LONDON // Muslims throughout Europe are facing mounting discrimination because of their religion, a survey has found. A study in 11 cities across the continent suggests that 55 per cent of Muslims living in the European Union have experienced growing religious and racial discrimination over the past five years.
The survey, which took more than two years to compile and involved more than 2,000 people in focus groups, also shows marked differences in the allegiance that immigrant Muslims feel towards their host countries. In London, 72 per cent of Muslims born abroad said they felt British and proud of it, while the figure jumped to 94 per cent among UK-born Muslims. By contrast, only 49 per cent of Muslims in Paris considered themselves French and a paltry 23 per cent in Berlin felt patriotic towards Germany.
The survey, conducted by the Open Society Institute, a private foundation set up by the American financier George Soros, said many Muslims experienced discrimination as well as social and economic disadvantages. But it added that most Muslims still wanted to live in communities that are ethnically and religiously mixed, rather than in segregated areas. "The alarming part that we highlighted in the report was the level of religious discrimination," Tufyal Choudhury, the lead author of the overview report, told Radio Free Europe. "Around half the respondents that we traced across the 11 cities who were Muslims said they had experienced some form of religious discrimination in the previous 12 months.
"Then they were asked to think about whether discrimination had increased over the past five years. The majority both Muslims and non-Muslims that we spoke to felt that religious discrimination had increased over the past five years. I think that was the alarming part." Mr Choudhury also said Muslims often faced discrimination on grounds of their ethnicity. "It shows that over the past five years, particularly with issues such as security, discrimination and prejudice toward Muslims, have increased," he said.
Nazia Hussain, director of the Open Society Institute, said a "disturbing message" had emerged from the survey, even in Britain where Muslims seemed to have accepted their adoptive home much more readily than elsewhere. "Even though Muslims overwhelmingly feel British, they're not seen as British by wider society," she said. "That said, there has been a policy of trying to accommodate difference here and it appears to be paying off."
Experts believe that Muslims in Germany may feel less patriotic because they have been allowed citizenship only since the 1990s. France's divisive history with its colonies, especially Algeria, could explain its lower levels of patriotism. Additionally, France prides itself on its secular notion of citizenship and has barred Muslim pupils from wearing the hijab in classrooms. A separate report to be published in January will claim that Britain's Muslim population has now reached 2.4 million, about a quarter more than official estimates, and equal to four per cent of the total population. The report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and based on hitherto unpublished government figures, will say that Britain is regarded as the best country in Europe for Muslims to practise their faith. It estimates that there are 1.1 million Muslim immigrants in the country and a further 1.3 million born in Britain.
As with the Open Society survey, researchers from the IPPR reported that Muslims said there was less open hostility to them in Britain than in other EU countries. They also said British government policies were more sympathetic towards them. Anti-immigration groups, however, described the findings as confirmation that the Labour government's policy of multiculturalism, which has been criticised for allowing minorities to stay in ethnic groupings rather than integrating with the wider society, was pandering to Islam.
Sir Andrew Green, head of the pressure group Migrationwatch, told the Daily Express newspaper that he believed the Muslim population of Britain was probably even higher than the IPPR estimate because of illegal migration. "The rapid rise in the Muslim population is just one way in which mass immigration promoted, even encouraged, by this government has affected the whole nature of our society," he claimed.
The authors of next month's report concede that the increasing number of Muslims immigrants poses a challenge for social cohesion in Britain. In a "faith map" to be published in the report, the researchers found that there had been an increase of 275,000 in the past decade in the number of Muslims now living in Britain who were born in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. There had also been a sharp rise in the number of Somali-born UK residents - up to 106,700 in 2009 from fewer than 40,000 in 1999.