Muslim integration demands worsen divide

2010-10-28 18:38

Strasbourg - Demands that Muslim groups do more to assimilate in Europe are worsening ethnic tensions and aggravating the problems they are meant to solve, a top human rights official said on Thursday in a veiled warning to Germany and the Netherlands.

In recent weeks, Germany has been gripped by a fierce debate over the integration of its 4-million-strong Muslim community.

Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has said that the concept of multiculturalism has failed and demanded that immigrants do more to integrate.

"The diverse groups of Muslims are now blamed by politicians in some countries for not 'assimilating'.

"However ... anti-Muslim bigotry has in fact become a major obstacle to respectful relationships," Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg wrote.

Increasing intolerance of Muslims

The Council, which has 47 members, is Europe's top body on human rights and democracy. It is based in Strasbourg, France, and is not linked to the European Union.

In a report covering political treatment of Muslims across Europe, Hammarberg drew attention to a widespread "increasing expression of intolerance towards Muslims" in political discourse.

His report singled out Germany, where one recent poll showed that 58% of Germans think Islamic practices should be limited.

"The broad support for this opinion is a bad sign," Hammarberg wrote.

Risks of alienation

His report also held covert criticism of the Netherlands, where outspoken anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders has become the main supporter of the country's minority government, albeit without formally joining the coalition.

"Recent elections have seen extremist political parties gaining ground after aggressively Islamophobic campaigns. Even more worrying is the inertia or confusion which seems to have befallen the established democratic parties in this situation," Hammarberg wrote, without specifically naming the Netherlands.

"Compromises are made which tend to give an air of legitimacy to crude prejudices and open xenophobia," he wrote.

Such events carry the risk of alienating immigrants, he warned.

"The Islamophobic atmosphere has probably been a factor enabling extremists in some cases to recruit young and embittered individuals who lack a sense of belonging," he added.