Europe has now entered the second decade of the new millennium. Looking at the recent history of the continent, one can see that this geographically well placed area has gone through colossal changes in the last 100 years. The devastation of two World Wars, economic ruin, shifting political currents, cruel, inter and intra-nation conflicts, extermination and suffering of millions of ethnic and religious minorities are well recorded and documented. On top of this bleak background, Europe was split into two sectors, communist controlled East and the democratic West. The construction of the Berlin Wall heralded a cold war, which lasted for decades. Fortunately, West European leaders of that time were visionaries. They realized that the only way forward was a free, prosperous and peaceful Europe. Instead of conflicts and wars, Europeans needed democracy, co-operation, trade and open border for free movement of labour, goods and services. This proved to be a very wise decision.
Open societies, stability and high living standards followed. To continue this path of material progress, Western Europe opened its labour markets for cheap guest workers from countries like Turkey, Ex-Yugoslavia and Morocco. Up until. 1973, semi-skilled workers from Middle East, India, Pakistan, North and Western Africa were also allowed to settle in various countries. This inflow was joined by refugees from Vietnam, Iran, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and other conflict zones in Latin America and Africa.
Today, according to Euro-barometer, there are more than 23 million non-European permanent residents – including their children. Many of those have European citizenship. Most of them are living in Europe with generally very poor socio-economic conditions. Although ethnic and religious minorities in Europe come from all over the world and have diverse social standing, cultural and religious background, when European politicians, media and public talk about failed integration, they are directly referring to people with Muslim background. Turks in Germany, Pakistani and Bangladeshis in UK, North Africans in France, Moroccans in Holland and Belgium and Palestinians and Somalis in Denmark can be cited as examples.
Looking at the coverage about Muslim communities and also looking at the way European Muslims are constantly described, one gets the impression that they:
* Do not want to integrate,
* Do not share contemporary democratic values and human rights standards,
* Aim to create parallel societies,
* Want to turn Europe into an Islamic continent,
* Would outnumber Europeans soon,
* Practice medieval and primitive traditions,
* Oppress their women and children,
* Sympathize and even practice with terrorism and extremism,
* In short, do not fit to the modern and secular Europe.
Furthermore, this line of thinking has been strengthened by the deplorable terror attacks in USA, UK and Spain and has created a wide spread anti-Muslim and anti-Islam atmosphere. The distasteful Danish caricatures of Prophet Mohammed and the most objectionable Swiss minaret ban are testaments to this environment.
Islamophobia is not only prevalent in the media, in public discussions and among the ruling elite, but has started to affect the whole process of judicial protection for minorities. Many countries are adopting more restrictive immigration and asylum rules and family reunion laws, just to keep minorities with Muslim background out of Europe. Even integration laws are being formulated in such a way that they are specifically directed against and effecting Muslim populations. Many EU countries are regularly exchanging information on discriminatory citizenship policies and stricter integration schemes and are implementing these adverse practices in their own countries. European Muslims and Muslim communities are aware that there is a very tiny but vocal group with Muslim background, who do resort to terrorism, reject democracy, are against gender equality and listen to anti-Western propaganda. Such people are also responsible for giving to the law abiding, integrated and peaceful majority of Muslims and to their faith a bad name. They reinforce the negative feelings of the European mainstream communities.
Over the years, several NGOs – both Europeans and ethnic minorities – have been working tirelessly with religious, political, social and economic issues among Muslim communities all over Europe. The aim of their work has been to inform the general public in an unbiased manner, to organize events to this end, to network Muslim and non-Muslim civil society organizations and to assist to formulate just policies and practices. They also aim to represent Muslim communities at various levels in local and national governments, at international organizations, as well as to provide platforms for Muslim groups to discuss their problems and integrations issues, and to find workable models for becoming fully participating citizens.
Given the current negative developments in many European countries, whereby Muslim communities are being targeted verbally, physically, culturally and more and more because of their religion, some individuals and NGO’s took the initiative to work for better social cohesion of these communities in Europe.
On 18th of December 2010, participants from various countries gathered in The Hague, in The Netherlands, to discuss the idea of creating a vibrant network with the involvement and support of other similar-minded stakeholders. Their belief is that a fuller and better participation of Muslim communities in the societies in which they live requires a new thinking, extra resources and closer cooperation through an in-depth consultation process. It was also mentioned at the meeting that an active participation of Muslim minorities in all spheres of their new homes would make true mutual integration possible, where sense of belonging and judicial protection would be facilitated. A decision was taken to call the new organization European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion – EMISCO. The initiative is an independent, non-religious, non-party political and non-governmental body.
1. Striving to achieve meaningful inter-ethnic, inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue and cooperation in Europe and combating all forms and manifestations of discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes including combating Islamophobia.
2. Lobbying the Muslim communities to take a clear and strong position against extremism, violence and terrorism under any pretext.
3. Working closely with the media, politicians and authorities to highlight and facilitate the legitimate needs and fundamental rights of ethnic and religious minorities.
4. Aiming to create cohesive societies and in that respect learning and mastering the local language and obtaining good education.
5. Accepting and respecting the social order and the constitution of the land.
6. Integrating as equal citizens to the new environment where they live and creating good relationships with the neighbours and their surroundings.
7. Recognizing cultural diversity as enrichment for Europe which would facilitate advancement of human rights and solidarity for the common good of the societies.
8. Showing respect to fellow human beings while practicing their religion freely.
9. Advocating unbiased political and media discourse.
10. Assisting in participatory democratic processes, voting rights and citizenship, and advising their fellow citizens in those respects.
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