Discrimination rising, tolerance in decline in Germany, Austria

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy
Published 06.05.2017 00:00

Discrimination against Muslims has spiked, while tolerance toward differences and other religions fell in Germany and Austria, according to the Head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (ADS) in Germany Christine Lüders and a recent survey conducted in Austria.

In a recent interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), Christine Lüders said women who wear headscarves have often faced discrimination in the labor market, at fitness clubs or while renting apartments.

"Many people do not know that in Germany it is prohibited to impose a blanket ban on headscarves," she said, adding that fitness studios or employers could not impose such bans on individuals who wear religious symbols.

Likewise, a survey published on Wednesday in Austria revealed that 71 percent of Austrians are against mosques and 44 percent are disturbed by sales consultants wearing headscarves.

A total of 500 people were interviewed about tolerance in the areas of ethnic origin, skin color and religion for the survey. "Tolerance is a basic pillar of democracy and the bulwark against totalitarian patterns of action and regimes," said the chairman of the Mauthausen committee, Willi Mernyi, who conducted the study.

"It is not only Germany and Austria. There is a growing trend across Europe," Enes Bayraklı, a foreign affairs specialist at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) and an academic at Istanbul's Turkish-German University, said. "The far-right has especially been on the rise in countries like Austria, the Netherlands and Germany," he added.

According to Lüders, the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency has received more than 21,000 discrimination complaints since 2016, but only 300 of them were lodged by women wearing headscarves.

"But these statistics do not say much about the actual numbers," she said.

Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) Vice Chair Fatih Zingal explained how bad the situation has become in Europe. "There are even those spitting while passing by a woman with a headscarf," Zingal said. "The matter has come to this point," he affirmed.

"In general, when we talk about discrimination, there is always a high number of unreported cases because many people put up with discrimination or do not know where they can get support," she added.

Bayraklı contended that European politicians often prefer to stay quiet on the issue. "The perception and the pressure are so immense that European politicians keep silent," he asserted.

A crackdown on Turkish citizens living in Austria recently intensified after a heated countrywide debate that surfaced following the April 16 constitutional referendum in Turkey about those holding dual passports.

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka stoked the flames of this controversial discussion shortly after the April 16 referendum, saying that those illegally holding dual passports should be fined 5,000 euros ($5,485). Nearly 108,000 Turkish citizens are currently on the Austrian government's radar, where anti-Islam sentiment has been spreading as well. In addition to the rise of the far-right movements in the country, earlier this year the head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) called for a law banning "fascistic Islam" and Muslim symbols, comparable to an existing law banning Nazi symbols, saying Islam could wipe out European society.

However, in Germany, where nearly 4.7 million Muslims live, religious freedoms are protected by the German Constitution.

Unfortunately, Muslim women who wear headscarves have been facing increasing levels of discrimination in recent years amid a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments, triggered by propaganda from the far-right and populist parties that have exploited the refugee crisis.

Zingal said the discrimination against Muslims and Turkish people in Germany started to intensify after they started receiving good jobs and academic success. "There was no issue in the past when Turks were workers. It became a political issue when they promoted their status," he added.

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