By Je Ru Lee
The massive flooding of immigrants into Europe and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have raised the issues of immigrant integration and Muslim populations in Europe to a new height. However, the public are being fed with mostly the negative events and superfluous comments from politicians by major media outlets without critical analyses and educational values. This lack of insight contributes to the misconceptions that the European public holds about their Muslim populations, and creates an even more discriminating environment for this religious group living in the continent.
Leading think tank on religious matters, the Pew Research Center, has surveyed the European populations on their attitudes towards the Muslims among them. The results as of 2015, varying widely for different countries, show that a significant portion of the European population explicitly hold unfavorable views towards their Muslim counterparts (5 Facts). Further more, a poll conducted by the Ipsos Mori found populations in the countries surveyed vastly overestimated the percentage of their Muslim populations. Some notable European examples include the French, overestimating at 31% when the actual proportion is 8%, and Belgium at 29% when it’s actually 6% (Perceptions Are). The fact that certain people hold negative views towards Muslims and make erroneous estimations exposes the problem of possibly dangerous sentiments and emotions, not from the Muslim side, but from the Europeans themselves.
It is very clear that extremists consist of a very small portion of the Muslim populations, and just like any other religious or ethnic groups, Muslims condemn terrorist acts and teachings (Integrating Europe’s). The explicit and implicit unfavorable perceptions that Europeans hold against Muslims present a difficult situation for both homegrown and foreign-born Muslims in Europe and a dilemma for the governments. A study by Strabac and Listhaug found that Muslims are more likely to become targets of prejudice than other groups in Europe (Anti-Muslim Prejudice), manifesting in the forms of street violence and discrimination in the labor market. Studies have shown that participants are less likely to consider candidates with Muslim-sounding names (Integrating Europe’s). This phenomenon, among other factors, very likely contributes to a British report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the astonishingly high Muslim unemployment rate in the country at 50% for men and 75% for women (Britain’s Coping Classes).
Such hardships experienced by the Muslims that consider Europe their home have a bigger impact on the European society itself, albeit the Muslims themselves are the most hard-hit. Recent terrorist attacks conducted by Muslim European nationals who grew up in the land they carry out jihads have indeed painted a bad image of Muslims, that even those raised in Europe could not be trusted, in the hearts of the general population. European governments face the challenge to respond to discrimination and concerns of terrorism without being seen as patronizing or victimizing Muslims (Integrating Europe’s). With governments exploring different options to better integrate Muslims into European societies, it is important to remember bottom-up efforts should be complimented by top-down efforts. Involving Muslims in community and regional councils on religious matters is applaudable, but they also need to be civically involved at a higher level and participate in the national decision making process. Integrative problem-solving does not equal governments with disproportionate representatives close the door and fumbling with ideas themselves. It means governments include their people who are the most affected and brainstorm with them to try to come up with possible solutions, not only supported by some but ideally endorsed by all.