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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Promoting Inclusion

Shaarik H. Zafar, Special Representative to Muslim Communities; Arsalan Suleman, Acting Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; David Friggieri, European Commission Coordinator on Combating Anti-Muslim Hatred; and Alfiaz Vaiya, Coordinator of the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup
New York, NY
January 17, 2017


MODERATOR: All right. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for being here for our briefing on combating anti-Muslim discrimination and promoting inclusion. We’re going to jump right in and get started as Mr. Zafar has to leave at 4:00 today, but let me make some quick introductions.

First seated here on the left is Shaarik Zafar, our special representative to Muslim communities; Arsalan Suleman, who is acting special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; David Friggieri, the European Commission coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred; and Alfiaz Vaiya, coordinator of the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Group.

So speakers will offer comments on the UN High-Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred that they attended today and we’ll open it up for questions. When it’s time for Q&A, please wait for the microphone, as this is being transcribed, and state your name and organization. And we will get started with Mr. Zafar for comments, head down the row, and then we’ll open it up for Q&A.

MR SULEMAN: I’ll actually just start with a brief introduction about the event. So today, the missions of the United States, Canada, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the delegation of the European Union to the United Nations all have come together to host – to co-host and co-sponsor this High-Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination, and it’s because all of the sponsoring organizations, in addition to the United Nations – which was represented via statements from the UN secretary-general himself – believe that the issue of discrimination against Muslims is an increasing one, it’s a challenging one for communities and countries all over the world, and it’s one that the international community needs to come together to work around and to build greater joint efforts and initiatives to combat this growing challenge.

And so today, in addition to the high-level remarks from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, high-level representatives from all of the sponsoring delegations and a representative from the president of the General Assembly, we had three panels that focused on different mechanisms by which to address this growing challenge. One is by governmental policies to address discrimination, the other is via civil society coalitions, and the final panel discussion is on positive narratives to promote pluralism and inclusion. And everyone here today was participating in this high-level forum either as speakers or as moderators and I will let all of them talk a little bit in more detail about their work and about their participation at the forum.

MR ZAFAR: Great. So the fact – my name is Shaarik Zafar. I’m the special representative to Muslim communities. And the fact that you have an event that’s co-sponsored by the UN, the EU, the Government of Canada, the OIC, and United States – I think it tells you the importance and seriousness of the issue of combating and pushing back against anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred.

Now in the United States, 2015 represented the highest number of hate crimes that we’ve had since 9/11 – over 200. It represents a 67 percent increase, right. And that’s true around the world. Actually, in the United States, anti-Semitic attacks are still the highest number of religious-based violence, over 600. So anti-Semitism is growing globally, anti-Muslim bigotry is growing globally. So what do we do about it? And the point that I made earlier today was that there’s a role for governments, so in that respect, leadership. So President Bush went to a mosque right after 9/11, President Obama has consistently spoken out against anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred, and it’s important that government officials continue to assume this mantle of leadership.

But beyond words, you need action, and that’s why the Department of Justice has been so good about prosecuting – investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, and we hope that our partners around the world do the same. There’s a role for coalitions now more than ever. There’s a nascent coalition between American Muslims and American Jews, an American Jewish advisory group, that is just beginning but has tremendous potential. And we need to see more and more of these around the world, but they need to be funded by civil society, by foundations, to grow.

And there’s a role for the private sector both to enforce anti-discrimination laws and make sure that there is no discrimination, but also to invest in diversity and inclusivity, which, frankly, there’s a business case for that. Diverse and inclusive environments are better for business because you retain employees, you get innovation and you avoid groupthink and frankly, you have access to global markets, including in the Muslim world. So there’s no easy solution, there’s no silver bullet, there’s clearly a challenge, but there’s ways that we can address that challenge. And today represented an important day because we all came together and talked about not just admiring the problem of anti-Muslim bigotry, but actually sort of seeing some solutions.

So my hope is that beyond talk, today’s event actually spurs action not only in the United States, but in our partner countries around the world.


MR FRIGGIERI: Yes. So I was appointed commission – European Commission coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred in December 2015. To put it mildly, the challenge has become bigger since I was appointed. We’ve had the rather large migration situation coming into Europe. We’ve been shocked in Europe by some serious large-scale terrorist attacks. And of course, both these events – several events – have made the challenge bigger, but the European Commission has stepped up to the plate and we’re looking at combating all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and also anti-Muslim hatred from several angles.

So one angle is education, second angle is tackling the deluge of serious hate speech online, and when we – when I talk of hate speech, I mean incitement to violence or hatred. So that’s the second strand. We need to take hate crime seriously, so when victims of hate crime are attacked in the street, they need to feel confident that they can speak to law enforcement and that their case will be taken throughout the judicial process in a serious way. The fourth is making sure that discrimination – or, rather, anti-discrimination laws, European but also national, are actually implemented and practiced. So these are the four strands that we’re seeing – that we’re tackling from the EU side.

As I said, it’s a big challenge right now. My role is to basically be a contact point for Muslim NGOs and communities, and to listen to their concerns in this climate. So this is being taken very seriously at the highest level of the European Commission by the first vice president himself – that’s Frans Timmermans – and also by the justice commissioner, Vera Jourova. As I said, the challenge is large, it’s a big one, but together with our partners in the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the European Parliament here, we believe that in Europe we do have enough antibodies to take up this challenge, even though it’s tough times.

MR VAIYA: So I work in the European Parliament for a grouping of members of European Parliament – around about 80 members of European Parliament – from most of the member-states of the European Union and from across the political spectrum, so from the far left to the moderate-center right. We’ve worked hard over the last couple of months with Arsalan and colleagues at the State Department and Canada and the OIC to organize today’s high-level forum, because we believe that anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred is probably one of the biggest challenges facing Europe and North America in particular. We’re seeing a deterioration, as David mentioned, in large part in Europe because of the migration – the so-called migration crisis, and recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Germany, and in France.

And so we – my members of parliament, they are extremely concerned about this rising phenomena of Islamophobia in Europe, but they’re also concerned about the actions of particular countries in the response to combating violent extremism. So as we’re seeing in certain European Union member-states, we see that there are issues around laws and practices and policies when it comes to countering violent extremism that negatively affect the Muslim community. And so where – the problems we see in Europe as twofold for Muslim community: the first is the xenophobic, racist, populist message that’s being spread, and then the discrimination and the legislation and policies that is coming from particular countries towards the Muslim communities.

And in the European Parliament, my members of European Parliament have been very vocal in condemning all forms of racism, xenophobia and discrimination, but also pressing member-states to adopt fair policies that protect our safety and security, but at the same time also ensure that the rights of Muslims and those who are perceived to be Muslims are not discriminated.

MR SULEMAN: So with that, I think we can take questions. And I think particularly we can – if there are any questions directed for Shaarik, I know Shaarik has to leave a little bit earlier, and some of us can stay a little bit longer.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. My name is Aziz Rami. I work for the Moroccan press. And my question is for Mr. Zafar. As you said, you – your days are counted. And are you concerned about the rise of hatred and bigotry against Muslims, in particular about minorities in general, especially with the new – with the change, the political change in the U.S., which some people see or fear as a green light to hate groups? And is there something that you are doing or that you can do to address that before you leave?

MR ZAFAR: So the statistics that I shared were from 2015. So the FBI takes statistics about hate crimes based on religion, race, et cetera. And so the statistics that I shared are a year – it takes about a year. So from 2015, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 67 percent. And I’ll be interested to see – my fear is that in 2016, they also – they grew. So that’s my fear. We don’t know – we’ll see what ends up happening, right?

Now, there’s no question that people are worried about some of the discourse surrounding our election. There’s – that’s been clear. As I travel around the world, people ask me questions, and you hear these questions here too. An important point to remember is that we’re a nation of laws, and much of governance in the United States happens at the state and local level, right, and not the federal level. So the overwhelming majority of hate crimes and bias crimes are investigated and prosecuted at the state and local level.

And so one thing that communities should absolutely do is they should know – if they’re fearful, they should know the chief of police and the local sheriff, whoever he or she is, and don’t wait until something bad happens. You should know – even by the same token, you should – the federal government has an important responsibility that they – look, we have laws on the books. We’re a nation of laws. These laws are on the books and they need to be enforced. And that means it’s the job of the FBI to investigate hate crimes, and it’s the job of the Justice Department to prosecute them. And there’s been – since 9/11, under Republican and Democratic administrations, there’s been robust enforcement. So my expectation is, as we’re a nation of laws, that we will continue to enforce these laws vigorously.

And – but by the same token, it’s not – citizens have a role to hold governments accountable, to make sure that they report crimes. Oftentimes, because people are worried about coming forward, they don’t want to rock the boat, maybe they’re recent immigrants, they don’t report these cases, whether it’s to local law enforcement or to federal law enforcement. Well, law enforcement can’t investigate what people don’t report. And so it’s on the – the onus is on the communities to report cases, but by the same token the state, local, and federal law enforcement has to go around reaching out to communities who feel vulnerable and making it clear that, look, they’re here to serve, and that they – that complaints and concerns and cases need to be submitted.

A lot of what I did when I worked at the Justice Department in 2004 as special counsel for post-9/11 national origin discrimination wasn’t actual prosecution. I was traveling around the country giving information to people here who felt fearful. And these types of initiatives, I feel, should continue. They represent an important part of our broader efforts to prevent and counter illegal hatred and discrimination. So my expectation, my hope, is that these things will continue.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks very much. James Reinl. It’s a kind of question on a similar theme, but the meeting that you guys are hosting today isn’t mentioning so much, but is occurring against this political backdrop, which is the rise of Donald Trump in the United States on a platform of a whole bunch of stuff, but including anti-Muslim sentiment. Same thing happening in Europe: Marine Le Pen possibly doing well in the French presidential elections, the anti-immigrant position that influenced the Brexit vote in the UK, the problems that Angela Merkel is having. I mean, that’s the political climate of our times. Can I get you all to comment on that?

And is today – I think from what Shaarik was saying is that this is something about creating some kind of a – reinforcing the lower-level institutions within states so that it doesn’t matter who is at the top; all individuals are protected in our diverse Western societies. Is that the point?

MR SULEMAN: I think everyone will probably want to comment on this, but I – the political climate was definitely front of mind in all of the sessions today and all of the speakers’ remarks today. And the purpose of the forum was to really draw attention to the challenge that we are facing. And part of the reason why we’re facing this challenge is just because the political climate you mentioned. And the focus on solutions is meant to not only reinvigorate the work of governments, but in particular to raise up the voice and to support the efforts of civil society and various people who are working to build the positive narratives to address this challenge.

It’s a multifaceted challenge, there are a lot of different factors that are contributing to it. We’ve mentioned the political climate, but there’s also the migration issue, there’s also economic factors – there’s a variety of factors that are at play. And in order to get to solutions, which is what we want to focus on, you have to have – in addition to government policy, you also have to have the civil society working together. You also have to have private sector being involved. You also have to have people who are involved in the media ensure that there is access for voices from within the communities that are vulnerable or marginalized to be able to get their voice out and get their facts out.

So the point of the forum was to have a really robust discussion about all facets of this challenge and to ensure that we are creating linkages between people who are working on the side of government and intergovernmental organizations along with the civil society coalitions and organizations that are working, and people who are working in the media space. So it was meant to create the possibility of partnerships, the possibility of synergies, and also to send that political message that we recognize the challenge and we are working on it.

MR ZAFAR: So, James, your point about climate is well taken because that’s – it’s come up over again. The last two and a half years since I’ve had this job, I’ve – as the campaign’s been going, you can imagine what I get asked about. Right? But what we found when you look at the research about the – where people have anti-Muslim views, oftentimes they don’t know any Muslims. Right? And so oftentimes the way opinions are made is based on media, it’s based on political rhetoric, it’s based on fear. And Pew has done some excellent research, and I commend this to your readers and your viewers, that says that people who actually know a Muslim, who’ve met a Muslim, have overwhelmingly – so there’s a likelihood they actually have positive views. Right? And so in this climate you have people talking about Muslims, talking about – and a lot of them have never even met one. Right? Now, that means there needs to be a leadership role by governments, by civil society, but also the onus is on the Muslim community here in the United States and around the world, is to actually engage.

The one thing that we’re very clear about is this cannot be some type of preaching to the choir where sort of the elites get together and sort of say racism is bad, discrimination is bad, then we go home. Right? Part of building a coalition, which we all agree there was consensus on the importance of coalitions, part of that is broadening that coalition, right, and that means engaging people who you previously haven’t engaged, building allies who previously you haven’t yet had.

The United States, for example, we’re a secular government but we’re a deeply religious country. Right? We’re a deeply religious country. So being religious in the United States is not weird, right, unlike some other countries. So there’s an opportunity for Muslims in the United States to work closely with other groups. There’s a new nascent American Jewish Committee and Islamic Society North America coalition, the Muslim-Jewish leadership conference – right – leadership conference. And that’s important – that’s great, right? And now that needs to be broadened to include Christians, to include other believers, and people – non-believers. Right? And that’s really, I think, the important – what I’m taking away from this great meeting is that this has (a) underscored the problem – we didn’t want to admire the problem – but actually laid out some specific lines of effort that now, whether those of us who are in government or are leaving government are going to work on government – government, private sector, civil society, and then we’re going to come back and say what have we done. Right?

This is not going to go away in a matter of months, years. We’re in this for a while. Right? But today was important because we actually got together and said, okay, look, let’s get together. Let’s put our heads together. Let’s start moving forward. So I’m very sorry – I’m leaving you in the very capable hands of my colleagues here, but thank you. It’s always great to have a chance to engage with members of the press. It’s a fundamental freedom here in the United States. So I appreciate you all coming out and covering us. This is a very important issue. It deserves a tremendous amount of coverage. So I hope that you all keep showing up to these types of events and keep covering the story because it’s an important story that needs to be covered here in the United States and around the world. Thank you so much.

PARTICIPANT: Thanks, Shaarik. Thanks. Did you want to comment on --

MR FRIGGIERI: Yeah. To answer the question from a European sort of point of view, I mean, the truth is that, as I said earlier, we have had a number of events in Europe. So Paris twice – Charlie Hebdo first, then the Bataclan and restaurants and so on, then Nice, Berlin, and Istanbul, Copenhagen. I mean, these big events have shocked Europeans. They have been attacks on Europe, but also of course many Muslims died in these attacks. Also, an event like Cologne in Germany had a huge impact on perceptions. I’m referring to the events on New Year’s Eve in 2016.

So these events have had a big impact. And I’ll just sort of quote here the philosopher – Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who passed away last week, who said, “Security without freedom leads to tyranny. Freedom without security leads to chaos.” And I think at the EU level we subscribe to this view. And indeed, over the past few years we’ve adopted the security agenda for the EU, we’ve adopted a communication on preventing violent extremism, and we’ve also upgraded our policy on integration, also in view of the big influx of refugees.

So these events have fed a certain narrative, but the truth is that these events have not been invented. They happened. So we can’t just say this was a narrative. It would be a mistake for policymakers to try to do that. So we have to take these into account, and we have to see what they mean and how to address the challenge that they pose also.

MR VAIYA: I think I can be a little bit more freer than the other panelists because I represent some parliamentarians who have come together to form a coalition within the European parliament against racism and for diversity. So it is true that the current political climate in Europe is very toxic. We have to be aware that in 2017 we have some major elections coming up in Europe. And as Brexit has shown or as President-elect Trump’s victory has shown, that we can take nothing for granted in terms of what the media says and what polls say.

I mean, we do have a threat in Europe that we could have some politicians from the extreme far right if not leading governments, having parties that come – leading parties that gain the most votes in their own elections. And so I think here we have to understand that – where are the problems. And the problems, first of all, stem from the lack of political leadership in Europe. The European Commission has done a lot of good work fighting racism, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance, but that’s not being backed up by member states. Member states need to take more action in fighting racism, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance, and actually treating this as a problem, because for too long we have sidelined this particular issue. And then I think it’s also the role of the media – perceptions of Muslims and perceived attacks committed in the name of Islam do not necessarily add up with the reality on the ground. As David rightly mentioned, Muslims are also victims of terrorism. I think a latest report in the U.S. that just came out said 97 percent of victims of terrorism are actually Muslim themselves.

MR FRIGGIERI: Worldwide.

MR VAIYA: Worldwide. And if you take, for example, the attack in Nice where we saw – with the truck which ran down the promenade, a lot of the victims were actually Muslims who were out for celebrations --

MR FRIGGIERI: French citizens.

MR VAIYA: French citizens. So we have to understand that terrorism affects all. It doesn’t affect just particular groups. And Muslims are the ones more than likely most times also caught up worldwide if you look at it.

So the reason why I think we decided to do this high-level forum now is to kind of put the issue on the table to show that this is an issue that needs to be considered and it needs to be treated with care, because I think sometimes the problem is, is that we don’t talk about – we don’t treat the issue with enough respect. The fact is that sometimes we jump into assumptions about Muslims and about the particular topic without actually doing our full research and our rationale. And I think today some important elements from the high-level forum came out: Our understanding of Islam needs to improve. That needs to be done both by the community itself but by the media, by politicians, and the general public. There’s a misconception of what Islam stands for and a lack of understanding about Islam, and I think that needs to change. And I think also when it comes to the issue of migration, we know in Europe that we’ve faced a large amount of people coming to Europe. Your president-elect has put out some statements about this just last weekend, about what the German Chancellor Angela Merkel done in Germany with her refugee – the policy on refugees. But we have to understand that refugees are not causes of terrorism. They are actually fleeing terrorism themselves. And as you saw with the attack in Germany, it was very quickly put onto a refugee or blamed on a refugee when, in the end, the facts show that that wasn’t the correct assumption.

So we have to be very careful on how we talk about refugees, and that needs to change in Europe. We need to see more political leadership talking about how we should welcome and include refugees, and also we have to understand who they’re fleeing from. These refugees are fleeing from the same brutal forces that we are trying to securitize against. So we should understand that.

QUESTION: Yes, Alejandro Rincon with NTN24 news. So following up on some of the points that you have mentioned already, what do you think civil society lacks the most right now? Is it either education or open mind to dialogue and communication and understanding? And that said, how important is to invest in strategies that could lead towards better understanding and a better dealing of these issues, but among civil society? Because one thing is what authorities in governments and law enforcement can do, but other things is what can be done actually inside of civil society to advance on this fight against anti-Muslim hatred.

MR SULEMAN: Yeah. Well, I can start, but I think it depends on which country you’re talking about because I think the level of sophistication of civil society differs from country to country. I think in the U.S., we have a very active civil society that is working to confront the issue and that is organizing and mobilizing, and I think the institutional adjustments that we’re seeing – Shaarik mentioned there’s a creation of a new advisory council with the AJC and ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America. This brings two of the largest Muslim American organizations together with Jewish American organizations to jointly work on issues relating to discrimination felt by both communities in the country.

So I think that because of the challenge, there are adjustments being made by civil society to react to the challenge and to organize in more effective ways, and I think we’ll be seeing more and more coalitions being built that link religious communities with communities – or with organizations that focus on civil rights issues and other activist organizations around the challenge.

I think historically, there has been late development for some of the religiously oriented organizations to get involved in some of the broader civil society work. So that, I think, we’ve seen a lot of changes over the past several years in terms of the institution-building in that area. But I think at least in the U.S., we don’t have the challenge that many other countries face where a government is actively suppressing civil society. So in a lot of countries where not only is anti-Muslim discrimination a challenge but also anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, you often have governments that are actively restricting civil society and preventing them from functioning properly.

We don’t, fortunately, face that challenge here, but there are other just general challenges in terms of institutions adjusting, growing, getting financial resources, and all that takes some time to play out, but I think you’ll be seeing a lot of developments as that continues.

MR FRIGGIERI: Yeah, I’ll just – from my side – I mean, I’ll leave Alfiaz to mention a little bit more about civil society itself, but from my side, the aim of my role was indeed to reach out for the first time and in a targeted way to Muslim civil society in Europe. So we used to do this to an extent when tackling racism in general, but now we’ve set up two coordinators – that’s myself – to address and listen to Muslims in an official way, and also my colleague who’s dealing with anti-Semitism. So this is what we’re doing at the EU level, and this is fed directly into the sort of political level of the commission so they know what the concerns of civil society are. So that’s sort of from our point of view, so --

MR VAIYA: Well, I think in Europe, one of my roles is to meet a lot with civil society organizations, and I meet with a wide range, not just anti-Muslim – organizations working on anti-Muslim hatred or Islamophobia. It’s pretty obvious there’s two major concerns for civil society organizations right now. One is the issue of funding. And as we see more and more governments’ elections of political leaders who don’t – who do not stand for progressive politics, we see that they’re willing to cut back on certain funding for certain progressive policy areas. So that would – anti-Muslim hatred, to fight against it would come underneath that. So that’s one issue of funding.

The other issue is the ability of NGOs and civil society to work independently. We’re seeing more and more that there’s pushback against civil society every time they intervene or produce a report. This has always happened, but if you’re seeing in Europe right now, it’s starting to increase the pushback from governments towards civil society who publish reports. You see this with the Open Society Foundations and its work on funding organizations but also its policy work. It seems to be a regular target of countries and governments because of the work it’s doing. And I think where civil society could do better is to work in terms of working together, and that’s one of the things that we wanted to do today, was to try to emphasize the fact of having coalition-building, bringing unorthodox coalitions together, as Shaarik and as Arsalan said, with corporations but also amongst different vulnerable groups in society. So if there is a backlash on governments, civil society have that foundation together that they can then make – carry on with their work.

MR FRIGGIERI: Just to add a final point on this, besides all this, we – the European Commission offers a number of funds, funding opportunities. So tens of millions to civil society. Generally, it’s project-based, so civil society can get together. Generally, coalitions across three, four or five European countries, and we offer a lot of funding in a number of areas. So from education to combating hate crime to more sort of positive messages and so on. So it’s really quite a wide range of things.

QUESTION: Excuse me, Matthew Hall from The Sydney Morning Herald. We heard earlier that President George W. Bush visited a mosque after 9/11 and President Obama took similar gestures when he was inaugurated. What would you like to see President-elect Donald Trump do on leadership on this issue in his administration? If he starts on Monday, what would you like him to do?

MR SULEMAN: I think actually a lot of religious leaders have already made statements about this. There was a – so one of our speakers today is affiliated with a group called Shoulder to Shoulder, and that group organized a – sort of a rally or a press conference at the Masjid Muhammad in Washington, D.C. where a lot of the members of this coalition – it’s an interfaith coalition of a number of different religious organizations and they – the message that they sent, meaning these individuals who are part of this coalition, these religious leaders, was that they want to see the Trump Administration continue some of the policies of the Obama Administration in terms of outreach to various sectors of civil society, in terms of ensuring that religious freedom is protected for all citizens regardless of their faith, whether they have faith or – or don’t have a faith at all. They want to ensure that the fundamental freedom of religious freedom is protected and is continued to be prioritized. And they, I think, want to see that government continue to play a role of promoting unity, cohesion, and tolerance.

And so if you look back at what these civil society leaders have been saying, I think that’s probably the best barometer to see what people – what kind of demands or asks people are making of the new administration.

QUESTION: Are you confident of that coming to fruition now, especially when, during his election campaign, he was talking about registries for Muslim people?

MR SULEMAN: I think there’s a lot to be seen. Yeah.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more question.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much. I’m Ahmed Fathi, American Television News. Thank you for the briefing. And as an immigrant from – with a Muslim heritage and have passed through the experience on both sides of the Atlantic, in Europe and the United States, so I have – other than being personal issue, I have a few points which might be a little bit critical, but please bear with me.

While in the United States, Muslims in general enjoy a level of income above the average household income. While it is in the $40s per household in the American family, the Muslim in the range of $51,000, so they actually enjoy better financial opportunities, while there are – the lows are punitive in terms of the equal employment opportunities. This area – I have wrote it before with the former justice minister of France, where Muslims usually make half of the average French households. Where there are, in certain countries, other than having the image or the media branding as being ultra-liberal, certain nationalities are forbidden to apply for jobs. While in other countries it’s rather – I don’t want to say impossible, but it’s a rarity that’s not statistic – statistically significant to see a member in the board or even at a managerial height – many – senior management level in major corporations.

My question specially to the distinguished gentleman from – you’re from the European Commission and the European Parliament: What is your agenda and what is your position other than being a cosmetic facade for an organization or for a system that has failed the Muslim community over decades? And since there is no problem in financing since the European Commission decided, as usual, throw some money and maybe they will remain quiet, and nothing gets fixed, what is the grass-root movement for the Muslim in Europe to stand up against the bigotry that they have been facing over the past decades? Thank you. And I’m sorry for being a long – prolonging my question.

MR FRIGGIERI: Yeah, so one of the things that I am looking into is precisely the issue of discrimination at the workplace. So this is – this is a big issue. We have started – we do have at E.U. level laws on discrimination and we do have legislation on discrimination on the basis of religion at – in the employment field. But we do need to make sure that laws are implemented better on the ground. This is a big challenge.

The issue gets a little bit more complicated, but I won’t go into it here, when it comes to certain countries – you’ve mentioned one of them, but it’s not the only one – in terms of religious manifestation of religion in the workplace. But it’s a complex, very long issue which I won’t tackle here.

But I do agree with you that the E.U. member states need to do better to make sure that all sectors of society have similar opportunities and that these opportunities are open to them. One of them, one of the main doors to this is indeed private employment. So this has to improve. We – I’ve read reports also done in France by top research institutes like the Institut Montaigne, which have indicated that there is a problem and we are looking into it right now.

So I don’t know whether I’ve replied fully to your question, but I would reject the assumption that the commission is just a facade or that the commission doesn’t do anything practical. And I can present to you – I’ve got it here, actually, in the other room – a set of measures, very practical, actually. And I would say in some ways, quite frankly, that Europe is leading on a number of measures in the areas of combatting incitement to violence and hatred online. We have sat down with – we’re the first to have done this, actually – we’ve sat down with Facebook and Twitter and Google and Microsoft, and last May, they signed together with us a code of conduct on tackling and taking seriously incitement, violence, or hatred online. So we are actually leading on this. So this is one measure.

We do need to do better on economic – so doors and windows open for all kinds of minorities to have equal access to, especially in the employment field, because it’s so important.

MR VAIYA: Yeah, I think there’s a big issue around employment and employment of individuals from minority communities. It’s the same for the Roma community, black Europeans and people of African descent, Muslims as well. But I think we have to also understand – I’m just going to take it at an issue of employment – that employment is a big issue when it comes to other forms of discrimination that Muslims may face, and even in the wider thing of, like, counter violent extremism. If we can have more – if we can remove the discrimination in employment, we can see more young people, especially the youth from minority groups, which – disproportionately affected by discrimination in employment, we can see – then we will see other chances opening up and actually helping in other areas where we have problems.

We understand it’s – this is evident that high unemployment rates amongst minority youth can also lead to exclusion and, like, maybe in turn lead to radicalization and security problems. So tackling employment issues has to be a priority of the E.U. and the member states. We have to, here, also give credit to the European Commission that the European Union has have – has an employment equality directive that’s recently been reviewed by the European Parliament where some members of European Parliament have put recommendations forward to the European Commission on how to improve that piece of legislation.

But a lot of it comes down to member states and it comes down to policies and finance. It’s not necessarily legislation that’s going to do the – I mean, solve the issue. It’s going to come down to policies and financing, and that’s one of the biggest things that we have to work with civil society organizations to ensure the civil society organizations are working with member states, governments, to eradicate discrimination in employment.

And I would also say, and I completely agree with David here, that the E.U. is one of the leading institutions, but also its member states, in terms of employment. We do have an economic – we have had an economic problem in Europe which further worsens the problem, but I think also – I have to say in my own personal experience and the community I come from – my parents were refugees and they came, and they managed to get educated and get jobs. And likewise, their children have and a lot of my family has. And it – there is discrimination, but I mean, there’s a lot of good stuff happening and I think we have to also focus on that. I think sometimes we do get caught up in talking about the problem rather than the positives, and I think one way we could eliminate discrimination in employment is actually just trying to sell the positive aspects of having a diverse workforce.

We see the benefits in terms of economic gains for individual companies, but also in terms of economic growth for a particular country, by having a diverse work environment, because that creates an abundance of ideas, which means that it can only help a business to grow. So I think we should encourage – I think that’s something that Shaarik has done a lot in his role to reach out to businesses, and as David mentioned, private employment.

But I really do believe what David here – that the European Commission, the European Union has been leading on efforts on employment issues, and especially with refugees and those who are coming to Europe in the last two or three years and trying to get them integrated in the labor market, looking at their needs and to see how we can integrate them.

MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen, for your remarks. Thank you, journalists, for your attention. This event is being transcribed and once I receive it, I’ll send it out. Thank you.

MR SULEMAN: Thank you.

MR VAIYA: Thanks.