; misusing it, or seeing it misused repeatedly without taking action is another matter. Beyond the issue of the veil, politicians have a responsibility to speak out against violence, and they must also ensure that all individuals are adequately protected.
A first step to effectively tackle violence against Muslims would be to officially recognise Islamophobia as a specific form of racism. Islamophobia refers to the discrimination faced by individuals because of their real or perceived Muslim affiliation, and it results from a process of social construction of a group which is assigned specific racial features and stereotypes.
Greater recognition of Islamophobia in Europe would allow for the development of more focused and comprehensive strategies on EU, national, and local levels to improve the situation for Muslim communities.
There is also a need to address discrimination and violence against Muslim women in particular. Coalitions between different stakeholders need to be further encouraged in order to combat this extreme form of gender-biased violence.
A cohesive and resilient Europe that benefits all cannot be achieved so long as violence against Muslims is not seriously addressed. The riots in Paris have ended, but their underlying causes are likely to produce more conflict sooner or later.
In order to prevent such conflict in the future, governments urgently need to take action against Islamophobic violence.
Marwan Muhammad is spokesman for Collectif contre l'Islamophobie en France (CCIF); Elsa Ray is Project manager at CCIF for a pan-European programme to counter Islamophobia in Europe; Michael Privot is Director of European Network Against Racism (ENAR).