Will Europe take a stand on Islamaphobia?

On Sunday, France went to the polls in the first-round of their presidential election. Now while the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy slipped to second place – the first time a sitting president has failed to top the first-round poll since the start of the Fifth Republic – the real headline as the Daily Mail picked up was the success of the far right National Front. The party led by Marine Le Pen took 18.1 per cent of the vote.

That leaves Sarkozy with a huge quandary. Which way does he turn? The left-leaning parties have already thrown their weight behind his Socialist opponent Francois Hollande – and that makes the distribution of Le Pen’s votes even more intriguing.

Let me make it clear it from the outset that Amnesty would never tell people how to vote, it’s entirely up to individuals to make up their own minds. We are a non-political body and that adds to our strength and hopefully encourages people to value our assessments even more, which is exactly what we want Sarkozy to do.

Before he decides what political strategy to adopt, Sarkozy couldn’t do much better than to take a look at Amnesty’s new report Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe, launched in Brussels early this morning.

The report makes for bleak reading. Focussing on the countries of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland, the report exposes the impact of discrimination on the ground of religion or belief on Muslims in several aspects of their lives, including employment and education. Issues all raised in interviews on Sky News and the BBC Asian Network today.

As one example, Amnesty found that Muslim women wearing religious and cultural symbols and dress are being routinely denied employment on the basis that their appearance fails to “please clients” or “promote a specific corporate image” or “respect the principle of neutrality”.

On a purely legal point of view those pitiful excuses are far too general to fit into the occupational requirements under the EU Employment Framework Directive. They amount to nothing short of petty prejudice.

The report goes on to add that rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes.

Now the big question is whether Sarkozy will heed Amnesty’s advice and steer clear of further stoking the growing problem of Islamaphobia in Europe. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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