Violence against Muslims
Acts of bias-driven violence against Muslims and their places of worship continued in 2007 and 2008. The more serious of these offenses included assaults—sometimes deadly—against Muslim religious leaders, ordinary Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim. Documented and reported offenses also included cases of harassment and attacks on places of worship.
While attacks on Muslims may often be motivated by racist or ethnic bias, intolerance is increasingly directed at Muslim immigrants and other minorities expressly because of their religion. The complexity of the problem of anti-Muslim violence is further intensified by the multiple dimensions of discrimination that may occur in a single incident, with overlays of intolerance often based on the victim’s religion, ethnicity, and gender. Women who wear the ħijāb—a highly visible sign of a woman’s religious and cultural background—are particularly vulnerable to harassment and violence by those who wish to send a message of hatred. While law enforcement officials have responded to some of the more serious cases in several countries, underreporting remains a key problem, as most victims refrain from reporting attacks to the police.
Acts of aggression against Muslim individuals and places of worship are being committed in the context of a longstanding strain of political discourse in Europe that has projected immigrants in general and Muslims in particular as a threat not only to security but to European homogeneity and culture. The situation has worsened in recent years in the context of terrorist attacks and the response of governments to them.
Anti-Muslim prejudice and violence occur throughout the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region, although the context differs from one country or region to another. Moreover, certain international and domestic events—such as the terrorist attack in Scotland in June 2007—continue to provoke backlash attacks on Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims.
There is a lack of official statistics on the incidence of violent hate crimes against Muslims, as only a few countries engage in official monitoring of this form of bias. This data deficit proves a challenge to comprehensive and well thought-out policy decisions to address the problem. The United States has long been systematically monitoring anti-Muslim crimes, while in the United Kingdom monitoring and reporting on “Islamophobic” hate crimes is most developed in London. Authorities in the United States reported an increase in the level of violence against Muslims between 2005 and 2006—the last time period for which data is available. Statistics from the London Metropolitan Police have shown a slight decline in the incidence of such crimes between 2006 and 2007.
In two other countries, data on hate crime targeting Muslims was reported for the first time in 2008. In June, Canada released the first national hate crime statistics, which included data on hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims. Previously, official data from Canada had been limited to several police jurisdictions. Austria has begun to monitor “Islamophobic crimes” within the framework of its reporting on right-wing extremism, releasing data for the first time on two such cases in the 2007 reporting.
Authorities in France do not report explicitly on violence against Muslims, but their reporting of racist and xenophobic hate crimes offers a window into the problem of anti-Muslim violence, with over 60 percent of reported incidents perpetrated against people of North African origin, who are predominantly Muslim. No other government in the OSCE region reports crimes motivated by hatred toward Muslims.
Comprehensive data from nongovernmental sources is also generally unavailable, as very few NGOs across the region monitor and publicly report specifically on violent anti-Muslim hate crimes. Overall, the lack of reporting makes it difficult to assess the official responses to such incidents by the police and in the courts.