Migration is an issue that plays a major role in all European countries. While most migrants used to be European, the number of non-European migrants is now rising. It is proving difficult to live together. There are many barriers to be overcome on both sides. Growing anti-Semitism can be observed; population groups such as the Roma face a difficult situation throughout Europe. Two things are important: legislation to protect every citizen against discrimination and, just as important, the vital role of education and educators. Bashy Quraishy, one of the main speakers at the conference, is minority consultant and President of the European Network against Racism, (ENAR). He analyses the situation and reports on the experience of the work to combat racism carried out by this network of 600 NGOs operating in Europe.
I wish to extend my thanks to the organisers and partners for arranging this important conference and asking me to present ethnic minorities' views.
The topic chosen for this conference is very timely and necessary because we are going through a difficult period in the history of Europe. Issues such as the impact of globalisation, the upkeep of national identity, migration between EU countries and from non-EU countries, social inclusion, equality for all and, last but not least, the integration of ethnic and religious minorities in the mainstream European societies, are being hotly discussed by politicians and the media. There are many diverse opinions on each subject.
Looking at the landscape of Europe, we can see that the gains achieved over a long period of time in educating European children to cherish the values of diversity and of interculturalism are under severe strain. A sizeable segment of the media and many politicians are openly advocating a monocultural identity for Europe based on Christian values, a common concept of history and the superiority of Western culture. On top of this, there are clear signs of a resurgence of anti-Semitism and calculated hatred propaganda against anything to do with Islam. The religion, its followers and even its Prophet and Holy Scriptures, are being constantly ridiculed and insulted.
Countries like the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands, which were models of tolerance and openness, are now turning inward and introducing legislation to remove equal rights for non-European residents. This is happening in spite of the fact that the EU Commission has sent out directives on racial equality and equal treatment for all.
ENAR, the largest NGO network, with co-ordinators in all EU Member States, has gained volumes of information and experience in the field of intercultural dialogue. Alone the fact that our more than 600 NGO members come from all walks of life, with varying religions, cultures, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, has put us in a unique position.
So what is it that we have learned in the last 10 years of our grassroots work which we can present here?
One thing we have noticed is that discussions regarding multiculturalism and the integration of minorities are gaining momentum, in line with the European Union's political development and the demographic changes taking place in every European country. These issues constitute the founding elements - collectively and separately - of a modern, well-functioning society as well as of the well-being of different ethnic groups. The focus mainly is on the concept of multiculturalism and the role it should or could play in true mutual integration in diverse European societies.
All European countries are grappling with similar issues and are applying home-grown remedies to find solutions. Few solutions have succeeded, while most have had disastrous effects on fundamental human rights, citizenship and even mutual integration.
It is important to mention that societies in Europe - authorities, politicians, the media and the public - did not consider the imported workers of the 1970s as human beings with needs, but only as cheap labour fulfilling an economic necessity. This non-visionary way of dealing with immigrants at that time - socially, culturally and politically - and the later arrival of refugees from non-European countries, resulted in the creation of two parallel but not interacting layers in society.
In spite of hardships and separate environments, most ethnic minorities have actively tried to become a part of the local society, individually or as a group. Experience shows that full participation by various minority groups in most European societies has not succeeded optimally. This has been pointed out time and again by scholars, researchers and ethnic minority organisations. Although the reasons for this vary - depending upon who is the source and which interests one wishes to support - it is a popularly accepted fact that minorities are given the blame by the political establishment and the media.
In the field of antiracist work in Europe, we often talk about integrating ethnic minorities into the host societies. This is of course a necessity in the pursuit of a harmonious society. But unfortunately this noble thought remains unfulfilled because there are many walls in its way.
These barriers make it difficult if not impossible to create an atmosphere of understanding and good will between the majority and the minorities.
There are many different types of walls, for example:
younger generation born and raised in Europe are not willing to accept the same treatment. They are rebelling.
In the presence of so many walls, no wonder the ethnic minorities find it difficult to climb over these hurdles and barriers and establish a sense of belonging and loyalty towards the host society.
We all know that Europe takes pride in calling itself humanist, tolerant and democratic. To some extent, it is true. But an overview of the situation will help to put things in the right perspective. This will require that I am honest, straightforward and bring to you the worries and difficulties that diverse ethnic and religious groups are experiencing nowadays. You may not agree with my assessment but please, let it be the basis of our dialogue.
As far as racism in Europe is concerned, we are definitely heading in the wrong direction. This is even more alarming when it comes to the treatment of non-European minorities, especially those with an Islamic background. On top of this, we are facing a revival of anti-Semitism and further exclusion of Roma people. At the same time, race and ethnicity arguments have been replaced by a focus on non-European cultures, civilisations and religions, especially Muslim communities and Islam. In many countries, this demonising is now an officially sanctioned, media-advanced and publicly accepted fact. In short, a very frightening trend is emerging in the political, social, legal and public fields. My own country, Denmark, is a good example of such a development.
To top it all, the media are playing a special role, not only spreading prejudices but also fanning the flames of racism by their irresponsible coverage focusing on group ethnicity, and the cultures, religions and traditions of minorities. Every individual of non-European background is considered a representative of his or her group. Public opinion polls confirm the dire consequences of such mass hysteria and a significant shift in political trends. There are very few voices of reason being raised to counter this development.
Another dire consequence of this non-stop focus on non-European minorities was discovered and measured by an opinion poll carried out by the American Research Centre - PEW - on 4 June 2003. The survey points towards some very disturbing trends: 67 % of Italians, 60 % of Germans and 50 % of French people did not want immigration from Africa, the Middle East or Eastern Europe, and 47 % of the British had the same opinion. Most Europeans want stricter entry controls on foreigners.
According to another opinion poll conducted by Euro-barometer for the European Commission (New Europe Magazine 14.03.04), 80 % of EU citizens favoured stricter entry restrictions on foreigners from non-EU countries. At the same time, while 56 % of Europeans recognised the economic need for immigrants, 34 % did not want to give equal rights to legal immigrants.
So what are the common issues facing ethnic minorities in Europe?
ENAR prepares a yearly Shadow Report with the help of its coordinators in EU Member States, as to what is happening in Member States concerning discrimination and the problems this creates. The conclusions from the 2004, 2005 and 2006 reports are very clear, and the following picture emerges concerning ethnic minorities:
Many EU countries are linking citizenship to good behaviour, pledges of loyalty, and adoption of Western customs and culture.
So now we know that behind the beautiful democratic, face of Europe hides another reality, which is ugly, racist and inhumane. It is in this Europe that nearly 23 million non-European, Third World people (mostly coloured and Muslim) live in poor housing conditions, do dirty and low paid jobs, and feel the arrows of racism every day.
Respected politicians, experts, lawyers, priests, and authorities are busy accusing immigrants and refugees of threatening European culture and social welfare. Europe is busy building new barricades around itself, making it a "Fortress Europa" .
To remedy racism, we need a two-pronged strategy:
First, we need applicable strong laws which protect every citizen from discrimination and unequal treatment. This can be done if everyone has the same rights. It goes without saying that with rights, come duties towards the society. No one should be above the law and no one should have a free ride. But at the same time, I must point out that rights and duties should be connected with equal opportunities. Society must make sure that no one is denied his or her share of opportunities.
The second and parallel effort is education. Here is where you come in. Education, as you all know well, plays a deciding role in the formation of society, right from the kindergarten to adult education. It is alpha and omega in changing the mindset of an individual, a group or even a country.
Let us take the topic of racism first and see what the EU is doing to stop it. When it comes to fighting racism, we have to look at two different levels and approaches: first, the official response and then the NGO activities.
Looking at anti-racism in a wider historical context, we can see that from the 1957 Rome Treaty until the signing of the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, there was not a single word in any agreement, treaty or directive concerning racial discrimination in the labour market, social and health services, housing or education, or concerning violence against immigrants and refugees.
In the past, key dates have marked the EU's genuine political commitment to combating racism and xenophobia and have highlighted the dynamic development of a coherent EU policy on these key issues.
Source: Hans Pollinger
On the surface, all these efforts should have made a significant dent in the wall of racism. The EU institutions, especially the Commission, have tried to persuade national governments not only to abide by the directives it has sent out, but also to use the maximum standards to implement these. Many governments try to congratulate themselves on a job well done. But the reality is different.
Despite the strong commitment of governments in 2000 to establishing minimum standards to protect every person residing on European territory against the forms of discrimination listed in Article 13, the slow implementation of these instruments seven years later shows that a lot still needs to be done. The situation is so acute that the European Commission has taken legal steps against many Member States - by suing them in the Court of Justice.
Here I would like to remind the EU Commission of three things:
1. In the case of minority policies, there should be more cohesion and cooperation among various DGs. Since anti-discrimination and the education of minorities cut across many fields, the response should be multi-dimensional as well as cross-sectional. Such an approach and practice will save money and time and avoid duplicated effort. Implementing a coherent European anti-discrimination policy is indeed a long-term project that will need permanent corrective mechanisms to address in depth the root causes of prejudice and exclusion and ultimately to create a Europe where everyone enjoys equal rights.
3. Anti-discrimination is being replaced by new terminology such as integration, diversity and social inclusion/cohesion. I am a great supporter of these new initiatives, but now the time for fancy campaigns must go hand in hand with concrete actions. Minorities are tired of words. They want results.
Cultural diversity does not mean eating doner kebabs, learning belly dancing or listening to rap music. To me, diversity, whether it is cultural, ethnic or religious, means celebrating and enjoying difference as well as similarities. We should practise it because we live in a globalised world. Internet, email and fast travel have opened borders, which cannot be closed any more. Celebrating diversity does not mean that we force others to accept the way we do things. It can be only achieved by good example, cooperation and respect.
Racism, discrimination and ill treatment of human beings at the hands of fellow human beings is beyond my comprehension. At the same time, it should also be mentioned that people are becoming more aware of it, and they do want to change things. The realisation is growing that the problems we face today - religious and cultural misunderstandings and man-made barriers - have the potential to divide human beings from one another. Humanity needs to solve these problems on an urgent basis.
You, the delegates of this conference and many more I meet all over Europe, are the proof that decent people have had enough. Now they want to act. My father was an educationalist. He often said to me that teachers build societies and soldiers destroy them.
So now we come back to the vital part of my presentation and look at the role of education in intercultural co-existence as well as in an anti-discrimination discourse. I would argue that the underlying goal of education should be intercultural and not monocultural. Education should be used to affect social change. The pathway toward this goal incorporates three strands of transformation:
It is true that education - on a mass scale - through schools, colleges, universities and evening courses, and in vocational institutions, has been an integral part of European societies for a long time. Based on this lifelong learning process, European countries have succeeded in building well-functioning societies and a very high standard of welfare. But it is not the material development or a great pool of highly qualified workers for the labour market only, which is so striking. Mass education has also been necessary to create tolerant citizens who respect human rights and peaceful human interaction, and who turn their backs on war, prejudices and discrimination against others.
I believe that education in itself is a sacred value which leads to the paramount value of respect and acceptance among people. Education not only gives knowledge, wisdom and self-confidence but also forms our opinions, attitudes and behaviour towards the society and people we do not know or have not met before. In short, education is a tonic which sustains our spirit.
Unfortunately, when we look at the present landscape of Europe, we can see that gains achieved in the last 150 years, educating Europeans to cherish the values of diversity and of interculturalism, are under severe strain. A sizeable segment of the media and many politicians are openly advocating a monocultural identity for Europe based on Christian values, a common concept of history and the superiority of Western culture. In such an atmosphere, ethnic and religious minorities are looking towards you for support, solidarity and an open society.
In my work with non-European visible minorities, I often get this question: Why have so many educated people in Europe changed so drastically from humanism to racism in such a short time? So I am looking to you for answers. In the meantime, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on your role in education.
Looking at the whole European education system and the place of ethnic and religious minorities in it, I would appeal to European educators to keep in mind a few aspects:
In order to have a successful relationship between an educator and minorities, the educator's own opinions, vision, professionalism, knowledge and interest in the learners' background play an important role. It is not a 9-5 job but a lifelong commitment and a labour of love. A non-Eurocentric attitude by the teacher helps minorities to open up and be receptive to the changes they normally consider as foreign, unnecessary or even hostile. In short, an educator can successfully enter where politicians, the media and the public have no access, namely the mind and soul of a minority individual. This is where the first step to mutual integration starts.
Until very recently, European governments were reluctant to involve adult education institutions like folk high schools, trade union vocational courses or even evening classes provided by private tutors. The result has been that not only a sizeable number of older immigrants
- men and women - as well as those who later came through family reunion or as refugees, find themselves in an isolated position.
In a country like Denmark where the folk high school movement for mass adult education started, compulsory learning of Danish language started in 1986, and education in cultural understanding and societal orientation came into effect in 1996. Most European countries were even further behind. But here again, there was no effort to create an inclusive society, celebrate diversity or even appreciate the contributions made by minority groups to the functioning of the society.
I have done a few surveys among large ethnic groups. There are some interesting pointers in the opinions gathered. One of the clear signs is that minority communities do want to be part of the society and learn the language. Keeping that in mind, I would suggest that:
Please do not take this as finger-pointing. I am just delivering the message, seen from the grassroots and minority perspectives. You have every right to disagree or even reject what I have just said.
I propose that progressive people like you and ethnic minority organisations must join forces and talk directly to the people. This approach will create trust and understanding among the ethnic minorities and encourage them to take full responsibility for their actions. It will also make it easier for the authorities to understand the problems faced by ethnic minorities, like unavailability of financial resources, absence of networking and lack of opportunities.
Just a word of caution. Full participation will not be served on a silver plate, it has to be gained through political struggle, based on clear analysis, doing away with wishful thinking, and close cooperation by those who still believe in human rights, pluralistic development and, most of all, in keeping their societies democratic.
Minorities and the majority must make an extra effort to be inclusive. This society is yours as much as mine. My rights are yours and they need protection, care and a voice. We should all speak up before it is too late. So where do we go from here?
Ethnic minorities sincerely believe that there are people, movements and forces in Europe that are concerned about their beautiful country and continent, its great human values, its international reputation, its freedom-loving spirit, and its humanism. The task ahead may be difficult, but it is not impossible. As the great anthropologist Margaret Mead once said:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
We want a Europe of true peace and prosperity for all its inhabitants. Minorities certainly want to be respected as fellow human beings. They want their colour, religion, accent, cultural and ethnic background not to be seen and experienced as a hindrance, but instead, as a positive and enhancing contribution to the society they live in.
The ethnic minorities and the progressive forces must join hands, and this cooperation must be above party politics, political ideology and human pity. They must work to build a society free of prejudices, and bubbling with tolerance and heartfelt openness. This can happen if the Western rational spirit mingles with the Eastern philosophical soul, paving the way for a true understanding. The Great Lebanese philosopher and poet Khalil Gibran once said:
"Love is not looking at each other, but looking in the same direction."
The great late American writer, Susan Sontag once said:
"Some people claim that Europe is dead. Maybe, it will be right to say that Europe is yet to be born. A Europe that takes care of its defenceless minorities is badly needed. It is necessary that Europe is multicultural, otherwise it will cease to exist."
Only fools would argue against that.
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