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European Socialists decide to tackle Islamophobia
European Socialists decide to tackle Islamophobia
European socialist organizations have decided to stem the increasing Islamophobia in Europe by breaking the monopoly on the debate which has, up until now, primarily belonged to far-right and ultranationalist groups.
Tuesday, August 7,2007 00:00
by SELCUK GULTAŞLI BRUSSELS Todays Zaman

European socialist organizations have decided to stem the increasing Islamophobia in Europe by breaking the monopoly on the debate which has, up until now, primarily belonged to far-right and ultranationalist groups.


The Party of European Socialists (PES) -- a caucus representing 214 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) drawn from 33 socialist and social democratic parties -- has created a committee to seek ways to combat Islamophobia. Believing that Islam is now a European religion, the 25-member committee wants to "listen" to the 20 million Muslims now living in Europe in a bid to understand their problems, as well as provide solutions to alleviate their grievances.

Though all the member parties have been invited to send delegations to the committee, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has not responded to the request, while the Greek Social Democratic Party (PASOK) has sent two representatives.

Prejudices against Islam and Muslims, who have sometimes been referred to as the “enemy within” by far-right elements, have been on the rise since Sept. 11, and also exacerbated in the wake of the al-Qaeda inspired terrorist attacks of March 11 in Spain and July 7 in Britain. An Islamophobic backlash was perceived in the publication of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, with Pope Benedict XVI’s much publicized statement on the “violent” nature of Islam, for which he later apologized, further stoking the flames of anger.

PES says it resents the fact that the tone, nature and timing of the debate on Muslims in Europe have so far been set by ultranationalist and far-right parties. They also complain about the lack of serious answers given to parties that have flourished on enmity toward the Islamic religion.

The committee will be headed by Gary Titley, a British MEP, and Emine Bozkurt, Dutch MEP of Turkish origin, will be the vice chairwoman. Together with the other committee members they have proposed a one year mandate -- May 2007 to May 2008 -- during which they will focus on such topics as diversity, integration and inclusion; secularism and rule of law; young Muslims and the place of women, democracies, representation and citizenship; and multiculturalism versus integration.

The committee, which held its first meeting at the beginning of July, will have six fact-finding missions to European countries to interview Muslims. The results will be published in a report which will then be used in the election manifestoes of socialist parties in the European Parliament elections in 2009.

Bozkurt, who previously attended a conference in London in June -- at which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was also present -- on “Islam in Europe,” will also speak at the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat Party congresses, both to be held in the UK in September.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Bozkurt said she believes Islam is already a part of European culture. Drawing attention to the generally accepted definition of European culture as “Judaeo-Christian”, Bozkurt thinks it will soon be “Judaeo-Christian-Islamic.”

“Muslims lived together with Christians in Spain and Bosnia for centuries. Nevertheless, they are still looked upon as foreigners -- they are not deemed real citizens,” said Bozkurt, stressing that the words European and Muslim are still not used in the same sentence. Bozkurt strongly complains that the stage for the debate on Islam has been left totally to ultranationalist parties. She added that the debate on Islam in Europe is closely intertwined with Turkey’s EU accession bid.


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