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Behind the veil: An intolerant Europe

Last updated on: July 15, 2010 14:51 IST

Behind the veil: An intolerant Europe

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Are the once liberal-minded European nations now more doubtful of the intentions of the minority segments (especially Muslims) that reside in their borders?

Fuelled by the rise in instances of terror and the manner in which the acts are executed, Europe is shutting the door tight on its minorities and doing all it can to 'perhaps' feel protected.

The failure to integrate Muslim minorities in Europe is worrying. The community is falling pray to what is being termed as (in German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble words) 'non-compliance with European values'.

Off late, trends pointing towards a radical change in Europe's liberal outlook have come to the fore. Several countries have control measures for immigration, such as language tests, 'culture' exams (in Netherlands) and tougher visa and border rules.

Click on NEXT to read about the controversial measures taken by some European countries...


Image: A Muslim man prays in the Er-Rahma mosque in Nantes, western France
Photographs: Stephane Mahe/Reuters
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Is Europe turning intolerant to Islam?

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FRANCE

France believes that the burqa undermines gender equality and the struggle for equal rights, which the country's women have been waging for years. With that rationale in mind, the Lower House of the French government has approved a law to ban the burqa in public places.

The step taken by France is crucial as it has the largest Muslim population in Europe. However, the nearly 50 lakh Muslims in France had strongly opposed the move and warned of strong protests.

The law is yet to be approved by the constitutional council and the Senate.

Violators of the burqa law can be fined as much as 150 euros. France has already banned religious symbols like the headscarf, skullcaps and crosses in its schools.

Islam is the second religion of country after Christianity. Over decades, many Muslims have migrated to France from sub-Sahara Africa and North Africa for better financial options and these migrants in particular are resisting government's move to ban burqa.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared the burqa "not welcome" in secular France and has always favoured legislation to outlaw it, although he has also warned against stigmatising Muslims.

France is home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority.


Image: A girl holds a banner during a demonstration condemning the French move to ban the veil in schools
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
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BELGIUM

T
his is a very strong signal being sent to Islamists, said a Belgian MP when he was asked about the rationale behind the country's decision to ban the wearing of the burqa and over-the-face coverings in public spaces.

The Lower House of the Belgian government banned burqa-type attire in public places on April 29 this year.

The law specifies that no one can come to a public place 'with the face fully or partly covered so as to render them no longer recognizable'.

The law still has to be ratified by the Senate or the Upper House of the Belgian Parliament. Unscheduled elections in the country have delayed the process.

The Belgian government held that the burqa "clashes with the principles of an emancipated society that respects everyone's rights".

According to media reports, the unanimity with which the measure was approved suggests strong cross-party support.

Accoring to Daniel Bacquelaine -- the bill's chief promoter -- the ban might also be used against potentially violent demonstrators who covered their faces. He estimated that though only a few hundred women in the predominantly Roman Catholic country wore facial veils, it was a rising trend that needed to be curbed.


Image: Muslim students in traditional dress at a school in Antwerp
Photographs: Sebastien Pirlet/Reuters
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SWITZERLAND

The ban on minarets came as a major blow to the 40,00 odd Muslims who reside the country.

A November 2009 referendum on a ban on minarets, which was opposed by the government, was passed with a 57.5 per cent vote. The result paves the way for a constitutional amendment to ban the construction of minarets.

The Swiss constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People's Party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

Supporters of the ban said minarets represented the growth of an alien ideology and legal system that have no place in Swiss democracy. The Swiss government said it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population that the minaret ban was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture."

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council denounced the vote while passing a resolution, proposed by the Organisation of Islamic Conference that termed the ban as a manifestation of Islamophobia, which clearly contravened international human rights obligations concerning freedom of religion, belief, conscience and expression.

The Swiss government, meanwhile, is drafting a supporting law on the ban -- a process that could take at least a year and could put the country in breach of international conventions on human rights.


Image: A billboard against the construction of new minarets in Switzerland
Photographs: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
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GERMANY

Germany has been witnessing protests over the past few days with right-wing populist pro-NRW (short for the German state North Rhine-Westphalia) party demanding a ban on minarets, like the one passed in a Swiss referendum last year.

What sparked off the protests was the desire of the Muslim community in the western German town of Volklingen to build a small minaret.

In a town meeting held on the subject in late January, a number of locals came out against the minaret plan.

Some have even described the proposed small minaret, stretching a mere eight meters (26 feet) above the roof, as an infiltration of their community. Muslims reportedly make up 5 percent of Volklingen's 40,000-strong population.

Germany is believed to be home to nearly 4 million Muslims, including 220,000 in Berlin alone.

A survey by Der Speigel magazine last December found that, were a minaret referendum held in Germany, 44 percent would vote in favour of a ban while 45 percent would not.

 On the other hand, the majority of Germany's 4-million strong Muslim population has Turkish roots and has tended not to produce the kind of radicalism that has thrown a negative light on Islam elsewhere in Europe, the magazine reported.

Image: An anti-Islam poster by an ultra far-right wing group in Cologne, Germany
Photographs: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
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POLAND and AUSTRIA

A lot is being written, in the backdrop of the developments in Europe with regard to the alleged 'Islamophobia', about protests have broken out in Poland and Austria over Muslim immigration from around the world.

The recent protests in Poland's capital Warsaw were widely covered by the media. The bone of contention was a multi-million dollar Centre for Islamic Culture, believed to have been funded by a Saudi royal.

Chants of "Down with jihad" and "Freedom for women" by the anti-mosque protestors mingled with "Stop Islamophobia" from the pro-mosque group led by members of Poland's extra-parliamentary Left-wing.

The anti-mosque demonstration was organised by the Future of Europe foundation, who fear the Islamisation of the continent. They claim that the group, which will control the mosque, the Polish Muslim League, has possible links to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood.

Three days before the Warsaw protests, over 550 km away, Bad Voslau -- a very traditional Austrian town of about 11,000 predominantly Turkish people located just outside Vienna -- witnessed similar scenes.

Locals were up in arms against a multi-million state-of-the-art Islamic centre. CBS News quoted Town Mayor Christoph Prinz as saying: "There are also many people who see a minaret and the domes as a sign for Islamic domination."

"Because of the new mosque, Turkish boys feel even stronger and bolder in such a way that Austrian boys are unable to walk through the park without harassment by a group of adolescent Turks who say, 'What are you doing here? All this belongs to us. Go away,'"


Image: A woman stands in front of an election banner of the Freedom Party, which reads Now it is about us Austrians, in Vienna
Photographs: Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters
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NETHERLANDS

The Dutch have, off late, too have had a sinking feeling -- that pertaining to the massive Muslim influx into their country.

Reports of racial discriminations are common these days in a country that was till recently considered among the most moderate in Europe. Political parties and activists groups have been springing up all over the Netherlands to protest the continued immigration to their country.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party and a member of Dutch parliament, feels that the Muslim way of life is in direct contradiction to Dutch principles.

Wilders sees them as a 'Trojan horse, and fears that European civilization will be lost if the trend of blind, post-modern, multicultural, suicidal tolerance is allowed to continue unchecked.'

Wilder's policies and actions are too extreme, yet they still find support in Amsterdam (the capital of the Netherlands).

In a recent interview to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he was quoted as saying: 'Because of a high birthrate and swelling immigration, Europe is becoming more and more Muslim every day. Islamic culture, dress and religion are so starkly different that Europeans have begun feeling like strangers in their own homes.'

Wilder's party recently won local elections in a few Dutch cities.


Image: Members of Parti Islam se-Malaysia shout slogans and carry posters outside the Netherlands Embassy in Kuala Lumpur
Photographs: Zainal Abd Halim/Reuters
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BRITAIN

Britain has been in the line of fire since it joined the United States in its war against terror. Add to that a series of terror attacks and sinister plots and you have a heightened level of distrust around.

A major study conducted by Britain's National Centre for Social Research has found that only a quarter of the locals feel positive towards Muslims.

The findings show that the British public is concerned at the rise of Islam in the UK and fear that the country is deeply divided along religious lines. The study also found that more than half of the population would be strongly opposed to a mosque being built in their neighbourhood.

David Voas, professor of population studies at Manchester University, who analysed the data, said that people were becoming intolerant towards all religions due to "the degree to which Islam is perceived as a threat to social cohesion".

"Muslims deserve to be the focus of policy on social cohesion, because no other group elicits so much disquiet. The size and visibility of Islamic communities has led to serious concerns about their impact on British society," The Telegraph newspaper quoted Voas, as saying.

In the wake of the Detroit flight bombing bid by Nigerian-origin British student, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, police in Britain are set to share personal information concerning the private lives of almost 1,000 British Muslim university students with America's Central Intelligence Agency.

The decision has sparked off outrage among British Muslims, who feel that they are being targeted. They are also concerned that their names will appear on international terrorist watch lists.


Image: A man holds up a banner during a demonstration by the English Defence League in Birmingham
Photographs: Darren Staples/Reuters
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