Islamophobia is on the rise in Europe and governments should do more to protect the continent’s 15 million Muslims from discrimination, experts meeting in Spain said Monday.
“The situation is very serious,” said Mustapha Cherif, an expert on Islam at the University of Algiers who is known for his commitment to battling religious hatred. “Islamophobia is a rising phenomena,” added Jasser Auda of Britain’s Forum Against Racism and Islamophobia, which is made up of representatives of the British Muslim community.
The two were speaking at a meeting in the southern Spanish city of Jaen of some 30 non-governmental organisations from across Europe. The gathering was held ahead of the start on Tuesday in the nearby city of Cordoba of a two-day conference on the issue organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Spain currently holds the rotating presidency of the OSCE, which promotes human rights, democracy and conflict prevention in Europe, North America and Central Asia.
Participants said there was no easy solution to fighting Islamophobia. Turkish State Minister Meymet Aydın underlined the need to help Western societies undestand Islam.
“It is good to attract the attention of governments on the issue, to increase their level of awareness,” said Aydin Suer, the spokesman for Femyso, a confederation of Muslim youth groups from 22 European nations.
“The problems are complex, the solutions themselves are complex,” said Suer. Muslims could not just blame media stereotypes for the problem, he added. “We Muslims need to question ourselves,” he said.
The non-governmental organisations will present a list of recommendations on how to tackle the problem to delegations from the 56 nations that make up the OSCE, and that are set to take part in the Cordoba conference.
“This will be the message from civil society” to the government representatives gathered in Cordoba, said Spain’s special ambassador for relations with Muslim communities, Jose Maria Ferre.
Cordoba was chosen as the host for the event because for centuries the city was a symbolic centre of coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims. The city hosted an OSCE conference on anti-Semitism in 2005.