Open Letter

A meaningful coordinator on anti-Muslim hatred to transform European approach and action to tackle Islamophobia

Dear First Vice-President Timmermans

Dear Commissioner Jourová,

Dear Director-General Tina Astola,

On behalf of the European coalition against Islamophobia, a platform of anti-racist/human rights/faith-based NGOs combatting anti-Muslim racism and hatred, we are writing to ask the European Commission to provide its Coordinator on anti-Muslim hatred with a clear human rights-based mandate and meaningful resources. The European Commission’s decision to appoint a new coordinator is an opportunity to make this happen.

In December 2015, following the first ever European Commission Fundamental Rights Colloquium, we welcomed the appointment of a European Commission Coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred. This was a strong and concrete commitment to tackle increasing racism against Muslim people in Europe. The coordinator took some steps to increase the relationship with NGOs and the recognition of anti-Muslim hatred. Two years after the coordinator’s appointment, this political commitment must now lead to a shift in strategic approach and to tangible actions, which have been lacking so far.

As expressed on several occasions by the coalition, the mandate and the approach of the coordinator has serious gaps to tackle the issue effectively, ensure meaningful participation of Muslim communities and anti-racism NGOs and to develop policies to combat Islamophobia. The appointment of one dedicated person does not replace strong political will, actions and effective policies.

Inadequate human and financial resources, expertise, objectives and evaluation processes partly explain disappointing results to date. The lack of transparency concerning meetings with national governments, the failure to organise a meeting between NGOs and Commissioners, the framing of anti-Muslim hatred as a religious issue instead of a human rights one, the absence of European Commission representatives at several events on Muslim women’s rights and the engagement of the coordinator with very questionable figures fuelling Islamophobia, are among the most problematic illustrations of these systematic gaps.

In addition, the coordinator has conflated the fight against Islamophobia, anti-blasphemy laws, Islamism and counter-terrorism in a number of social media posts and declarations. In a context of generalised suspicion of Muslims, EU policy makers advancing equality and non-discrimination must see Muslims as human beings who enjoy fundamental rights. The fight against Islamophobia is about politically addressing structural forms of discrimination and racism affecting Muslims or those perceived as such.

 

If the European Commission is serious about upholding European core values of equality and non-discrimination, it needs to make important strategic changes and concrete actions including:

  • Profile of the coordinator. Ensure that the coordinator is appointed based on relevant skills and competences in order to work meaningfully on the issue of islamophobia as a form of racism. This will also facilitate relationship and trust with NGOs who have extensive knowledge about the issue and its manifestations. It would be desirable to appoint a coordinator from the affected communities.
  • Clear mandate. Clarify what the role of the coordinator entails in terms of representation, official communication and actions that can be undertaken, also defining the remit of issues to be covered.
  • Communication and consultation process. Transparency is key to build trust with civil society organisations who are on the ground in direct relation with communities. Communication and consultation processes need to be clarified to ensure meaningful participation of civil society.
  • Concrete objectives and action plan. The role of the coordinator cannot only be about listening and bringing issues to the political level without any accountability. The coordinator needs to set concrete objectives to achieve during their mandate and work on an action plan with evaluation processes.

 

Finally, we officially request a meeting with First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner Věra Jourová to discuss the above-mentioned recommendations. This is a necessary signal at a time when parties using blatant islamophobic rhetoric have come to power.

Yours sincerely,

European organisations
1. European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW)
2. European Muslim Initiative for Social Inclusion (EMISCO)
European Network against Racism (ENAR)
3. European Network on Religion and Belief (ENORB)
4. Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO)

National organisations
5. Alliance of Inclusive Muslims (AIM)
6. Anti-Racist Forum, Finland (ARF)
7. CAGE, UK
8. Center for Danish Muslim Relations, Denmark (CEDAR)
9. Collective against Islamophobia and Discrimination, The Netherlands (CTID)
10. Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium (CCIB)
11. Collective against Islamophobia in France, France (CCIF)
12. Coordination Contre le Racisme et l’Islamophobie, France (CRI)
13. Etudiants Musulmans de France, France (EMF)
14. Euro-Mediterranean Center Migration & Development, The Netherlands (Emcemo)
15. Justice & Liberties For All Committee, France (CJL)
16. Muslim Council of Britain, UK (MCB)
17. Muslim Human Rights Committee, Sweden (MHRC)
18. Muslims for Progressive Values, the Netherlands (MPV Nederland)
19. RADAR/Art.1, The Netherlands
20. Farid Hafez, editor of the Islamophobia Studies Yearbook and co-editor of the European Islamophobia Report and Salzburg University

ENORB AGM and Board Meeting – June 29th 2017

This is an important AGM, as ENORB’s board comes to the end of its three year term of office, and we will need to elect a new board to take forward the work into (we dare to hope) a new era of EU funding which will enable us to provide the same kind of service to member state organisations as the other EU Equality networks. As well as offering a clear voice to EU institutions for freedom of religion or belief and against discrimination, we will be able to support the development of networks in EU member states: promoting mutual understanding, encouraging inter-convictional and interfaith engagement and taking action to implement EU values and fundamental rights.

To attend the AGM please email enorb@enorb.eu

SGI-UK Three Faiths Leadership Training

SGI-UKStarting in 2008, members of SGI-UK* initiated two projects named “Three Faiths Community Leadership Training Project” in a diverse, multi-cultural borough in South London. The focus was on leadership training for 34 young people aged 18-26 from Muslim, black Christian and Buddhist groups. Both projects met on a monthly basis over a nine-month period.

Inspired by the words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda who said:

“The most important thing is to initiate dialogue…from one perspective; certainly human history has been a history of religious warfare. That is precisely why dialogue among members of different religious groups is needed to ensure a new era of peace. This will be especially crucial in the future. Though our perspectives may differ, we all share the ideals of peace and happiness. Simply put, we are all human beings, and it is this common humanity that is the key to uniting the human race.”

The project sought to respond to prevalent issues dominating UK society for example ‘Islamaphobia’, the polarisation between Christianity and Islam and the increasing number of racial attacks and violence against black and Asian communities by creating a platform for friendship based upon true humanistic exchange which could facilitate the forging of bonds of trust at the deepest level between young people of different faiths.

Dialogue took place in a workshop setting and the programme included reflections on themselves, their backgrounds and the nature of their faith. They also examined and reflected upon themselves in terms of their personal identity, gender and race. They explored some key tenets of their faith that inspired and motivated the participants to develop altruism within their families, communities and beyond. Sessions were interactive, required the participants to work on tasks together and created bonds of friendship that transformed their lives.

Participants subsequently designed and delivered workshops based on their learning and experience to fifteen young people from each faith at their respective centres; the Mosque, the Church and the SGI community centre. The young people attending the workshops commented how impressed they were about the unity, friendship and depth of learning they were able to convey. In the autumn of 2009 they organised a conference on community cohesion attended by their friends, family, members of the public and local and national politicians.

The fundamental challenge and transformation for the young leaders was a journey through a deeper inquiry into the notion of ‘otherness’. This stimulated self -examination and reflection and an opportunity to create an understanding of reality beyond themselves. In exploring how ‘otherness’ is created, constructed and often demonised, they needed to examine more deeply questions of identity, race and racism. This challenge was necessary so that they could open up and build relationships that transcended the differences they had with each other and draw upon the most noble of values that are at the heart of their religious beliefs and traditions. Moreover, following this, the young people were able to have dialogue within their own religious organisations, sharing the learning and understanding they had gained.

The Three Faiths Project is in the process of applying for funding to run another programme with the goal that this type of initiative will take root in the reality of British Society. We have seen that the group process of shared learning opens up a deep empathy and appreciation that allows the dignity of each participant to shine and believe that the genuine bonds of friendship forged through this intense process of self-evaluation and reflection are the cornerstones of peace.

*SGI is a lay Buddhist movement whose members practice the Lotus Sutra based teachings of the 13th-century Japanese sage Nichiren. As a worldwide organisation, active in 192 countries and territories, it’s members strive to create value in their local societies through activities embracing culture, education and peace.  SGI is part of the European Buddhist Union, which is a member of ENORB.

Gentleness is stronger than severity

HesseA framed print of this picture with Herman Hesse’s words, Gentleness is stronger than severity, water is stronger than rock, love is stronger than force, was presented to the Director of the Jewish Museum in Brussels by ENORB on 18 June.