EU Report: Muslims Face 'Islamophobia'

Athens, Greece - Muslims across Europe are confronting a rise in "Islamophobia" ranging from violent attacks to discrimination in job and housing markets, a wide-ranging European Union report indicated Monday.

The study, compiled by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, urged European authorities to strengthen policies on integration. But it also noted that Muslims need to do more to counter negative perceptions driven by terrorism and upheavals such as the backlash to cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The 117-page survey details the many divides between the EU mainstream and the estimated 13 million Muslims - now at least 3.5 percent of the 25-nation bloc's population - and seeks to offer a street-level view of the complexities blocking efforts to bridge the differences.

"The disadvantaged position of Muslim minorities, evidence of a rise in Islamophobia and concern over processes of alienation and radicalization have triggered an intense debate in the European Union," said Beate Winkler, director of the Vienna-based group.

The report reinforces the growing urgency of tackling religious tensions and suspicions in Europe.

During a trip to Turkey earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI appealed for greater understanding between Christianity and Islam and sought to ease Muslim outrage over his remarks in September that cited a medieval emperor speaking about violence and Muhammad's teachings.

Last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called tolerance one of the "essential values" of his nation and denounced "hatemongers, whatever their race, religion or creed."

The report cited hundreds of reported cases of violence or threats against Muslims in the EU since 2004, including vandalism against mosques and Islamic centers, abuse against women wearing Islamic headscarves and attacks, such as a Somali family in Denmark assaulted by a gang carrying baseball bats emblazoned with swastikas and racist slogans.

The report, however, noted that "data on religiously aggravated incidents is collected on a limited scale." It noted that only Britain publishes a hate-crime list that specifically identifies acts against Muslims.

"Muslims feel that acceptance by society is increasingly premised on 'assimilation' and the assumption that they should lose their Muslim identity," Winkler said. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, many Muslims feel "they have been put under a general suspicion of terrorism."

Islamophobic incidents shot up 500 percent in Britain in the weeks after the July 2005 bombings of London's transit system, but decreased dramatically after authorities and religious leaders worked together to ease tensions, Winkler said.

"The key word is 'respect,'" she said. "People need to feel respected and included."

The report urged EU nations to develop more clear legal frameworks for Muslim cultural and religious institutions, including ways to make more public funds available to Islamic community groups and help train local imams.

The report also said Europe's Muslims are "often disproportionately represented" in poor housing conditions, unemployment statistics and in lower education levels.