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European Muslims face growing discrimination – OSI report

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French far-right party protests against mosque in Marseille, 16 Nov 2009/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Muslims are facing increased discrimination across Europe and urgent action needs to be taken at local, national and EU levels to tackle the problem, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The Open Society Institute, a private foundation set up by billionaire financier George Soros, said many Muslims suffered unfair treatment along with social and economic disadvantages, despite being integral to the cities in which they lived.

“Europe needs to live up to its promise of an inclusive, open society,” said Nazia Hussain, director of OSI’s At Home in Europe project. “Switzerland’s recent ban on minarets is a clear sign that anti-Muslim sentiment is a real problem in Europe.”

The OSI report, based on more than 2,000 interviews in 11 cities in seven countries — the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Britain, France and Sweden — said Muslims faced higher unemployment, had lower-paid jobs and suffered higher poverty rates. Some Muslim pupils faced racism and prejudice, and were confronted by lower expectations from teachers.

GUESTVIEW: European liberals – stand up and speak out in Islam debate

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Posters for minaret ban at Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dr H.A. Hellyer is Fellow of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, author of “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans”and Director of the Visionary Consultants Group.

By Dr H.A. Hellyer

The real inheritors of European liberalism need to stand up and make themselves known because the struggle to maintain pluralism in Europe is only going to get tougher from here on in.

People will differ as to when they started, and why, and who is to blame. But one thing is for sure. The problems in Europe around the Muslim presence are not going to go away – they are going to intensify. And real European liberals are going to have make their voices be counted, or say farewell to a Europe that fought so hard to ensure civil liberties and freedom could find homes on the continent.

Could Irish abortion case lead to a “European Roe v. Wade”?

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European Court of Human Rights,30 Jan 2009/Vincent Kessler

Ireland has defended its strict law against abortion at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in a case that could overturn that ban if the judges agree with three women who said it endangered their health and violated their rights.  The women, two Irish and one Lithuanian living in Ireland, had travelled to Britain to have abortions because traditionally Catholic Ireland allows the procedure only when the mother’s life is in danger. Read our full story on Wednesday’s hearing here.

The three women, named only as A, B and C, argued they had to terminate their pregnancies due to medical and social problems, and that being forced to travel abroad for abortions meant submitting to inhumane treatment that violated their right to privacy. They also said the law constituted gender-based discrimination.

This has been described as “Europe’s Roe v. Wade case” (here and here) because a Court ruling would be an authoritative interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights to which 47 European states are parties and with which they must comply.  “Domestic courts have to apply the Convention,” the ECHR’s FAQ says. “Otherwise, the European Court of Human Rights would find against the State in the event of complaints by individuals about failure to protect their rights.”

U.N. rights boss denounces Swiss ban on minarets

minaret-protestThe top U.N. rights official in Geneva has said  Switzerland’s ban on building minarets was “deeply divisive” and at odds with its international legal obligations.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday that prohibiting an architectural structure linked to Islam or any religion was “clearly discriminatory.” She said the ban was “discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take, and risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human rights obligations.” (Photo: Protesters in Zurich against minaret ban, 29 Nov 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, was asked at a news briefing whether this meant that Switzerland was violating the pact. “It’s not quite the same as saying it’s a violation, but it is a very short step short of saying that,” he said.  Read the whole story here.

The Swiss minaret ban and other trends for Islam in Europe

minarets-trainSwitzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques there raises the question of whether anything similar might happen elsewhere in Europe. Researching this for an analysis of the vote today, I found experts distinguished between actually banning an Islamic symbol such as the minaret and using the minaret example to fan voters’ fears and boost a (usually far-right) party’s chances at the polls. It seems Switzerland’s trademark direct democracy system makes it possibly the only country in Europe where both seem possible right now. (Photo: Vote “yes” posters in Zurich’s main train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

This distinction could become more important in coming months as far-right parties, as they are expected to do, try to exploit the minaret ban to rally support for their anti-immigration policies. The Swiss far right has already suggested going for a ban of full facial veils (aka burqas and niqabs) next. Marine Le Pen, deputy leader of France’s National Front, has called for a referendum in France not only on minarets, but also on immigration and a wide array of other issues linked to Muslims. Filip Dewinter, head of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, said he wanted to change zoning laws there to ban buildings that damage the cultural identity of the surrounding neighbourhood”. It remains to be seen how far they can get with these demands.

At the same time, the consensus reaction from politicians and the press across Europe today was critical of the Swiss vote. Most of the excited calls for more action come from fringe parties the majority parties keep at a distance (except the Northern League, which is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy). Referendums are not as easy to stage in other European countries and are even banned in Germany, where the up-and-coming team of Hitler andGoebbels used them before 1933 to rally support for the Nazi Party.

Does Europe’s new prez really think it’s a Christian club?

rompuy1Europe’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, is little known outside his native Belgium. One of the few background facts about him circulating since his election is his opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union.  The operative quote, expressed in a 2004 speech when he was an opposition deputy in the Belgian parliament, is:

“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past . . . The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.” (Photo: Herman Van Pompuy, 19 Nov 2009/Sebastien Pirlet)

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, said something quite similar In an interview with Le Figaro, also in 2004: “Turkey always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe,” he said, and joining it to Europe would be a mistake. Europe is united by its “culture which gives it a common identity. The roots which formed … this continent are those of Christianity.”

Halal food going mainstream in Europe – Nestlé

halal-parisThe business of selling food that is halal, or acceptable to Muslims, is set to grow rapidly in Europe in coming years as more supermarket chains target the sector. Frits van Dijk, executive vice president at the world’s biggest food group Nestlé, told Reuters at the World Halal Forum Europe in The Hague that he expected the halal food business in Europe to grow by 20 to 25 percent within the next decade.
(Photo: Halal hamburger restaurant in Paris suburb, 10 Aug 2005/Jacky Naegelen)

The total European halal food market is currently valued at about $66 billion, including meat, fresh food and packed food, while the global market is worth about $634 billion.“We are starting to see that these products are not just in speciality shops but are also starting to get into the mainstream of modern retailers,” said Van Dijk, pointing to Britain’s Tesco and France’s Carrefour, which stock halal goods.Milk powder, cooking aids, seasoning and sauces are among the most popular halal products in Europe at the moment, while Nestlé has recently started selling a range of meat-based and frozen food halal products in France, Van Dijk said.Read the whole story here.

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Bishops see more selfish Europe 20 years after Berlin Wall fell

referendum Photo; Irish “Yes” campaigners celebrate in Dublin, 3 Oct 2009/Cathal McNaughton)

Europe has become increasingly selfish and materialistic in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the heads of the Roman Catholic bishops’ conferences across Europe said at the end of their three-day annual meeting at the weekend.  “The crisis sweeping Europe today is serious,” they said in a statement after the session in Paris. They cited materialism, individualism and relativism as major challenges facing European society.

The bishops’ sober assessment contrasted with the upbeat mood that the overwhelming “Yes” vote in Ireland’s Lisbon Treaty referendum created.  It must be noted they drew up their statement before they’d heard the news from Dublin on Saturday. And their statement ended with a note of Christian hopefulness. Still, their diagnosis is so fundamental it’s hard to imagine they would have changed much in the text.

Here’s the way they put it:

“All that has happened since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a great stepping stone in the European adventure… (but) twenty years later, we now see that the incredible European project, with a strong ethical basis, has greatly weakened… The hopes placed on building Europe have not so far been fulfilled. Here we take note of the influence of several factors:

from Global News Journal:

One dent at a time, Turkey’s nation-state edifice erodes

"Happy is he who calls himself a Turk."

One of the first things that catches your attention when you drive out of the airport of Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's famous phrase engraved on mountain slopes in big white letters.

Bent on building a secular and modern Turkey after World War One, Ataturk carved a united Turkish nation out of the disparate ethnic and religious groups that inhabited the old Ottoman empire -- sometimes by forced "Turkification" as was the case with ethnic Kurds.

That once-monolithic nation state is slowly being dented as pluralism becomes an acceptable fact of life in Turkish society.

Can the EU promote ethical values in the economic crisis?

EU Parliament President Poettering and EU Commission President Barroso hold a news conference with religious leaders in BrusselsControversy overshadowed events this month when European Union officials invited Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from 13 member states and Russia to a meeting on economic governance.  Most of the Jewish leaders invited refused to attend, saying they considered some of the Muslim organisations taking part to be radical and anti-Semitic. The Universal Society of Hinduism issued a statement complaining it had not been invited and declaring: “It was clearly an insult.” (Photo: European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering (2nd L), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (C) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (2nd R) address media in Brussels 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

A spokesman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who initiated the annual gathering with religious leaders five years ago, said the reason no Hindu representatives were invited was largely to keep the meeting focused. “This meeting also has to be sort of conclusive and lead to real debate — it’s not that we can invite 100 or 1,000 persons to have a huge conference on these issues,” the spokesman said.

The 20 high-level participants in the end included four representatives of Islam, a single Jewish organisation which did not join the boycott, and 13 Christian groups.