EU: CoE body on Islamophobia, Islamic terrorism and freedom of expression

EU: CoE body on Islamophobia, Islamic terrorism and freedom of expression

The The Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe, chaired by Joschka Fischer, met in Brussels two months ago to discuss diversity in Europe. The result is a report titled "Living together in 21st century Europe", which addresses the fear of diversity. The report is rather expectable ('diversity is Europe's destiny'), and it manages to avoid discussing the meaning of nationality in Europe's nation-states but it does have an interesting take on the concept of Islamophobia (emphasis mine):
Many observers and organisations, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, agree that there is a drastic growth of hostility to Muslims throughout Europe. Often they use the term “Islamophobia” to describe this phenomenon. We have chosen not to use that term in this report, because it could be taken as implying that Islam as such should be exempt from criticism, or that those who criticise it are necessarily motivated by racial or religious prejudice. We do not share that view, since we believe that in a free and pluralist society people must be free to hold any or no religious belief, and to express their opinions about Islam as much as any other religion.

The report discusses various risks to European values, including Islamic terrorism (emphasis mine):
A 2009 Europol report concluded that “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as being the biggest threat worldwide, despite the fact that the EU only faced one Islamist terrorist attack in 2008. Separatism, rather than religion, remains the ostensible motive for the largest number of attacks in the EU”;


However, the impact of terrorism cannot be measured simply by the number of attacks, but more by the number of casualties they cause, and above all by their success in traumatising society, creating a climate of fear and – if possible – provoking reactions which tend to radicalise and enlarge the pool of people among which the group behind the attacks can hope to win support for its ideology and new recruits for its activities – in the case of Islamist terrorism, alienated Muslims in Europe and those in the Islamic world who feel anger against the West. Judged by these criteria, Islamist terrorism is clearly the most effective and dangerous in Europe today.

And Religious Freedom vs. Freedom of Expression:
There is thus a danger that a fundamental freedom, that of expression, may come to be eroded through the anxiety of some European elites to avoid further alienating an important minority, or through the fear of provoking acts of violence. The alleged conflict between freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and the lack of consensus about how and exactly where the frontiers of freedom of expression should be drawn, do therefore pose a threat to some of Europe’s most cherished values.