“Preventing and combating anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe” Aïcha Haddou

Religions for Peace Europe has participated in the Consultation  that the European Commission  has launched a consultation in order to collect input on a number of questions which were at the centre of discussion during the first Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights in the EU, 1-2 October 2015,Brussels.  on the theme “Preventing and combating anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe”

Speech of Aicha Haddou
representative of EmridNetwork, European Women of Faith Network and Religions for Peace Europe

Your Excellency  Mr Frans Timmermans, Vice-president,

Ministers and Commissioners,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First and foremost, I want to pay tribute to you and congratulate your for taking such a necessary initiative, and for all the strong measures initiated by the EU to fight against various kinds of manifestations of racism. Let us not forget the advantages we enjoy, but the question is : are these sufficient today ?

I also want to pay tribute to the excellent work accomplished by many Jewish and Muslim leaders and citizens within their respective communities, and the synergies developed together in the face of this ordeal which corrupts our society. We have no choice but to note that these efforts have not been sufficient, and that today neither of these two communities feels safe.

At this time when we are faced with a large scale economic and social crisis, when Europe (and not only Europe)  becomes painfully aware  of the rise in hatred and reject,  in antisemitism and islamophobia, all of this in a climate where religious extremism, populism and nationalism are gaining ground, we constantly recall the dark pages of the past.

The identity crisis across Europehas also highlighted the urgent need to think further and above all to act.  I believe we need to do so together, in order to protect both our communities, even though we are aware that both causes do not have the same historical, political and social background.

I plead for us to aim at overcoming the confinement of both islamophobia and anti-semitism, aiming together at deconstructing the phobia of the other, because the ingredients for discrimination are the same for all.

We are all together in this boat.

Far be it from me to minimize the importance of this semantic debate, and the violence to which the Jewish community has been confronted inEuropein the past and nowadays, but it seems to me that at the end of the day, many, including the victims, don’t really care about the judiciary qualification of the aggression inflicted.

I strongly plead for following this second way[i], as there is a lot for us to benefit from protecting ourselves by supporting each other. As far as we are concerned, we have already chosen this way and experienced it, we are already reaping the fruits of our efforts. Contrary to widespread disinformation, a vast majority of Muslims are very sensitive to the fight against anti-semitism, and they are concerned by this issue as much as with that of islamophobia.

I believe this way to be the way forward, as it also allows to build crosscommunity  solidarity and brotherhood,  which we have a considerable need for.

Coming back to islamophobia, the topic at hand,  may I take the example of the country which is mine,Belgium, and I know many European countries are coping with the same difficult times.

Above all, forty years of Muslim presence have especially meant the very dense presence of varied perspectives and contributions to our society. But these forty years of Muslim presence also mean over twenty years of debate about this very presence.  A  visibility and a presence which do not leave the rest of society indifferent, and have served to activate strong reactions,  and have triggered off emotions concerning the issue of community life. They are perceived by some as a ramping process of islamisation, if not of Muslim radicalization.

In the present climate of rise of extremist terrorism, there is a way of treating Muslims, here and now, which is simply unbearable. Muslims are constantly confronted to violent suspicion. Even the most peaceful of Muslims are stressed by this situation. They have to handle blows – as the wind blows, on the whim of events.

A definite synchronism is noticeable between peak periods of islamophobic violence and terrorist incidents. Muslims are led to justify themselves, to distance themselves from such acts, although it is usually forgotten that they too are often victims of these extremists, and are also targets for terrorists.

The community feels left to itself, and notes that racist acts exercised against Muslims have become common place.

And despite all of this, we witness the emergence of extremely positive dynamics within the community itself, we see the way the debate on the issue of Islam is increasingly connected with new emerging voices, and the way in which Muslim associations offer solutions and alternatives for better living together, and strong contributions in terms of  peace-making.

The community is busy taking stock of the situation to understand the breeding ground on which this anti-Islam racism has developed, we must do so and this stands for other communities also. Some leaders hold responsibility for these developments, it must be said and we need to come to terms with that. There is a growing awareness that reform is necessary, that even the field of theology needs to be revisited, that strong alternative and intelligent discourses based on the fundamental values of Islam need to be provided. We must be reminded of the core of the Quranic message concerning diversity, freedom of religion and mercy. Is it not the purpose of the prophetic         mission?

«Nous t’avons envoyé que miséricorde pour l’humanité »   says the Quran.

But this community should be left to take on this task without outside interference, and in total peace.

How are we to cope with this situation   ?

From my perspective, it is imperative to invest new fields, obviously after having assessed best practice against policies that have completely flopped.

Recognition is needed, and evidently also consistency.

  • We need legal mechanisms and texts that do not differentiate between discriminations. Racism is reprehensible without distinction.
  • This is in keeping with Europe’s fundamental principles, becauseEuroperecognizes the principle of equality before the law. Clearly, these legal provisions could include measures acknowledging the specificity of anti-semitism and islamophobia.

The implementation of these provisions will need to be reinforced in order to protect the community, and no effort should be spared to bring into court those who have committed acts of racism and those  who incite racial hatred and/or violence.

Yet today, there is a loss of confidence in the judicial system concerning discrimination, to such an extent that many do not bother to report acts of discriminations, and are getting organized between themselves to respond to them and make their voices better heard. Is this the best alternative ?

We must :

  1. not compromise about our principles : never legitimize discrimination.
  2. AnaIyse existing wayward ideology, but most of all analyze the social and political environment that produces it, such as discrimination concerning access to accommodation and jobs;   cultural entrenchment and isolationism experienced by so many youths who are stigmatized and feel rejected. Whether we like it or not, this explains quite a few of the reasons for these excesses, certainly without justifying them. We must therefore take this fragility into account and address it.

I strongly recommend that we:

  • Invest in training in diversity and alterity management (one can start very early in life in this field). There is a demand for training on the part of teachers, who are confronted with new questions and challenges and feel helpless.
  • The values of Human Rights, otherness, community life and citizenship, must be introduced   and developed in school curriculum. There have been positive experiments in this field that could be shared as good practice.

·      Invest in taking over social networks and the web especially with a strong approach, because what is happening there is reprehensible – just have a look at the comments posted on any article concerning Islam or Muslims, it’s all about calls to lynching, or murder – it’s truly frightening.

·      Invest also in the field of media. This  is essential in view of their role in promoting community life. The media should learn to refuse shortcuts, the need to acknowledge their responsibility, and the fact that they could become an exceptional channel for peace-making.

In conclusion, today we are in desperate need of wise men and women, who might help bridging the gap, as we all suffer from vulnerability and fragility.

We need every one to get involved and responsible political leaders. We need every one in the field of education and social work, civil society, intellectuals and religious leaders of all faiths and philosophies to be aware that they are accountable in front of mankind for each word spoken, broadcast or posted.

We can continue to ask things from Europe, but let us not forget that we areEurope.

Thank you for your attention.

Written by RfP Europe

Read more articles from RfP Europe