Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Opinion

How to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia?

  • "Our political leaders are finally starting to move beyond symbolic declarations" (Photo: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier)

The deadly attacks in Paris and Copenhagen have served as a wake-up call to European policy makers of the escalating reality of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism in Europe.

The fertility of European soil to extremist ideas, policies and practices - either from the far-right or from those propagating violence in the name of Islam - must be addressed.

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Our political leaders are finally starting to move beyond symbolic declarations. They want to know what strategies can work in combatting the vicious cycle of hatred and human rights violations.

This is precisely what a hearing in the European Parliament taking place today (29 June) is aiming to do by discussing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and hate speech in Europe. While it is ambitious to address these three very specific topics in one hearing, we hope this will provide impetus for MEPs to take one more step in the direction of effective action.

Unfortunately, however, it is drawing sharp criticism from some groups. There is criticism that the scope and diversity of issues, of victims and of voices are too many to be represented in short panel discussions.

The challenges we face are huge: anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are affecting the quality of daily life of Jews and Muslims, albeit in different ways and from different perspectives. They should be addressed with the same political will through effective and meaningful responses addressing the common and the distinct factors.

The enemies in this situation are those who spread hate and commit violence, not fellow civil society organisations such as ours who work towards the same goal of equality and safety for all in Europe. The enemies are not the European Institutions and agencies which are supporting calls to get closer to this goal.

Brave individuals

Demonisation of adherents of a religion or a people easily leads to delegitimisation of those who open bridges across communities. This type of reaction is at best unconstructive and at worst risks fuelling tensions between these communities as well as the racism they encounter.

It is not possible to really combat prejudice within our communities without the work and courage of brave individuals who risk their personal safety for the cause of equality. There are too many examples of Muslim and Jewish interfaith leaders who are marginalised because they are too soft, but their message is vital to building vital bridges between communities and creating trust.

Europe needs more non-Muslims to stand up against Islamophobia, challenge the hate crime and economic and social discrimination that Muslims face, and create the conditions for inclusive participation of Muslims as equal citizens in European democracies.

Europe needs more non-Jews to stand up against anti-Semitism, reduce bullying in schools and eliminate violent attacks on the street and at community centres, and appreciate the Jewish contribution to the fabric of European culture.

Monday's hearing in the European Parliament and the upcoming European Commission Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights that will also focus on anti-Semitism and islamophobia are both opportunities to welcome non-Jews and non-Muslims into a partnership against hatred.

It is time to question ourselves honestly and recognise that the status quo of isolated efforts has not been working. It is time for us to come together as communities, as Europeans. Taking care of each other is taking care of the future of our societies.

Sarah Isal is Chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR); Intissar Kherigi is President of the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO) and Robin Sclafani is Director of CEJI-A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe

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