CAIRO - A leading human rights group has criticized European governments for their treatment of Muslims, failing to challenge the negative stereotypes and prejudices against the religious minority that are fueling discrimination across the continent.
Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf, Marco Perolini, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination, said in the report released on Tuesday, April 24.
Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam.
Several European countries have made policy decisions in recent years discriminating against their Muslim citizens, according to Amnesty report.
The report, titled "Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination Against Muslims in Europe," singles out Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland for particular criticism.
It cites bans on face-covering veils or other religious symbols in schools as being among the most damaging measures.
"Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes," Perolini said.
There is a groundswell of opinion in many European countries that Islam is alright and Muslims are ok so long as they are not too visible. This attitude is generating human rights violations and needs to be challenged.
The report documents numerous individual cases of discrimination across the countries covered.
It added that pupils have been denied over the past decade the right to wear the headscarf or other religious and traditional dress at school in many countries including Spain, France, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Any restriction on the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress in schools must be based on assessment of the needs in each individual case, Perolini said.
General bans risk adversely Muslims girls' access to education and violating their rights to freedom of expression and to manifest their beliefs.
The report cites European employers' discrimination against Muslims in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, as a direct conflict with European Union (EU) anti-discrimination legislation.
EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims, and especially Muslim women of foreign origin, Perolini, the AI expert, said.
In France in 2009, the employment rate of women holding French citizenship was 60.9 per cent. The rate for Moroccan women in the country was 25.6 per cent and for Turkish women 14.7 per cent.
In the Netherlands in 2006, the employment rate of women of Turkish and Moroccan origin was 31 and 27 per cent respectively, compared with a rate of 56 per cent for Dutch women who are not from ethnic minorities.
Muslims were also denied the right to establish proper places of worship across the European content, despite state obligations to protect, respect and fulfill the freedom of religion which includes the right to worship collectively in adequate places.
Since 2010, the Swiss Constitution violated international obligations, specifically targeting Muslims with the prohibition of the construction of minarets.
In Catalonia (Spain), Muslims have to pray in outdoor spaces because existing prayer rooms are too small to accommodate all the worshippers and requests to build mosques are being disputed as incompatible with the respect of Catalan traditions and culture.
These concerns raised by Amnesty International were a direct breach of freedom of religion and belief granted by European constitutions as human rights.
Wearing religious and cultural symbols and dress is part of the right of freedom of expression. It is part of the right to freedom of religion or belief - and these rights must be enjoyed by all faiths equally, Perolini said.
While everyone has the right to express their cultural, traditional or religious background by wearing a specific form of dress no one should be pressurized or coerced to do so.
General bans on particular forms of dress that violate the rights of those freely choosing to dress in a particular way are not the way to do this.