Of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the majority lives in Africa and Asia (India, Pakistan and Indonesia top the ranks). The Arab world is home to about one-fifth of the world’s Muslim population. Many live in Western cities like London, Paris, Berlin, or New York. What is common to them is a belief in God and Prophet Muhammad and religious practices such as fasting during the month of Ramadan. Other than that, they are a diverse bunch: whether Sunni or Shia, they can be observant or non-observant, conservative, liberal, fundamentalist, reformist, secular, mainstream, or extremist.
Women played a major role in the development of Islam and Islam is credited with having improved women‘s status at the time of its origin. In some Muslim countries, however, a strongly patriarchal culture contributes to a wide gender gap to this day. Often, such countries host notable feminist movements. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive cars, and sexual segregation permeates the public life. In most other societies, they drive cars, ride motorcycles and even fly planes. Some are required by law to fully cover themselves in public (in Saudi Arabia and Iran), while others are prohibited from displaying the Muslim headscarf (in French schools).
Islamism, or, political Islam, is a political ideology. Its adherents believe that the Islamic law and values should play a central role in the public life. Notable examples of Islamists include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Iran. They often clash with the idea that no religion should have a privileged position in a political argument. The vast majority of Islamists are, however, not violent: they are willing to work in existing structures, even secular ones. In order not to fuel terrorist‘s narratives, politicians must explicitly distinguish between Islamists and terrorists.
The risk of death by terrorism in Europe today is significantly lower than it was in the 1970s when Europe was experiencing attacks by ETA, IRA, Red Brigades and Red Army Faction. An average European is more likely to be killed by lightning than by a terrorist. The danger exists nevertheless. Analysis of volumes of extremist literature and interviews with thousands of former and current terrorists show that devote Muslims tend not to become terrorists. Terrorists usually find faith only after joining jihadist networks. This should inform the debate about the prevention of radicalisation and counterterrorist measures.
In most Muslim-majority countries, sharia, or, Islamic law, is employed only in civil law. In the English-speaking world, sharia-based outfits are accepted alongside other religion-based arbitration services such as longstanding rabbinical tribunals (Beth Din) or Christian mediation services. Genuine dilemmas for secular countries with big Muslim minorities is not in the realm of criminal law but in sharia’s application to family matters such as divorce, inheritance and custody.
The Quran is written in idioms and is riddled with assumptions of ancient societies. Like the Bible. In the battle of the holy books, the Quran has one disadvantage: Only about 20% of Muslims speak Arabic as their first language. Yet since Muslims usually consider the Quran to be a literal message from God to Muhammad, Muslim scholars are reluctant to translate it. The worldwide distribution of the Quran today is led by Saudi benefactors. This invites controversy since the influential translations may be biased toward Wahabbism, a rather less tolerant brand of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Christian interpreters, on the other side, have a history of mistranslating Islam with the express purpose of discrediting it. Ultimately then, the key question may not be what is written in a particular translation of the Quran but what do Muslims say the Quran says.
Some of the prominent pitfalls of judgement likely to affect the debates about Islam include so-called attribution bias and naive realism. The first trap describes a tendency to attribute an outcome to choices of involved actors even though evidence suggests an influence of external triggers and constraints. Such bias thus may for instance contribute to the notion that the lower standard of civil liberties in the Arab part of the Muslim world is the result of the free choice of Arab Muslims. Naive realism then stands for a general disposition of debaters to assume that those who disagree with us must be uninformed, stupid or biased.
Over half the world’s refugees have been in exile for at least five years. Many of them live in refugee camps where they do not have right to work or move freely. Standard policies are based just on the vulnerabilities of refugees rather than their capacities. This way, they leave the forcibly displaced people in limbo. But studies show that initiatives that enhance freedom of movement and empower refugees economically, like the Ugandan Self-reliance Strategy, lead to better outcomes for refugees and host communities alike.
Every refugee wave in history has been met with suspicion. Jewish refugees, for instance, have been regarded in many countries as common migrants long into the 1940s. Neither the scale nor cultural difference alone is unprecedented. The Indochinese boat people, two million of whom have been resettled around the world since the 1970s, came from no less different cultural spheres than today’s refugees. In 1999, some 850,000 Kosovan refugees fled into neighbouring countries in a span of a few weeks. Back then, European countries opted for a common solution.
The existing Common European Asylum System was not designed for a situation of a mass influx of refugees from outside Europe. Member countries respond to this challenge their way. In the last years, acceptance rates on asylum applications in the EU have ranged between around 70% (Sweden, Switzerland, or Denmark) and 10% (Hungary). This discrepancy arises from both the differing composition of asylum applicants coming to the respective countries and different standards of assessment.
Portraying migrants as parasites exploiting the generosity of the German welfare system is baseless and misleading. Economic studies show that in the long term, the economy benefits – or, at least, tends not to lose from the presence of migrants. There is no research whatsoever that would prove it should be any different if the migrants come from “distant cultural spheres“. In the short term, however, migrants may represent a small burden for the public budget. Also, if retraining opportunities are poor, unlimited migration can put low-skilled domestic workers at risk of short-term unemployment or at least a minor reduction in wages.
Concern that tens of millions of migrants could come to Europe within a few years is unrealistic. Europe has been for a long time regarded as a region of stability and justice. But not everyone wants and can come here: data from 196 countries show that from 1990 to 2010, the largest movements occurred between South and West Asia, from Latin to North America and within Africa. In 2016, 80% of the world’s 65 million forcibly displaced persons was hosted by developing countries.
Since 2015, many of the most widely shared news about refugees and migrants have been completely made up or distorted. Many of them originated on Russian government-controlled or obscure websites affiliated to the disinformation campaign. In some cases, such misinformations have been cited by Czech politicians and republished in the Czech media. In September 2015, the management of TV Prima, the third most watched TV in the Czech Republic instructed its editors to portray refugees as a danger.
Some of the most prominent biases that may affect our judgement about refugees and migrants are negativity bias and selective perception. The first one describes a finding that negative (threatening) stimuli often impress people more strongly than positive or neutral ones. Selective perception represents a tendency to give more weight to expected over surprising information. To fact-checkers, it is important to know that a confrontation with a correction may easily strengthen people’s previously held beliefs. Therefore, fact-checkers must use strategies that alleviate this backfire effect.
Studies suggest that almost all children, including the Roma or the children with moderate disabilities, can benefit both socially and academically from inclusive schools. Much of the public thinks otherwise. Largely, it is because most parents are misinformed, and most teachers have been left to cope with new challenges on their own. In some regions, Czech Roma students often continue to be sent to primary schools for intellectually disabled. Their placement in less demanding schools may well be the biggest factor behind their comparably higher unemployment. Meanwhile, salaries of Czech teachers remain the worst among all OECD countries. Without a credible commitment to a continuous salary increase, pedagogical faculties will remain to be the first choice only for less talented applicants. Meanwhile, a model from IDEA CERGE-EI has shown that an education reform could increase the gross natinal product by 150 billion Kč (€ 5.5 billion) annualy.
No other level of government is better positioned to impact the wellbeing of everybody in a neighbourhood than the local government Since the causes of a Roma‘s deprivation, and quarrels between them and the majority population are often caused by a set of factors, local governments must address these constraints comprehensively. Pro-integration programs must combine the support of desegregated housing with the support of education, employment and social work. This way, the IRIS program in Madrid, for instance, achieved a decrease in dependence on social benefits, improvement of school results and employment of the participating Roma. Many local governments opt for exclusively repressive policies that often lead to inefficient use of public money.
Many local governments in Central Europe pursued policies of isolating the unwanted inhabitants in dedicated estates since the early 1990s. In the Czech Republic, this led to the emergence of some 600 so-called Socially excluded areas. They house about 100,000 Czechs, 80% of whom are the Roma – a third of the total Czech Roma population. At its extreme, these policies gave rise to the infamous housing blocks like Chánov in the north Bohemian town of Most or Luník IX in the east Slovakian town of Košice. The inhabitants of marginalised areas grow up in an environment with high unemployment, low life aspirations, drug abuse and usury. Their neighbours, observing the eventual accompanying hullabaloo, often vote for populistic politicians who have typically helped to create the inhospitable neighbourhood in the first place.
Gypsies/Roma have a history of persecution going back to 15th century. For their belonging into an ethnic group, they faced sanctions ranging from eviction to whipping to death sentence. Between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma were killed during the Holocaust. Czech officers run two Roma concentration camps. Under communism, many were forcefully resettled into regions heavy in manual labour that faded in the 1990s. Today, the Roma have elites. But many others are poor, badly educated and unemployed. Some have resigned on efforts to escape from marasmus, others not. All continue to be shunned: According to an experiment by CERGE-EI, the Roma are twice as unlikely to be invited for a job interview by employers or invited for an apartment viewing by landlords.
Fifteen years of research of Roma portrayal in the Czech and Slovak mass media recurrently shows one thing: articles about the Roma bluntly describe events – they do not allow readers to understand the grievance of those who criticize the Roma, nor the misery of those Roma who live on the fringes of society. Mainstream media, moreover, have a tendency for sensationalism about the Roma. Major media have repeatedly accused a Roma of violence only to realise later their story was entirely fictitious (in 2012, it was ominous). In the aftermath of such incidents, the responsible journalists have usually denied any breaches of professional standards.
People sincerely antipathetic towards the Roma often say they rely on unfavourable experiences with a life along their side.” But the antipathies do not result only from experience and often unverified gossip. If Non-Roma want to see a Roma justly, they must actively resist mechanisms of prejudices such as the out-group homogeneity bias. This bias represents a double standard because of which people differentiate well in the behaviour of members of the group in which they feel at home (in-group) but tend to see the acts of members of a foreign group (out-group) as common to them all. Another important condition of a productive debate about topics related to the Roma is to differentiate between the disagreements about realities and the disagreements about causes: for instance, claims about the level of un/employment of the Roma and the factors that affect the un/employment of some of them.