End growing anti-Muslim prejudice, EU report urges


Ian Black in Brussels
Friday May 24, 2002
The Guardian

British politicians and the media were warned yesterday to avoid demonising 
immigrants and asylum seekers after a damning EU report warned of mounting 
anti-Muslim prejudice across the continent.


The government was legitimising racist debate by giving mixed messages, the head 
of the EU's anti-racism centre said.


The report by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia blamed 
British media for using negative stereotypes of Muslims and portraying asylum 
seekers as terrorists and the "enemy within" after September 11.


In the survey, the Vienna-based EUMC said Britain had seen a "significant" 
increase in violent assault, abuse and attacks on Muslim property, some "very 
serious".


Rises were also reported in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, where common 
incidents involved verbal abuse of women wearing the hijab.


British and other European politicians and community leaders were praised for 
trying to bridge gaps in inter-faith meetings and campaigns for tolerance. But 
they were warned to avoid pandering to popular prejudice.


"September 11 has in some cases merely acted as a detonator of feelings that we 
have failed to adequately address," Bob Purkis, the EUMC chairman, said in 
Brussels.


"By demonising refugees and asylum seekers you legitimise racism and xenophobia. 
There are mixed messages coming from the prime minister, from the Foreign 
Office. In the discussion about asylum seekers we have to make sure we are not 
operating in ways that legitimise the debate that racists are having."


Earlier this month Peter Hain, the Europe minister, called for greater efforts 
to integrate isolated British Muslims who were vulnerable to extremists and 
fanatics.


"If it is right for Europe to give a lead where there is ethnic tension 
elsewhere in the world, then it is imperative that it puts its own house in 
order if it is to be listened to," Mr Purkiss said.


The EUMC singled out the UK media for "disproportionate" coverage to "extremist 
Muslim groups and British Muslims who declared their willingness to join an 
Islamic war against the west".


Less sensationalist Muslim voices were mainly overlooked while "very basic 
Islamophobic stereotypes" shaped the popular image of young British Muslim men, 
it said.


Sections of the media were blamed for fuelling anti-Muslim feeling by reports 
that al-Qaida terrorists had entered the country as asylum seekers.


"Such instances were used to justify hostility in order to stop them eradicating 
British values and exploiting its social welfare system at the same time," the 
report said. "As a result, the distance between issues relating to asylum 
seekers and those of September 11 began to be gradually narrowed, until the two 
had almost become identifiable as one. Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council 
of Britain, said the report confirmed their own monitoring. "Under the cover of 
the war on terrorism, safeguards have been lowered for reporting on Muslims," he 
said. Phrases like "fifth columnists" and "Muslim scroungers" had become 
commonplace.


The EU study covered the period from September 11 to the end of 2001.





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