According to the report, 64 percent of the respondents believe that discrimination on ethnic grounds is widespread. Fifty percent of the respondents believe that discrimination on grounds of religion or belief is widespread, too. According to the surveys conducted in 2012, both forms of discrimination were perceived to be less common (-8 percent on ethnic origin and -11 percent on religion or belief).
In Italy, 73 percent of the respondents believe discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin is widespread. Less than half of the respondents believe that discrimination on grounds of religion or belief is widespread.
The European Community report starts the section on discrimination on grounds of religion or belief by stating, «Views are generally becoming more tolerant; however considerable variations remain between countries in attitudes to religious minorities».
Fifty-four percent of the Italian respondents declare that he or she would be perfectly comfortable having a person from a different religion than the majority of the population in the highest political office (hence, someone non-Catholic). The European percentage is 56 (with a peak of 81 percent in Ireland and a low of 27 percent in the Czech Republic).
The disturbing news is that one in five respondents say they have felt discriminated against or harassed on one or more grounds in the previous 12 months. About 14 percent of those feel they have been discriminated against or harassed because of their religion or belief. In Italy, this percentage is sensibly higher: about 20 percent of the respondents who say they have felt discriminated against or harassed relate it to their religion or belief. The European trend indicates that 22 percent of the respondents who belong to a religion minority have been discriminated against or harassed because of their religion.
Turning to the workplace, the European trend shows that 94 percent of the respondents would be at ease working with a Christian person. The percentage drops to 87 for atheist, to 84 for Jewish, 81 for Buddhist and 71 for Muslim. In Italy, the findings are generally in line with European trends (94 percent would be at ease working with a Christian person, 86 for atheist, 82 for Jewish, 78 for Buddhist). The relevant difference concerns the attitude towards Muslim co-workers: only 61 percent of the respondents declare they would be at ease working with a Muslim person. Overall, the European trend shows that Islam and Muslims are more likely to attract suspicion and hostility. This is more noticeable in Italy. However, the Czech Republic and Slovakia fare even worse: only 27 and 37 percent of the respondents would be at ease with a Muslim co-worker.
When it comes to personal relations, the situation is even bleaker. Only 50 percent of the respondents would feel comfortable having sons or daughters in a love relationship with a Muslim person. In Italy, the percentage drops to 41 percent. Once again, Czech Republic and Slovakia show little acceptance with 12 and 16 percent, respectively.
The report concludes that Europeans tend to be less tolerant towards Muslim people than other religious minorities.
Beda Romano (‘Il Sole 24 ore’) notes that the wave of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has sparked a heated debate. It gives nationalist and xenophobic parties (the like of those cited earlier and, in Italy, Lega Nord) an opportunity to capitalise on the fears and worries of their electorate. These preoccupations are mainly about identity (i.e. the Islamisation of Europe) and the economy. The unemployment rate, especially in Italy, is a rather conspicuous factor. Italians feel impoverished and they think they are unable to help poorer people. Italians face difficulties in finding and keeping a job, so they deeply fear the inflow of low-cost labour. The simple fact that most of these asylum-seekers are Muslim ties these worries with Islamophobia. At the same time, perceptions about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism boost Islamophobia. Furthermore, the number of foreign fighters (around 6,000 – though estimates vary) who hold European citizenship (especially, French, German and UK citizenship) contributes to the perception of a fifth column within Europe.
As a matter of fact, experiences in integration, coexistence and mutual understanding should be more relevant than cultural and religious hostility. This kind of hostility often translates in the marginalisation of minorities. When a minority is cornered and excluded, it feels frustrated and it is an easy prey for fundamentalism. These conditions reduce the room for interreligious dialogue and for pluralism. Islamophobia is a dangerous feeling, as antisemitism was in the Twenties. Unfortunately, it seems to be a common feeling. As much as the economic crisis and the refugee crisis intermingle, it could potentially attract many more adherents.
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