By Noura Kalo and Kyle Veidt

Aarhus, Denmark – Recent events have caused a rise in negative opinions towards Muslims, according to Pew Research Center. Consequently, both the European Parliament and Commission, as well as the several NGOs working in and for the European Union, have increased their efforts to create solutions for the issue.

“There were seventeen terror attacks perpetrated by self-proclaimed Muslims in the EU, last year, as compared to 65 nationalist and separatist acts of terrorism. That’s about three to four times as many as those that are purportedly religiously inspired” reported UPenn law.

This is what Mourad Serhan, a Muslim waiter at L’Express restaurant in Brussels, Belgium, believes has lead to the distortion of the European idea of a Muslim.

“If you ask any European about their idea of an Arab, they will give you an answer based on what they see in the media, people who hate and kill each other.” Serhan says.

He thinks that the situation has gotten to the point of the lack of distinction between the different Arabian nationalities and religions, that Christians and Muslims, Jordanians and Egyptians, have become grouped together under one label, terrorist.

 

However, Serhan does say that, “I do not give off the image of someone who is very strict with religion; therefore, others view me through a very neutral lens… Meaning that, there is no clear discrimination unless there is some sort of rigorism on one end of the conversation.”

This mentality does not seem to be reflected in the day-to-day goings on of regular people. But it is still there. In 2015, there were a total of 677 attacks against Muslims and their properties, according to Odihr Hate Crime Reporting.

The European Parliament is, of course, aware of this issue and working against it using the several inter groups in which parliamentarians participate. Bodil Valero, Member of the European Parliament and the Anti-Racism and Discrimination Intergroup, mentions that there is some legislation for anti-discrimination, but it does not target any specific groups of people or minorities.

Valero also raises the question of compulsory implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights,

            “When we look at the legislation that all member states have to fulfill when they enter the             European Union, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, we see that it is for everybody, independent of where you come from and so on, everybody is included. But when you are in the European Union as a member state, there are no sanctions or mechanisms to really make sure that the country states will fulfill the citizens and their people’s human rights according to the European convention.”

This is one of the projects that she is working on, creating legislation that will force member states to execute these laws.

Valero reiterated Serhan’s point stating that many now have generalized ideas about Muslims and Arabs, thinking that they are all terrorists. And based on her own experience with Muslims, she believes that they feel as though they are targets, due to several reasons.

“Because of the different terrorist attacks, and people, they, tend to think that all are the same. And then, there are the right wing populist parties, they really try to ferment the feeling that Muslims, they are all like this, and they are all like that, and they are all dangerous.”

Valero gave an example of what happens in Sweden, in attempts to solve this issue. Mosques, Churches, and Synagogues, all work together to organize events, to talk to people, to help them understand that “it’s not religion. There are specific individuals who are criminals, and they do this, that the religion is not as such.”

The MEP blames newer interactive media where people who harbor these thoughts can interact with each other and spread these kinds of toxic ideas. That, in addition to certain ideas that are being propagated through the media, by certain authoritarian leaders in and around Europe, such as Marine Le Pen and her “xenophobic agenda”.

Depending on the results of the upcoming elections in France and several other countries, Valero believes, that Muslims in Europe will face a lot of difficulties.

Professor Johanne Louise Virenfeldt Christiansen of the Department of Religion in Aarhus University, stated that “it has been scientifically proven that there is generally negative media coverage of Islam … It has been proven scientifically that Islam and Muslims are treated negatively in Danish media. And I think the media coverage is, of course, problematic.”

Christiansen gives several reasons for this that lead to a vicious cycle of bad publicity for Muslims, lack of will to be represented, then underrepresentation which only helps the cycle to repeat itself.

And this bad publicity comes from ideas that have been propagated through the media and given a lot of attention, these ideas that come from the terrorists and extremists themselves. Christiansen, as an academic, observes, that these are only a few interpretations of the endless others of Islam. However, she does say that they are,

            “combined with something else, because it’s not just an interpretation of Islam, it’s also combined with an ideological tendency with extremism. It has to have the two things working to be what it is. And basically, I think that it gets way to much coverage considering how few people are following this kind of ideology.”

Christiansen, also does mention that one of the main misconceptions that people have about Islam is that it is an inherently militant religion, while it is only a very small group of people who believe in this specific interpretation of the religion. She believes that this leads to the equating of Muslims and Islamic terrorists.

It is also difficult for people to look beyond what these ideas, according to Christiansen it can be because “people have a general tendency to be afraid, not just of Islam, but about everything. You see it also in the media coverage and in politics, that there is a general politics of fear, which is a particular way to do politics.”

Christiansen ended on a positive note saying that simple integration between societies can make a great difference in the way Muslims are viewed. She gives an example of her students who, as soon as they enter a mosque for the first time, become shy and reclusive, but soon realize that those around them are regular people, and they become more comfortable with their surroundings.