Analysis: Islamophobia rising in Europe?

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Germany Correspondent   |   Jan. 31, 2006 at 1:23 PM
Sign up for our Security newsletter

KEHL AM RHEIN, Germany, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Danish cartoons enrage the Arab world, a German immigrant test singles out Muslims and opposition grows to admit Turkey and its 70 million Muslims into the European Union -- a ghost is haunting Europe, the ghost of Islamophobia.

At least that's what Islamic organizations across the continent say. Does Europe face a clash of cultures?

In Denmark, round one seems to have already started. The Arab world has reacted with outrage to a series of caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohammad, published last September by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The 12 drawings were reprinted in a Norwegian paper this month, including an image of Mohammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. Depicting images of Mohammad is considered a sin in Islam.

Several Arab governments (including Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia) have called on the Danish government to apologize, but in Copenhagen, officials argue they won't apologize for a newspaper because that would interfere with the country's free-press rules. But in a TV interview, Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen distanced himself from the drawings: "I would never publicize pictures of Jesus or Mohammad that might offend other people."

Although the newspaper on Monday issued an apology for having offended Muslims throughout the world, the conflict between Denmark and the Arab world is ever-mounting: Arab countries have ordered home their Danish ambassadors, Danish products are being boycotted in several Muslim-dominated countries, and Danish and Norwegian flags are being burned on sidewalks all over the Middle East.

On Monday, a group of armed Palestinians stormed a European Union office in the Gaza strip, a day after al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades distributed flyers urging Scandinavians to leave the area within 72 hours.

Right-wing Danish lawmakers have apparently decided to hit back, with racist propaganda there making it into the media daily.

"All countries in the West are infiltrated by Muslims. They are nice to us while they wait until they are enough to kill us," said Mogens Camre, a MEP from the right-wing Danish People's Party, or DVP.

Ake Sander, one of Sweden's leading experts on religion and Islam at Gothenburg University in Sweden, Tuesday told United Press International via telephone that the cartoon affair was not the tip of an iceberg, but rather an isolated incident.

"Islamophobia has undoubtedly risen in Denmark, not so much in the rest of Scandinavia, however," he said. "But there are countries in Europe where Islamophobia has measurably increased, such as Austria and Great Britain."

Sander, alongside several colleagues throughout Europe, conducted a European Commission-sponsored study on Islam-related fears in 25 European nations, which will be released next month.

Islam is already the EU's second-most popular religion, and it could one day claim the top spot if the Western European affinity to atheism continues, and Turkey and its 70 million Muslims join the bloc.

But an ever-growing opposition to that move has settled in nearly all Western European countries, including generally pro-European nations such as Germany and the Netherlands.

"A lot of people still equate Islam with terrorism," Sander said, adding the recent bombings in Madrid and London have taken the conflict from the United States to Europe. Imams that preach hate do exist, but they are in a small minority, he said.

The fear of anyone wearing a hijab, combined with the problems of integration suffered by a number of Muslims in Europe, has led to a spat in Germany over one state's immigration test.

The conservative state government of Baden-Wuerttemberg has decided to single out Muslims trying for a German passport for tougher questioning to find out if they really mean business when they sign an oath to the constitution. Questions touch on sensitive topics including homosexuality, domestic violence, promiscuity and equality of the sexes.

They range from: "Imagine that your adult son comes to you and says he is homosexual and plans to live with another man. How do you react?" and "Your daughter or sister comes home and says she has been sexually abused. What do you do?" to "What do you think if a man in Germany is married to two women at the same time?"

Muslim organizations in Germany have reacted with outrage. Earlier this week, 12 of them issued a joint statement condemning the new method.

"The fact that only Muslims have to take this test implies that the commitment to Islam could mean a threat to security and it thus clearly segregates Muslims. It also encourages prejudices about Islam, massively violates the private sphere and the freedom of speech and opinion of the people questioned," it read.

The German state has so far refused to take back the new policy, arguing the application of the test would be expanded to include all immigrants whose true intentions are doubtful.

Muslims are increasingly self-confident when it comes to addressing such controversial issues and in recent years have reacted very strongly, Sander said.

"Now they are more often in the offensive after being in the defensive for many years."

In several European countries, integration of immigrants, often Muslims, is failing. Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said it was one of his top goals to better his country's integration efforts after witnessing the riots in neighboring France last fall.

Sander said several things need to improve to bring down Islamophobia and improve integration, including giving Muslims a chance to speak for their community.

"It's still very hard for them to make a career in politics, but they have to be given channels to voice their frustrations and grievances in the European society."

Bettering the socio-economic status of Muslims is another way to integrate them, albeit a tough task, he said.

"Unemployment among young people in Sweden is high, and young men and women with Muslim identities get cut first," he said. "I get papers written by an author with an Arab name and it doesn't get published. I'd put my name on it and it get published right away."

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more news from UPI.com
Related UPI Stories
share with facebook
share with twitter
Trending Stories