Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Opinion

Hatred is hatred: anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in EU spotlight

  • The EU Commission's first EU Colloquium on Fundamental Rights is dedicated to preventing and combating anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe (Photo: Charles Fred)

The deadly anti-Semitic attacks in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen, and the numerous violent incidents against Muslims in different European countries have brought to light the realities of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe, and these are now finally being recognised at a political level.

The European Commission's first EU Colloquium on Fundamental Rights (1-2 October) is dedicated to “Preventing and combating anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe”.

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It is the first time ever that there is real policy discussion at EU level about the hostility faced by Jews and Muslims in Europe. It signals a welcome willingness by our political leaders to acknowledge the current challenges to human rights in the European Union and work on solutions.

What we need now are concrete measures to ensure this important initiative does not remain an empty shell.

One of the more urgent issues at stake are hate crimes against Jews and Muslims. There have been a number of very serious incidents targeting Jewish communities recently, not least the attack at the kosher supermarket in Paris last January and at a synagogue in Copenhagen in February.

Muslim communities are also increasingly targeted across Europe, including verbal and physical attacks, arson on mosques and desecration of Muslim tombs. Hate crimes against Muslims in London, for instance, have risen by 70% in the past year, according to police statistics.

Better enforcement of existing legislation is needed to ensure that hate crimes are taken seriously across Europe - that they are reported, recorded – taking the victim’s perception into account – and properly investigated. We also need stronger and broader EU legislation to cover all forms of hate crime.

Another cause for concern is the lack of progress on addressing discrimination including on the grounds of religion or belief and the intersection between different forms of discrimination.

The proposed EU Equal Treatment Directive, which would fill gaps in protection against discrimination, in particular on the grounds of religion and belief outside of employment, has been stuck in negotiations for the last seven years. EU Member States need to adopt this legislation as soon as possible.

We have seen that existing equality and hate crime laws are not sufficient to address the specific forms of discrimination and structural racism faced by Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe.

These should therefore be complemented by the adoption of specific national strategies to address anti-Semitism on the one hand and Islamophobia on the other. The specific and comparative situation of these groups in areas such as education, housing, health, employment, policing, security, justice systems, and freedom of religion should be assessed and addressed, in line with international and European standards.

We hope that this colloquium will show the European Union’s ability to clamp down on hatred in Europe.

Racism concerns all of us, not just Muslims and Jews, and we need to tackle it together. Now is the time for cooperation, beyond attempts from some to pit communities against one another.

EU Member States must demonstrate the same commitment and political maturity to tackle hatred wherever it comes from and whoever is the target – without forgetting that every one of us is much more than a set a beliefs and we are all likely to be discriminated on many other intersecting grounds.

Fundamental rights are indivisible, hatred is hatred. Europeans deserve the highest standards in matters of equality, protection and security.

Sarah Isal is Chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR)

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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