Anyone working on policy will know that the problems facing Europe are complex and the solutions are complicated. This does not translate well into soundbites and everyday debate - instead of saying “your factory job has disappeared because of the globalised fourth industrial revolution” it is easier to say “it’s the Muslims’ fault”. It is easier, but that does not make it right or helpful.
European society has changed, incredibly quickly. As post-industrial cities in Europe have experienced a transition towards de-industrialization, manufacturing processes have been relocated overseas. Social classes have rapidly changed, as have urban spaces, leading European industrial towns into an identity crisis, and creating a feeling of insecurity in the local population, which manifests in social interactions.
Post-industrial towns are no longer developed hierarchically, along traditional class division. They now seem to be a heterogeneous melting pot where different ethnic or religious identity groups compete. There are around 25.8 millions of Muslims living in Europe, which accounts for 4.9% of the overall population.
Many of these Muslim communities live in post-industrial contexts. Despite being part of European societies for long, they still face discrimination and socio-economical disadvantages. Muslims are overrepresented in poorer urban areas, creating a residential segregation.
Religious discrimination against Muslim people remains a strong barrier, and it results in social exclusion, especially for women. Muslims experience higher rates of unemployment, they often work in marginal sectors, and they are often underpaid.
Discrimination against Muslims, Islamophobia, has been exacerbated in recent years, particularly in the wake of the recent terrorist incidents on European soil, leading to an increase of violence against Muslims in many EU Member States. In 2017, 1200 Islamophobic attacks have been reported in the UK only, a 26% increase from 2016.
It has not just risen by itself. Such discriminatory narratives are also fueled by far-right extremist propaganda. Far-right groups have targeted Muslims and labelled them as exogenous elements that do not belong in European societies.
The rise of far-right movements all over Europe has been driven by economic uncertainty and security concerns following the 2008 financial crash and the 2015 migration crisis. Far-right parties have offered superficial explanations at a time when people were desperate to find causes to their problems, and a scapegoat. It is easier to blame a tangible enemy when it is identified in a person that looks, dresses and speaks differently.
Whether extremist parties openly use anti-Islam rhetoric, such as the PVV in the Netherlands, or they hide it behind anti-immigration stances, like the FPO in Austria, their success in recent EU elections highlights a worrying trend of intolerance and racism.
Integration and social cohesion are a challenge for EU, and Muslim people are at the center of this debate. It is important that EU States pursue inclusive policies, to eradicate discrimination and ensure social cohesion in times of economic uncertainty and within socially tense environments. Member States have a duty to protect those who have suffered from the negative effects of globalisation.
Urban policies should aim at multiculturalism, incentivizing religiously and ethnically mixed districts. European cities should become an area of freedom, where no Muslims or any other group feels excluded. Then, together, Europeans can tackle the challenges that the modern world presents.
The narrative of Muslims as outsiders is vicious. Muslims are not outsiders in European societies. European Muslims are exactly that, Europeans. There is one group that deserves to be perceived as outsiders - the racists who would capitalise on uncertainty and incite hatred against others. It is not the Muslims that do not belong in Europe, it is the extremists, of every kind.