Muslims on front line as racism rises across EU

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Racism, xenophobia and far-right extremism are on the rise across Europe, according to a comprehensive survey which found that Muslim communities face mounting discrimination and prejudice.

The report, by non-governmental organisations in 20 EU countries, criticises governments for losing interest in the battle against racism, and says the political reaction to terrorist attacks has made life harder for ethnic minorities.

The inquiry by the European Network against Racism highlights a trend towards “increased tolerance for discriminatory behaviour particularly against immigrants and Muslims”. It adds that “a lack of political will to address racism is sometimes evident and disturbing”.

The section on the UK, compiled by the Runnymede Trust, chronicles the reaction to the July 7 terror attacks in London last year concluding that new immigration and security policies have helped create a situation in which racism has flourished.

The report on France describes immigration policies as being “at the heart of institutional racism” in the country. In Germany almost 15,000 refugees had their asylum claims revoked last year, compared with 577 in 1998.

Anti-terror crackdowns have led to racial profiling which, by the nature of stereotyping, impacts on the wider ethnic minority groups, the report says.

“Since January 2005 police in the Netherlands can ask for proof of identity. The UK also reports an increase in the disproportionate use of ‘stop and search’ against minority groups.

“Muslim women were disproportionately affected by an ordinance proposed by the Mayor of Treviso [Italy] in 2004 that forbade the covering of one’s face on municipal territory.”

Across the Continent researchers found evidence that police forces have failed in their duty to investigate and prevent racist crime. “Sometimes racially motivated crime is simply not taken seriously,” says the document, adding that police are “reluctant to record a crime as such, as highlighted for instance in the reports on Hungary and Lithuania. In some cases police might not recognise the racist element and treat an incident as hooliganism.”

Even more worrying is the growth of extremist political forces. The report notes: “A rise of right-wing extremism, as well as other forms of nationalism, is evident in a number of countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Malta and Slovak Republic.

“The use of the internet as a tool for the dissemination of racist sentiment, crime and propaganda is particularly worrying given that internet crime is not often recorded and the legal difficulties that have been experienced in challenging internet-based criminal activity.”

Victims of racism range from Europe’s Jewish communities to its Roma minorities. But a separate document on Islamophobia reports a dramatic increase in incidents against Muslims, particularly in France.

It says: “The rise of intolerance and discrimination towards Muslims has risen in the last year and the underlying tones of Islamophobia have infiltrated all forms of public and private lives for Muslims in Europe.”

* A jury in St Petersburg has acquitted four people charged with the murder of a 29-year-old student from Congo who was beaten to death last year.

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