The first European Islamophobia Summit opens on Friday in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. Lasting until June 26, it will bring together European and US political, academic and civil-society leaders with the goal of finding solutions to the challenge of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe.
Farid Hafez of Salzburg University, who is the academic advisor to the summit, told BIRN that Islamophobia had reached a worrying dimension in Europe.
“If we look back to what happened in the refugees crisis in 2015, we see that Islamophobia is spreading also in countries where there are no Muslims, like in Eastern Europe,” Hafez said.
He noted also that Islamophobia is becoming a mainstream phenomenon, no longer relegated exclusively to the fringe and to far-right parties.
Confirmed participants at the summit include former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the chairman of Bosnia’s Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, the French founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, Bernard Kouchner, the international media anchor, Mehdi Hassan, and the former Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, amongst others.
Representatives will come from 17 European nations and different faith communities.
“We hope that having such high-profile participants will help spreading awareness about rising Islamophobia,” Hafez stressed.
Research quoted by the European Islamophobia Forum show a sharp rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the past five years in several European countries.
A 2014 study by the Pew Research Centre found that at least half of the respondents surveyed in Italy, Greece and Poland held a negative opinion about Muslims living in their country.
“Against calls by US Presidential candidate Donald Trump for a ban on Muslims entering the US and Hungary’s Prime Minister and the upcoming EU President and Slovak Prime Minister both stating Islam has no place in their countries, the need for a summit ... against Islamophobia is timelier than ever,” a press release of the European Islamophobia Forum said.
Rising Islamophobia is a concern also for Bosnian Muslims, who are worried about the increasingly negative perception of Islam in Europe, BIRN reported, and whose long-standing tradition of tolerance now confronts the threat of religious extremism.
According to Hafez, the decision to organise the summit in Sarajevo has major symbolic value.
“We chose to organise this summit in Sarajevo for two main reasons: first, Sarajevo has a centuries-long tradition of tolerance between different religious communities”, he told BIRN.
“Besides that, Sarajevo should also be considered as a warning, considering the war [in Bosnia] during the 1990s and the fact that the worst genocide since World War II in Europe took place in Bosnia,” Hafez noted.
He was referring to the killing of more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia by the Bosnian Serb Army in 1995.