EFOMW participated in first European Islamophobia Summit held in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) 24-26 June 2016

The summit brought 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.

The main objective of The European Islamophobia Summit is to counter the recent surge of hostile, xenophobic, discriminatory, and racist discourse and actions against Muslim minorities which have gained alarming traction in light of the Syrian refugee crisis and the emergence of Daesh as a global polarising antagonist.

Choosing Sarajevo as a host town for the Summit has great symbolic value. First because Sarajevo has a centuries-long tradition of tolerance between different religious communities, but also because Sarajevo should 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, explained Dr. Farid Hafez (Salzburg University) who is one of the editors of the European Islamophobia report 2015 and academic advisor for the Summit.

“It is most important to phrase Islamophobia in the right way – it has become an accepted form of racism. Islamophobia is not about Islam and Muslims, it is about projecting racism against other people. It is a threat to social foundation of democracy and the very first step to talk about it is to make it visible.” Stated Dr.Hafez during the opening session held in Sarajevo city hall/ national library (newly rebuilt after total devastation during the war in 1990s)

During 3 days of the Summit a series of panels were convened and participants have been able to hear academics, politicians, NGO ‘s, artists with more discuss Islamophobia from different angles:

Dr. Hatem Bazian (University of California, Berkeley) talked about importance of “Understanding dynamics that drives Islamophobia”, Salman Sayyid (University of Leeds) explained Islamophobia as a way of “regulating and disciplining Muslims along the Western horizon”. (More detailed explanations can be found in his book ‘Thinking through Islamophobia: Global Perspectives’)
“Islamophobia appears in settings where Islam is considered to be an antipode of what the west is. This is why Islamophobia becomes the way of narrating…a way of life”.

Dr. Ivan Kalmar (University of Toronto) reminded that Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon and its roots should be sought much further back in history (then 9/11). History of Islamophobia as well as one of Anti-Semitism is centuries long.  These two phenomena have a long common history, explains Kalmar and puts it in a wider historical context in order to explain why Islamophobia should be considered as a “New anti-Semitism”. Even thou Islamophobia is not exactly the same as anti-Semitism, this comparison can be used as a warning.

Numbers of case studies from latest European Islamophobia Report were also presented. It shows worrying data from countries across the Europe. Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise and Islamophobia has been “imported” even in countries where they’re hardly any Muslims (and large majority of the people never met a Muslim) such as Lithuania, as well as in countries there Muslims constitute majority of the population, such as Kosovo, where political elites decides to follow the global trends.

A negative perception and misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims spread by media but also in education makes huge impact on such development.

During the last day initiatives and best practices in countering Islamophobia were discussed. As a civil society representative, EFOMW’s vice president Sehija Dedovic presented EFOMW’s work, experiences and practices in work with Muslim women and against Islamophobia in Europe, and called for joined action. See her speech as pdf here.

Last panel lifted up power of storytelling, the importance of changing the narratives and telling our own story as a contrast to Islamophobic narratives. “Never underestimate the power of journalism and storytelling. If you don’t tell your own story, your story will be told for you”, explained Wajahat Ali

The summit was very successful and inspiring exchange of experiences and a timely call for action. It is one more step taken in request for a more serious approach in work against Islamophobia in Europe.
The work of the Summit will be published in a report that will be available for European policy-makers after the Summit. List of speakers from the Summit can be found on Summits webpage http://islamophobiasummit.com/