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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

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              Prediction 1 - Continued tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe

Anti-Muslim bias growing in Europe, conference told
By Daniel Flynn

CORDOBA, Spain (Reuters) - Discrimination against Muslims is becoming the main human rights challenge in Europe since the September 11 attacks and many governments are neglecting the problem, delegates told a conference on Thursday.
 

"Islamaphobia is now becoming the central challenge of European countries in the field of discrimination and racism."


Violence by a small minority of Islamic militants and the West's war on terrorism have fuelled bias against Muslims, they told a meeting held in the southern Spanish city of Cordoba by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Jewish groups at the conference expressed concern that discussion of anti-Muslim bias -- the first time the OSCE has tackled the issue -- might divert attention from anti-Semitism, which experts say is also on the rise in Europe.

A similar conference of the 55-nation OSCE in Berlin last year vowed to fight resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe and added discrimination against Muslims, Christians and other believers to its list of concerns.

"Anti-Semitism has been combated by all European countries in a very strong way. This is a very positive thing, but in this combat against anti-Semitism they are neglecting the importance of Islamaphobia," Doudou Diene, the United Nations' Rapporteur on Racism and Xenophobia, told Reuters.

"Islamaphobia is now becoming the central challenge of European countries in the field of discrimination and racism."

"Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism are two sides of the same coin," said Abduljalil Sajid, adviser to the Commission on British Muslims. "But Islamphobia has replaced anti-Semitism as the new sharp end of racist issues in the world wherever you go."

With more than 20 million Muslims living in Europe, Islam is the second religion in many countries. Reports of anti-Muslim violence and attacks on mosques have multiplied in the wake of the September 2001 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda.

France, whose five-million-strong Muslim community is Europe's largest, has seen attacks on Islamic cemeteries rise in the past year. However, more than 60 percent of its reported hate crimes last year were against Jews and their property.

Several countries have stepped up their surveillance of radical Islamists and planned training courses for imams to ensure these prayer leaders preach moderate Islam.

"THE ENEMY WITHIN"

"Muslim communities have begun to be perceived in some Western countries as 'the enemy within', posing potential threats to the values of Western civilisation," Turkish Minister of State Mehmet Aydin told the conference.

"The world is witnessing the birth of a new racism in Europe," said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Several speakers argued that anti-Semitism had to be the priority in the OSCE's fight against religious intolerance.

"Anti-Semitism must be specifically targeted because of its unique and tragic history, and particularly because of its inexplicable resurgence in recent years," New York Governor George Pataki, the head of the U.S. delegation, said.

"We must maintain our commitment to the specialised treatment of the roots and manifestations of anti-Semitism, even as we fittingly deplore and take firm steps to address intolerance in its many forms," said Daniel Mariaschin, Executive Vice-President of B'nai B'rith International.

Speakers at the conference, due to end later on Thursday, said on Wednesday that many European governments had failed to keep pledges they made last year to track anti-Semitic crimes and pool information to better combat them.

The Vienna-based OSCE -- which groups countries from Europe, North America and the area of the former Soviet Union -- is holding the conference in Cordoba because of its heritage of religious tolerance under Muslim rule from 711 to 1236.
 

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