EU Seeks to Reassure Muslims as It Takes on Islamist Extremism

European governments sought to push back against accusations of stigmatizing Muslims, while still offering reassurances they’ll take decisive action against Islamic extremism after a series of deadly attacks by jihadists in Austria and France.

French President Emmanuel Macron held a virtual meeting from Paris on Tuesday, seeking to rally allies around his fight against radical Islam. His stance has sparked anti-France protests in some Muslim countries and calls for a boycott of French products led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accuses him of religious persecution.

But whereas Macron has used tough words in laying out his own plans to fight extremism -- he described Islam as a religion “in crisis” in a key speech last month -- his EU counterparts are opting for softer language.

The latest version of a draft ministerial statement seen by Bloomberg that once referenced ‘Islamist’ threats nine times now mentions the word once and that’s only to reassure that EU’s “fight against terrorism is not directed against Islam, but against fanatical and violent extremism.”

An explicit call to streamline the education of imams, which existed in the previous draft, also seen by Bloomberg, has been removed as well. The statement, which is subject to further drafting, is due to be approved by home-affairs ministers later this week.

“This is not about a conflict between Islam and Christianity,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the virtual meeting in Paris. EU leaders are scheduled to discuss their response to terrorism when they meet in Brussels next month.

“I also want to stress that we should never create or fuel discourse in our societies by singling out groups of peoples because of their origins or religion,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after Tuesday’s call with Macron. “This is a fight between civilization and barbarism.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the heads of the European Union institutions also attended the talks that focused on coming up with a strategy to reinforce the continent’s borders and crack down on terrorist propaganda.

Traveling to Paris despite the coronavirus epidemic, Kurz echoed Macron’s call for a common position on fighting radical Islam, finding ways to better protect EU borders and deal with foreign fighters who fought for the Islamic State in Middle Eastern war zones.

Rutte joined the call on the back of heightened concerns in the Netherlands over the fate of a teacher who went into hiding after the French beheading because he’s been displaying a cartoon depicting a jihadist in his classroom.

The European leaders also discussed tools to moderate on-line content that promotes hatred, the EU’s proposal for a new pact on asylum and migration, and the reform of the Schengen visa-free zone to increase police coordination.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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