By Papa Cheikh Jimbira-Sakho -Writer and Journalist
Fundamental human rights declaration guarantees everyone the right to personal security without regard to colour of their skin or ethnic origin In the first part, we tackled the definitions of race, racism, and xenophobia. We then moved on to some real samples of racial discrimination in the UK. In this part, racial discrimination in other European countries — namely, France, Greece, Finland, Denmark, and Germany — will be highlighted.
Over a decade, the reports of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) kept on expressing concern about far-right organizations in France, like Jean-Marie Le Pen’s party National Front. The reports also charged the French authorities of laxity and trivialization with regard to racist acts. Moreover, it is well known that the chauvinistic politicians of that party take advantage of that situation of the French authorities and openly encourage xenophobic and racist sentiments through their speeches, slogans, and political campaigns. In 1997, Catherine Megret, a politician of the National Front, became mayor of the southern French town of Vitrolles. She was quoted as calling the immigrants “colonials.” She said, “There are simply differences in the genes!” The same report notes, “As with other cultural practices, there exists a strong French bias against immigrants, religion, and traditions. The exclusion of Islam from the French society is very apparent. There are religious schools under state supervision for Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, but not for Muslims. While there are Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains in the French army, there are no Muslim chaplains. This exclusion is troubling as there are indications that French Muslims are vastly outpacing French non-Muslims in birth rates.”
In his special report on France, Maurice Glele-Ahanhanzo, United Nations’ special reporter on racism, stated, “The greatest discrimination in hiring was experienced by immigrants from Africa, followed by Turkish and Southeast Asian immigrants, who remain marginalized from mainstream French life.”
In March 2001, the European Commission of Human Rights established that 69 percent of the French were racists at various degrees. Likewise, the pressure group SOS Racisme, a French antiracist nongovernmental organization, indexed hundreds of cases of employers discarding applicants with foreign names and established that such discrimination is “particularly rife in the retail and hospitality industries but also for jobs involving no contact with the public.”
For many human rights organizations, Greece has one of the worst records in the European Union regarding racism against ethnic minorities, especially the Albanians. From the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) and according to Amnesty International Report 2002, we learn that the Greek police regularly abuses and even tortures members of minority groups and undocumented workers. A total of 66 cases of ill-treatment of detainees, including Albanians, Nigerians, and Romans, were reported. Amnesty International sees this was only the tip of the iceberg.
Furthermore, during December 2004, it was reported that a group of Afghan asylum seekers was subjected to ill-treatments and torture by Greek police officers. Reportedly 60 Afghans, of whom at least 17 were teenagers, were beaten.
The IRR then stated, “On December 30, [2007,] the Afghan refugees and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights held a demonstration in the center of Athens against the violence of the police and the racist behavior of the authorities.”
As for Finland, racial abuses are usually perpetrated by large neo-Nazi gangs, with Helsinki becoming a base for skinheads from across the country. In 1994, for instance, the police recorded 20 violent, racially motivated assaults on immigrants, according to the IRR. In January 1996, five skinheads were sentenced to imprisonment by Joensuu local court for “assault, attempted assault, and violation of domiciliary peace caused by racial hostility.” At the end of the trial, Judge Pekka Janhunen said, “Everybody has to have the right to personal security regardless of the color of their skin.” During 2001, many analysts in Finland raised concerns about “ethnicism and discriminatory practices against Somali nationals by the police in the Hakunila suburb of Vantaa.”
For the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Danes are “primitive nationalist.” Sweden’s leading newspaper Aftonbladet branded Denmark as “the most racially prejudiced country in Europe”! Illustrative of the predicament of ethnic minorities in that country is the rising number of homeless immigrants. In five years, the number of immigrants in Copenhagen’s homeless shelters has increased from 5 to 50 percent, according to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
As for modern Germany, the CERD warned of an alarming increase in racial abuses at the start of the present decade. In its 2001 recommendation, the CERD stated. The Committee shares the state party’s particular concern that despite appropriate actions undertaken and significant improvements to the various means of preventing and punishing right-wing extremist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic crimes, the number of racist incidents, which had more or less stagnated during the 1990s, suddenly and dramatically increased during the year 2000. The committee also encouraged the state party to reinforce its efforts to prevent and combat such acts, also through further studies and research, in order to fully understand the reasons for the recent increase in racial violence and to devise appropriate measures. The committee is further concerned about repeated reports of racist incidents in police stations, as well as ill-treatment inflicted by law-enforcement officials on foreigners, including asylum seekers and German nationals of foreign origin.
Ethnicism in Football
Coming now to football, as one of the fields that many people do follow, we can assert straight off that football is one of the areas where xenophobia and racial abuse are becoming most alarming in some European countries. Whether at an amateur or professional level, on or off the field, chauvinism and racial reviling from fans, players, or coaches are becoming more and more blatant on some European football grounds. During the 1970s and 1980s, racism against black players was tacitly but deeply entrenched in the English football championship. Indeed, although it was then rife to witness monkey chanting and banana throwing from racist supporters in English football stadiums, the phenomenon in institutional mass media was somewhat concealed, for they all kept silent about it. Former Chelsea captain Paul Elliott, who suffered endless racist abuses, confessed, “It is much better than the seventies and eighties when the atmosphere was intimidator. Back then, the mindset was that you just had to put up with it; it was part of the game. It was conveniently swept under the carpet. It was taboo. It was never reported.”
Echoing his words, Paul Barnes, former element of the English national football team, added, “It’s good that people are talking about racism now, but it’s how they are talking. The biggest thing for me is the hypocrisy of the people who were around 10 or 15 years ago when this was going on [in the UK]. Why weren’t they saying anything then? Is it just politically correct to be doing it now?” Today, there is still racist violence by English football fans against ethnic minority members. For instance, recently, the Rochdale Observer posted an article titled “Football Supporters Attack Elderly Asian Couple.” The article stated,An elderly Asian couple, aged 64 and 73, were attacked by a gang of football supporters in Rochdale an hour before a match between Rochdale and Bury. The couple were abused, spat on, and had lager sprayed on them. One can find dozens of such news in brief in the UK all over the map.
Here, we have an intriguing case in point. It is a racist, Islamophobic humiliation against Egyptian Muslim football player Mido at the Riverside Stadium.
On August 26, 2007, during a match between Newcastle United and Middlesbrough, Mido suffered serious Islamophobic abuse from Middlesbrough supporters. Sources said that “clearly audible” racist, anti-Arab chants were directed at him, and it was understood that the Football Association (FA) will launch an investigation for possible sentence against the fans of Newcastle United. An FA spokesperson said, “We are very much in favor of banning orders being imposed on anyone identified as engaging in racist behavior in football. The FA will obviously work with the police on all football-disorder-related matters.”
Another incident that football fans remember is the controversial friendly match between Spain and England on November 17, 2004, when two black players for the English team, Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips, were subjected to monkey noises and racist slogans chanted by thousands of fans in a crammed full stadium. Actually, an incident of racial abuse took place the day before, during the Under-21 friendly match between the two countries. The incidents were so alarming that the world’s football authority, FIFA, demanded an explanation from the Spanish football federation for the abuse aimed at England’s black players. A FIFA spokesperson noted, “Colored English players were the target of racial abuse from spectators. The FIFA is concerned about the latest surge of racism in football and harshly condemns these incidents.”
During the 2004 English football championship, a Blackburn fan was fined the equivalent of about US$1,900 and banned from football stadiums in England and Wales for five years for racial harassment against Birmingham player Dwight Yorke. Yet, on the whole, things have improved a lot nowadays, and there are less blatant racist abuses against black players on English football grounds. Actually, despite all the racist abuses they horrendously suffer, talented players are found in every major football league in Europe, especially in France and the UK where they are numerous. In England, about 30 percent of the top-level players are Blacks! However, if they are accepted as players, they are seldom welcomed as referees, front-office staff members, or coaches, save in a few cases (e.g. the two former international football stars, the Dutch Ruud Gullit and the French Jean Tigana). However, those players are not at all accepted as managers because of racial prejudice.
As demonstrated in what precedes, a soaring trend of erosion of human rights and civil liberties can be witnessed all over Europe because of racial abuse. Under the cover of the so-called global fight against terrorism initiated by the US, that combat is unfortunately predominantly directed against Muslims in the form of Islamophobia, which is rife in Europe all over the map. Yet, hopefully, a lot of effort is being consented to block the trend.
From the start of the present decade, the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly banned racism along with many other forms of social discrimination. Article 21 of the charter prohibits discrimination on any ground, such as race, color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, disability, age or sexual orientation, and also discrimination on the grounds of nationality. Among many other active European organizations, the ECRI is doing much in combating racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and intolerance at the level of greater Europe and from the perspective of the protection of human rights. In the same combat, the world football body FIFA and Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) are most concerned about the cancer of racism in the game and call for a united front.
So, let’s hope, along with all people of good will, that reason shall prevail over prejudice for peace and justice to reign. What is your opinion on the discrimination in Europe? Have you ever been subjected to similar abuses in Europe?