ADDRESSING ISLAMOPHOBIA A RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS AND BROADER INEQUALITIES

From ENAR, ENORB, Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en Belgique (CCIB), Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Migration & Development (EMCEMO), Asociación Musulmana por los Derechos Humanos (AMDEH), European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW), Fundación Al Fanar para el Conocimiento Árabe, Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF), Lallab, Association Il Razzismo è una brutta storia, Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), Asociación Marroquí para la Integración de los Inmigrantes, Dokumentations- und Beratungsstelle rassistischer Angriffe e.V, Verein ZARA, Comunidad Islámica Mezquita Ishbilia, Organización Nacional para el Diálogo y la Participación (ONDA), Centre for Peace Studies

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Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Muslim communities

The sanitary crisis caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 in 2020 in Europe will have a long-term effect on minorities in particular, including Muslims. Strong and effective actions from the European Union institutions and Member States are needed in the different areas highlighted below (1).

Muslims communities in Europe are very diverse and are at risk of racism due to their real or perceived Muslim or ethnic backgrounds (for example, Arab and Turkish descent individuals often automatically perceived as being Muslims). Islamophobia also targets Arab descent migrants, including asylum seekers, refugees and those who are undocumented, particularly those from North Africa and the Middle East.

Structural and racial discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare sectors. Muslims communities (or those perceived as such) were already facing racial inequalities and living under unsafe conditions. This pandemic has further aggravated the effects of the existing inequalities they experience. Muslims, and especially women, are often overexposed to the disease (and therefore to death) because they are disproportionately represented in essential but undervalued work areas, including cleaning, care and security sectors (with precarious working conditions). Socio-economic inequality in employment, housing and healthcare sectors due to racial discrimination have also been exacerbated.

Police abuse. To enforce the lockdown measures, Members States have increased their law enforcement efforts. However, minorities were already excessively targeted by racial profiling. This increase in policing has had a disproportionate and negative impact on Muslim men, as they are depicted as less obedient to the public policies and assumed to be suspicious and dangerous. The enforcement of the lockdown had brutal effects, compared to the more affluent areas within the same country, especially in a context of overcrowded housing conditions.

Islamophobic rhetoric and scapegoating. Within weeks of COVID19, hate speech holding Muslims minorities responsible for the crisis spread rapidly online. Some mainstream media have disseminated fear-mongering headlines and, in some cases, letting readers believe that the fasting period of Ramadan could exacerbate (2) the outbreak of the virus . Migrants were also depicted as potential risks and responsible for the sanitary crisis. In a context of mass of lockdowns across Europe, and closure of the borders, the opening of the border between Turkey and Greece has led to open hate speech in mass media (3), allowing waves of hate online.

Restrictions to freedom of religion and belief. While April counted several religious celebrations for different communities, in some countries, only Muslim population was specifically targeted by the public announcements to remain in their houses and to avoid gatherings. The existing lack of infrastructures has become an urgent and pressing issue since the outbreak, including the lack of Muslim burial spaces in cemeteries. Some analysts have also pointed towards the hypocritical nature of treatment of face covering in France whereby Muslim women can be fined for both covering their faces (165 EUR, by the way of niqab) as well as for uncovering their faces by the face masks (135 EUR). Conditions of life under COVID19 have reminded us that the way we interpret behaviors and customs is socially constructed (4) and COVID19 has indeed disrupted the interpretations of face covering.

11 public actions to address Islamophobia and protect Muslim communities in Europe

Crises are opportunities for policymakers to adjust their policies and meaningfully address racial issues, including islamophobia. The following recommendations for actions are key to adequately respond to the crisis and tackle the structural manifestations of Islamophobia by mainstreaming it in key policy areas. As civil society organisations, we call on:

European Institutions to

1. Ensure that funding programmes have specific allocation criteria to benefit Muslim people (or those perceived as such) and civil society organisations supporting them, so that they can develop long- term projects for victims’ support, capacity building, strategic litigation, educational programmes, etc. This should be included in the current EU budget negotiations.

2. Ensure that the new recovery instrument Next Generation EU include measures that address the specific situation of Muslim communities, especially in the REACT-EU targeting the socio-economic impacts of the crisis, in line with the objectives of an inclusive and fair recovery for all. The process for disbursement of funds should involve Muslim communities in consultative mechanisms with the governments.

3. Explore the possibility to initiate infringement proceedings based on the Employment Directive (2000/78/EC) to address the systemic discrimination faced by Muslim women wearing the headscarf in some EU Member States.

4. Assess the restrictions of Freedom of Religion and Belief in the upcoming revised Strategy on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and adopt recommendations for Member States. Civil society should be more involved in making it more accessible.

5. Assess and acknowledge the discriminatory impact of counter-radicalisation and counter- terrorism measures and ensure that counter-terrorism measures comply with fundamental rights safeguards, especially when implementing the recently adopted EU counter-terrorism Directive.

Member States to

6. Support the adoption or improvement of national policies against racism, such as National Action Plans against Racism, with specific measures or strategies to recognise and counter Islamophobia as a form of racism.

7. Develop and promote harmonisation of data collection in areas of hate crime and equality, including and systematically recognising anti-Muslim bias as a category. These data should be disaggregated by multiple grounds of discrimination (including gender, race, ethnicity and religion) while respecting self-identification and full anonymity. This is central to assess the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 on Muslims and design tailored responses and policies, particularly in the forthcoming recovery phase.

8. Adopt and implement guidelines/measures to combat racism in law enforcement (including to prohibit racial profiling, adopt more severe sanctions against police violence, increase racial diversity and trainings, etc.).

9. Grant resident permits to undocumented migrants, to lift the barriers that prevent them from being protected and included in society.

The Fundamental Rights Agency and OSCE-ODIHR to

10. Establish firewalling protocols to prevent the expulsion of undocumented migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, as well as facilitating their integration and access to health and other services.

11. Support civil society in collecting data and carrying out research specifically on the impact of COVID-19 on Muslim communities.

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1—Based on civil society organisations’ research and data collection

2—https://www.getthetrollsout.org/what-we-do/media-monitoring/item/619-hungary-origo-uses-coronavirus-crisis-to- stoke-anti-muslim-sentiment.html 

3— https://www.getthetrollsout.org/what-we-do/media-monitoring/item/596-greece-%E2%80%93-major-newspaper- uses-coronavirus-to-spread-anti-muslim-hate.html

4—As stated by Marco Perolini, Amnesty International: https://www.euronews.com/2020/05/25/requiring-face-masks-to-fight-covid-19-upholding-niqab-bans-shows-irony-lost-on-lead-view

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS FROM A COALITION OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA

 

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS FROM A COALITION OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA1

Secure institutional recognition and mandate to tackle Islamophobia effectively

December 2018

 

Islamophobia (anti-Muslim racism/anti-Muslim hatred) is a specific form of racism that refers to acts of violence and discrimination, as well as racist speech, fuelled by historical abuses and negative stereotyping and leading to exclusion and dehumanisation of Muslims, and all those perceived as such. Many manifestations of Islamophobia are structural in their nature, in the sense that discriminatory patterns against Muslims are embedded in policies, laws and practices of institutional or private bodies.

We welcome the high-level conference on tackling intolerance and discrimination against Muslims in the EU organised by the European Commission and the opportunity to tackle the issue comprehensively, while recognising civil society stakeholders as key partners with unique expertise. While there has been recognition of the issue at European Union level, obstacles remain as evidenced by the Fundamental Rights Agency’s report on Muslims and by the European Islamophobia report (2017). European institutions and EU Member

States need to strengthen and secure their mandate and actions to tackle Islamophobia, especially in these times of political transition.

As civil society, we have highlighted the following objectives that can be reached through specific actions, in close consultation, cooperation and full transparency with civil society experts. These are addressed to Member States and the European Institutions.

 

  1. Tackle the structural manifestations of Islamophobia by adopting measures in key policy areas
  • Support the adoption or improvement of national policies against racism, such as National Action Plans against Racism, with specific measures or strategies to counter Islamophobia, including measures to tackle intersectional discrimination targeting Muslim women (on the model of the Barcelona action plan against Islamophobia);
  • Adopt guidelines to implement an intersectional approach to religious dress restrictions by recognising these restrictions mostly target Muslim women and are against full gender equality. These guidelines could promote non-discriminatory approaches to enable full inclusion of all Muslim women in all areas of life. Assessment of existing legislation should be done taking into account this approach;
  • Develop and promote harmonisation of data collection in areas of hate crime and equality, recognising anti-Muslim bias as a category. These data should be disaggregated by multiple grounds of discrimination, including gender, race, ethnicity and religion.
  • Assess and acknowledge the discriminatory impact of counter-radicalisation and counter-terrorism measures and ensure that counter-terrorism measures comply with fundamental rights safeguards, especially when implementing the recently adopted EU counter-terrorism Directive.
  1. Secure safe and decent working conditions for civil society working against Islamophobia
  • Refrain from participating in/supporting often-unfounded accusations against civil society organisations working against Islamophobia. These are clear manifestations of the generalised suspicion towards Muslims in Europe. Civil society organisations in Europe are key democratic stakeholders which ensure that all communities are heard and empowered and hold governments accountable. However, civil society organisations working against Islamophobia are often severely delegitimised and may have their reputation, resources and integrity threatened.
  • Develop and strengthen funding programmes enabling civil society working against Islamophobia to develop long-term projects for capacity building, advocacy for equality, strategic litigation, educational programmes, etc. This should be included in the current EU budget negotiations. Facilitating access to these funds is also crucial to allow civil society to benefit from them.
  1. Consolidate the mandate of the European institutions to keep Islamophobia high on the agenda
  • Publish an outcome document following the high-level meeting on combating anti-Muslim hatred, highlighting the main gaps in equality of outcomes for Muslims in the EU and exploring ways forward for Member States to address these gaps. The document could also include main relevant policy areas, existing EU laws or policy initiatives, international standards and examples of promising practices by Member States. This would help gather in one document all existing work and standards, as well as main issues, and would act as a roadmap for European Commission officials when interacting with Member State representatives;
  • Based on this document and existing research and recommendations, develop a list of actions on combatting Islamophobia with concrete objectives and targets;
  • Organise a good practice exchange seminar (on the model of the Greek event on multiple discrimination and intersectionality) or an EU Presidency conference (on the model of Austrian Presidency’s conference on antigypsyism) for Member States to follow-up on sharing and implementing actions in this field;
  • Include combating anti-Muslim hatred as a priority in forthcoming communications related to tackling racism and the future of the EU high-level group on combating racism and related intolerance;
  • Secure the position of the EU coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred as long as it does not replace strong political will, actions and effective policies. Clarity about the role should be ensured by a clear mandate and transparent communication and consultation process.

1: European Network Against Racism, European Network on Religion and Belief, European Forum of Muslim Women, Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium, Lallab, Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations and others (full list available here)