rhetoric sparks identity fears in Europe
The spread of anti-Islamic rhetoric among European politicians for
political gains is creating discrimination against Muslims in
particular and fears of an identity loss in the mainstream
population, says Ömür Orhun
A senior official has cautioned against an increasing use of racist
and anti-Islamic language both in the political arena and in media
outlets in Europe, a development that stirs up frenzy against
Muslims among ordinary people.
“This is very unfortunate development because ordinary people are
very much affected by this political discourse in that they have an
unfounded fear of losing their identity,” Ambassador Ömür Orhun,
personal representative of the Chairman-in-Office of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on
combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, told the
Turkish Daily News in an exclusive interview.
“For example, the small Muslim community in Denmark, which has a
very good record of respecting human rights, was unfortunately seen
as a threat to the so called Danish identity, which is not correct
of course,” he added.
Recent attempts by European politicians targeting Muslims and their
religious symbols sparked concerns over an upsurge in racist
tendencies. In May, members of a Swiss right-wing party launched a
campaign to have the building of minarets banned, a move which has
shocked Switzerland's 350,000 Muslims.
In the Netherlands, a right-wing politician, Geert Wilders, caused
controversy when he argued in a letter to a national newspaper early
this month that the Koran must be banned in the country, which drew
harsh criticism from even the Dutch government lambasting the
politician for exceeding the boundaries of decency. Orhun emphasized
that mainstream political parties resorted to anti-Islam rhetoric
when they realized such campaigns against Muslims were playing well
“Unfortunately, this is a very serious development in European
circles recently. In the past it was the far-right which was
propagating anti-Islam sentiments but mainstream political parties
started to use the same rhetoric when they saw the votes the
far-right gets,” he said.
The media and political discourse is interlinked in this context, he
added, because the politicians affect the media and they want to use
it to propagate their policies.
“But media usually play into the hands of those who spread
anti-Islam propaganda and the solution for this is of course not
governmental control of the media but self-regulatory measures.
Media should have self regulations within itself as the effect of
the media should not be underestimated.”
Contradicting moves in Europe
On one hand Europe gives positive signs in order to integrate their
Muslim population by allowing them to take stand in political bodies
and have authority in decision making mechanisms but on the other
hand they take measures that prevent an eventual complete
“The messages we receive and the developments we observe are
contradicting in their entirety,” Orhun said. He further added that
all European countries recognized something must be done to
eradicate so-called Islamophobia and take measures to integrate
Muslim communities into the mainstream communities.
“For example, in Holland, Germany and France some members of the
Muslim communities have been elected to legislative bodies and even
some people of Muslim background have made it to cabinets, so these
are good signs.” While welcoming the two events in Germany, the
Islamic Conference and Integration Summit, as hesitant but positive
steps indicating the recognition by the German government that
something must be done, he also underlined their shortcomings.
“There are also not so positive developments like the draft law in
France which aims to restrict immigration and the new German law on
migration which contains quite a number of clauses against
internationally recognized human rights principles. These are
developments that I follow with great concern.”
Another source of concern for Muslims is a Swiss move to force a
constitutional amendment forbidding minarets and possible legal
changes that will have to be approved in a nationwide referendum,
which will make the ban on building minarets binding.
“This is of course not acceptable. I have issued a statement saying
that a country like Switzerland which preaches human rights to all
countries should not be seen in a situation where it is
discriminating against 10 percent of its population, which are
Muslims, and I said minarets are integral parts of mosques in the
same way as bell towers are parts of churches and both churches and
mosques are humanity's common heritage, so people should use their
energies and time in more constructive and positive things rather
than placing a blanket restriction on building minarets in a
country,” he said.
‘Ignorance must be eradicated'
Orhun said misconceptions were prevalent on both sides about Islam
and Christianity and that recent developments stemmed from
ignorance, namely from not knowing about one another, which can only
be eradicated through education.
“Education of mainstream communities including German, French, Dutch
or American communities about harmony, respect to the other, respect
to other cultures and a sense of living together is very important.
This also applies to Muslim communities who should be taught of the
values of societies they are living in.
Secondly, for both sides education on world history and cultures is
similarly important because there are misconceptions on both sides.
For example, the recent suggestion in the Netherlands (on the ban of
the Koran) is a very good example of this ignorance; so ignorance
must be eradicated.” The OSCE has been working on the issues of
promoting tolerance and combating discrimination over the last six
years. In this context, after organizing high level political
conferences on these issues, the OSCE chairmanship in late 2004
appointed three personal representatives who are not employees of
the OSCE but honorary personalities representing the OSCE chairman:
Ambassador Orhun of the Turkish Foreign Ministry is Personal
Representative of the OSCE chairmanship on combating intolerance and
discrimination against Muslims; Gert Weisskirchen of Germany is
Personal Representative on combating anti-Semitism; Anastasia
Crickley of Ireland is Personal Representative on combating racism,
xenophobia and discrimination.
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
Thursday, August 16, 2007