Islamic fundamentalism is a source of inspiration for terrorist and other violent attacks that have hit Europe and the world in the last decades. No confusion should be made between Islam as a religious faith and Islamic fundamentalism as an ideology that promotes a model of society which is not compatible with human rights values and standards of democracy: there is no clash of civilisations between Islam and the West but a clash between the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism and the ideology of democracy and human rights, which is the cradle of European states.
European Muslim communities and Council of Europe member states should work hand in hand to reduce the potential attraction that Islamic fundamentalism undeniably exerts on European Muslims. A series of concrete measures should be taken to prevent discrimination, condemn and combat Islamophobia, stamp out hate speech and ensure compliance with human rights and the rule of law in the enforcement of anti-terrorist measures while avoiding all adverse consequences for ordinary Muslims who profess their religion in a peaceful manner. At the same time, European Muslim organisations, leaders and opinion makers should condemn unequivocally terrorism and extremism and encourage Muslims to fully participate in society while accepting the secular character of the society and the institutions of the country where they live.
Without claiming in any way to provide an exhaustive overview, I should like to provide some basic information about Muslim communities in certain Council of Europe member states.
In Belgium, as in Germany, the Muslim community arrived as a result of agreements with Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, designed to encourage immigration in order to address labour shortages. Muslims currently account for 4% of the country’s population. Most are of Moroccan origin, the second largest community being the Turkish community.
The Executive of Muslims of Belgium (EMB) is the interlocutor that is officially recognised by the government in matters concerning the Muslim faith. It is responsible for religious instruction in schools, training Imams and appointing “chaplains” in hospitals and prisons. The EMB does not by any means have the universal approval of the Belgian Muslim community, and its representativeness and effectiveness have sometimes been called into question.
The Belgian state finances Imams’ salaries and the upkeep of mosques. Since January 2005, the Flemish region has introduced additional conditions that mosques have to meet in order to receive public funding: for instance, they must use the Dutch language, show greater tolerance towards women and homosexuals and refrain from preaching extremist ideas.
Legislation on the acquisition of Belgian nationality is rather liberal, and many immigrants have been naturalised after being lawfully resident in the country for the requisite period of time. However, the issue of the right to vote and stand in local elections (recognised in 2004 for those who fulfil certain requirements of lawful residence) was highly controversial.
France’s Muslim population numbers over 4 million, most of whom are of North African origin (1 550 000 of Algerian, 1 million of Moroccan and 350 000 of Tunisian origin). The remaining Muslims come from the Middle East, Turkey (representing more than 400 000 people), Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. There are also some 40 000 converts.
For many years now, France has been discussing the concept of secularism in relation to freedom of religious expression, which has led to widespread public and political debate on the display of religious symbols in public buildings. This originated when some Muslim girls, who covered their heads with scarves, were controversially expelled from state schools.
It was at the initiative of the government – and not of the Muslim communities themselves – that the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) was set up to act as an interface with the government. It is responsible for the appointment of “chaplains” in hospitals and prisons, the building of mosques, foundations for Islamic works, and so on. The organisations represented within the Council include the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF), the National Federation of Muslims of France (FNMF) and the Co-ordinating Committee for Turkish Muslims in France (CCMTF). As in the case of its Belgian counterpart, the French Council of the Muslim Faith sometimes comes under criticism on grounds of ineffectiveness and insufficient representative legitimacy.
Germany has a Muslim population of some 3.5 million, 70% of whom are of Turkish origin. Many of them came by virtue of special agreements negotiated in the 1960s to meet the shortage of local labour. Because of restrictive criteria for the acquisition of German citizenship, based on legislation in force until 2000, only 400 000 of them (including the second and third generations) have German citizenship.
There is no single official organisation representing Muslim communities in dialogue with the federal state, but there are groups that see themselves as representing Muslim interests at national level, such as the Islamrat für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland and the Föderation der Aleviten Gemeinden in Deutschland, among others.
Because there is no single representative body – in contrast to other religions – Islam does not fulfil the prerequisites for certain privileges provided for in federal legislation in connection with its internal administration and financing. These matters, along with the possibility of providing religious instruction in schools and of building mosques – are dealt with by the Länder, not without difficulty.
Recent opinion polls reveal a deterioration in the image of Islam and Muslims in Germany. Yet the unemployment rate among second-generation Muslims – even though it is higher than the average for the population as a whole – is two to three times lower than in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, the debate on the integration of immigrants and, in particular, the compatibility of Muslim and Dutch values – such as secularism, gender equality, acceptance of homosexuality – has likewise been going on for years and has been marked by events that have shocked public opinion, such as the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh in 2002. The concept of multiculturalism is being called into question more and more frequently, and anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim feeling is increasing in public opinion and political discourse.
There are some 700 000 Muslims in the Netherlands, accounting for nearly 5% of the population. The main countries of origin are Turkey and Morocco, followed by Suriname, Iraq and Somalia. The population is concentrated in the major urban centres of the Netherlands, some of which – for example, Rotterdam and Amsterdam – could become cities with a Muslim majority in the coming decades.
As is the case in Germany, there is no single organisation acting as an interface with the government. The two main Muslim organisations are the Contact Group for Muslims and Government (Contactorgaan Moslems en de Overheid, CMO), which represents some 500 000 Muslims, and the Islam Contact Group (Contact Groep Islam, CGI), representing 115 000 Muslims.
In 2003, the Netherlands introduced legislation on the training of Imams, which stipulates that they must speak the language of the country and respect its values. Since 2005, training programmes for Imams have been run at the Free University of Amsterdam.
The United Kingdom has a Muslim population of about 1.5 million, most of whom are of Asian origin (Pakistani and Bangladeshi). There are also substantial numbers of Arabs, Kurds, Nigerians, Turks and Turkish Cypriots along with refugees from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Balkans. The number of converts to Islam is estimated at between 5 000 and 10 000.
There is no single organisation with an official role, even though the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is the biggest network, embracing some 380 smaller associations.
The state funds some private Muslim schools. There are over 500 registered mosques and probably as many unofficial mosques. It would seem that only 30% of the Imams practising in the country have received training in the United Kingdom.
Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee. Reference to committee: Doc. 10705 and Reference No. 3145 of 7 October 2005.
Draft resolution and draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 12 March 2008.
Members of the committee: Mr Göran Lindblad (Chairperson), Mr David Wilshire (Vice-Chairperson), Mr Björn Von Sydow (Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Kristiina Ojuland (Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Fátima Aburto Baselga, Mr Miloš Aligrudić, Mr Claudio Azzolini, Mr Denis Badré, Mr Ryszard Bender, Mr Fabio Berardi, Mr Radu Mircea Berceanu, Mr Andris Bērzinš, Mr Aleksandër Biberaj, Mrs Guðfinna Bjarnadóttir, Mr Giorgi Bokeria, Mr Predrag Bošković, Mr Luc Van den Brande, Mr Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Mr Lorenzo Cesa, Ms Elvira Cortajarena, Ms Anna Čurdová, Mr Rick Daems, Mr Dumitru Diacov, Mr Michel Dreyfus-Schmidt, Ms Josette Durrieu, Mr Frank Fahey, Mr Joan Albert Farré Santuré, Mr Pietro Fassino, Mr Per-Kristian Foss, Ms Doris Frommelt, Mr Jean-Charles Gardetto, Mr Charles Goerens, Mr Andreas Gross, Mr Davit Harutyunyan, Mr Joachim Hörster, Mrs Sinikka Hurskainen, Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Mr Bakir Izetbegović, Mr Michael Aastrup Jensen, Mrs Birgen Keleş, Mr Victor Kolesnikov, Mr Konstantin Kosachev, Ms Darja Lavtižar-Bebler, Mr René van der Linden, Mr Eduard Lintner, Mr Dariusz Lipiński, Mr Younal Loutfi, Mr Mikhail Margelov, Mr Dick Marty, Mr Frano Matušić, Mr Mircea Mereuţă, Mr Dragoljub Mićunović, Mr Jean-Claude Mignon, Ms Nadezhda Mikhailova, Mr Aydin Mirzazada, Mr João Bosco Mota Amaral, Ms Natalia Narochnitskaya, Mrs Miroslava Němcová, Mr Zsolt Németh, Mr Fritz Neugebauer, Mr Hryhoriy Omelchenko, Mr Theodoros Pangalos, Mr Aristotelis Pavlidis (alternate: Mr Nikolaos Dendias), Mr Ivan Popescu, Mr Christos Pourgourides, Mr John Prescott (alternate: Mr John Austin), Mr Gabino Puche, Mr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Mr Andrea Rigoni, Lord Russell-Johnston (alternate: Mr Denis MacShane), Mr Oliver Sambevski, Mr Samad Seyidov, Mr Leonid Slutsky, Mr Rainder Steenblock, Mr Zoltán Szabó, Mr Mehmet Tekelioğlu, Mr Han Ten Broeke, Lord Tomlinson, Mr Mihai Tudose (alternate: Mrs Florentina Toma), Mr José Vera Jardim, Ms Birutė Vėsaitė, Mr Wolfgang Wodarg, Ms Gisela Wurm, Mr Boris Zala.
Ex officio: MM. Mátyás Eörsi, Tiny Kox.
NB: The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in bold.