CORDOBA, Spain (AFP) – Islamophobia gathered pace in the West with the end of the Cold War, long before the September 11, 2001 attacks against the US, participants at a two-day OSCE conference that began in Spain Tuesday said.
“After the end of the Cold War, certain people took Muslims and Islam to be the new scapegoat and enemy,” Mustapha Cherif, an expert on Islam at the University of Algiers, told AFP on the sidelines of the gathering.
“But after the senseless act of September 11, this has been amplified,” added Cherif, who is known for his commitment to battling religious hatred.
Delegations from the 56 nations that make up the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are taking part in the conference in the southern Spanish city of Cordoba on the topic of intolerance toward Muslims.
Spain currently holds the rotating presidency of the OSCE, which promotes human rights, democracy and conflict prevention in Europe, North America and Central Asia.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa told the gathering that after the end of the Cold War, “conservative extremists in certain Western circles” needed to find a new enemy.
“We can’t live in stability and security if some are perceived as first class citizens and others second class citizens. This has to disappear,” he added.
Studies by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia have found anti-Muslim behaviour and attitudes have risen since 2001, said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
“Without a doubt, international terrorism has fueled this phenomena,” added Moratinos who is chairing the gathering.
Muslims in Europe face discrimination when it comes to employment, education and housing, said Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, the head of research and data collection at the Vienna-based European Fundamental Rights Agency.
“In the area of employment there is evidence that Muslims generally have a higher unemployment rate,” he said.
For example in Ireland according to the 2002 census 11 percent of Muslims were unemployed compared to a national average of 4.0 percent, he said.
In Britain the unemployment rate for Muslims, for both men and women, is also higher than that for the general population, especially among those between the ages of 16 and 24, he added.
“In the area of education there is evidence that Muslim pupils tend to have a lower level of education achievement,” Dimitrakopoulos added.
The conference will turn its attention Wednesday to possible solutions to the problem of Islamophobia, chiefly in the areas of education and the media.
“The conclusions which will be presented (on Wednesday) will include specific instruments, mechanisms for follow-up and especially a greater sensitization” of the phenomena, said Moratinos.
Cordoba was chosen as the host for the conference as the city, with its eighth century mosque, is a symbolic venue of centuries of coexistence in the Iberian peninsula between Christians, Jews and Muslims.
The city hosted a similar OSCE conference on anti-Semitism in 2005.