U.S. Monitoring Western Europe Over Anti-Muslim, Anti-Jewish Discrimination

Muslims pray in the street in front of the city hall of Clichy, near Paris, France, April 21. Benoit Tessier/Reuters

The United States is monitoring Western Europe for signs of religious discrimination, particularly against Muslims and Jews, according to the annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"The state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both depth and breadth of violations," according to the USCIFR, a federal government commission. "The blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated. Many observers have become numb to violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion."

Problems involving religious freedom in Western Europe include hate speech against certain groups; government restrictions on forms of religious expression such as dress and places of worship; and the impact of counter-extremism policies, according to the report. The USCIFR also cites "an alarming rise in societal hostility towards Jews and Muslims in Europe, including discrimination, harassment, and sometimes violence."

Western Europe has been monitored by the commission for the past several years, as an increase in refugees and asylum seekers to the continent "fueled an already-rising tide of hatred and violence targeting Muslims and Jews," according to last year's report.

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Some countries have been guilty of overreach when enacting counter-extremism legislation in the wake of attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) group, said USCIRF. According to the report: "France, Spain, Germany, and the U.K. have all outlawed glorification or defense of terrorism in an effort to counter radicalization," although that legislation has mainly resulted in cases being brought against "artists, young children, people with developmental disabilities, and drunk people." Anti-Muslim bias is an ongoing issue across Western Europe, and it escalated in the U.K. following the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union, the commission said. Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims, are also affected by such discrimination.

The U.K. recorded a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, while the number of European Jews attending synagogues on high holy days declined due to security concerns, according to a September 2016 poll. The report cites three main sources of anti-Semitism in Western Europe: Islamist extremists, the political far-right and the political far-left.

Additionally, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, Scientologists and Evangelical Protestants are among smaller religious groups that have been targeted in Western European countries, according to the report.

Elsewhere, Russia for the first time has been included in the commission's list of most concerning countries. According to the report, Russia "represents a unique case among the countries in this report—it is the sole state to have not only continually intensified its repression of religious freedom since USCIRF commenced monitoring it, but also to have expanded its repressive policies to the territory of a neighboring state, by means of military invasion and occupation."

Russia joins the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam as newly designated countries of concern. They join the existing nations on that particular list: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.