The gap between the Muslim minority and European societies needs to be bridged

Sunday 08/05/2016

The election of Labour MP Sadiq Khan as London’s first Muslim mayor is a victory over Islamophobia. How­ever, the election of any Muslim mayor anywhere in Europe is unfortunately bound to be surrounded by controversy.
A recent poll by the French agency IFOP shows, for instance, there is substantial resistance to the idea of a Muslim mayor in France and Germany: 44% of those polled in France and 27% of Germans asked said they are opposed to the election of a mayor of “Muslim origin”.
The very presence of a “Muslim community” is perceived as a “threat” by 47% in France and 43% in Germany, the poll indicated. Furthermore, 68% of French respondents and 71% of Germans asked do not see Muslims as integrated and they blame Muslims primarily for a “refusal to integrate”.
The French, who are arguably Europe’s most secularist in out­look, appear particularly resentful of Muslim displays of symbols and rites of their faith. Some 63% of the French questioned said such displays were “too conspicuous”. About half of Germans and French stated opposition to the building of mosques.
These are not signs that the gap between Muslims and the rest of European societies is narrowing. At the opposite, there are indica­tions it is breeding violence.
A report published May 2nd by the French National Consultative Commission of Human Rights (CNCDH) shows that anti-Muslim crimes and threats rose 223% in 2015 — and this counts only reported incidents.
The increased hostility towards Muslims is clearly related to terror incidents perpetrated by jihadists. “Peaks” of violence were recorded in January 2015 (after jihadists attacked the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo) and in November 2015 (when terrorists carried out a series of attacks in Paris), according to CNCDH President Christine Lazerges.
The report shows that Muslims and Jews in France have a lot in common. The latter remain the target of about 40% of hate inci­dents but, as a minority, they are better accepted than black people, Maghrebis or Muslims and attacks on Jews decreased 5% in 2015.
It remains to be seen whether fear of Muslims in France and other parts of Europe will prove impervious to broader changes towards more tolerance in European societies. More than 50% of French people said in 2015 they were not “racist” and 33% rejected the notion of race.
Most Muslims in France are French nationals. As such, they deserve the same treatment as fellow citizens of different faiths. It is crucial that integration of the Muslim minority, which is mostly of North African descent, becomes the rule rather than the excep­tion, be it in France and in the rest of Europe.
It takes an effort from both sides to bridge the current gap. This is an urgent task as complacency about this problem or further polarisation around it will offer no solution to Europe’s security problems. Muslim community leaders in Europe should help in the integration of Muslims by distancing themselves from extremists and advocating more moderate behaviour that can allay the fears of non-Muslims in Europe. If left unaddressed, the problem can only lead to further tragedies.