Muslims living in Europe regularly face violence and prejudice and are the subject of several discriminatory European laws that bolster their social exclusion, a top human rights official said Tuesday.
Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, called on governments to do more to combat anti-Muslim discrimination and said lawmakers should stop targeting the religious group through legislation or policy.
“It is time to accept Muslims as an integral part of European societies, entitled to equality and dignity,” he said in a statement. “Prejudice, discrimination and violence only hinder integration.”
Muiznieks, a Latvian human rights activist who began work as commissioner in April, singled out several European nations for legislation affecting Muslims in particular, including France and Belgium, which have banned the full-face veils worn by some Muslim women.
Similar initiatives have been discussed in Austria, Bosnia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, he said.
Local authorities in many European cities regularly stall permits for new mosques and in 2009, Swiss voters passed a ban on the construction of minarets, Muiznieks added.
“Governments should stop targeting Muslims through legislation or policy, and instead enshrine the ground of religion or belief as a prohibited ground of discrimination in all realms,” Muiznieks said.
A recent EU study found one in three Muslims in the EU had experienced some form of discrimination in the past 12 months and one in four had been stopped by the police.
“Ethnic or religious profiling is not only discriminatory, it is counterproductive, as it misdirects attention from suspicious behaviour to appearance and alienates the communities with whom law enforcement agencies need to cooperate,” Muiznieks said.
He also criticised a tendency to use anti-Muslim discourse for political gain. “Muslims have become the primary ‘other’ in right-wing populist discourse in Europe,” Muiznieks said.
“Politicians frequently refer to Muslims when discussing the alleged ‘failure of multiculturalism’.