Senior anti-racism MEP, Sajjad Karim, has warned that Europe has to stand up and fight for its values if a major crisis is to be averted.
The warning comes as the European Parliament begins its one-year countdown to its next polls, which he fears could be hijacked by extremist parties - due to low participation in the European elections - and as a result, xenophobic views becoming more mainstream.
Sajjad was hosting a conference on preventing youth radicalisation in Europe when he added the caveat. The event brought together representatives from academia and civil society to identify & discuss ways to encourage constructive engagement against radicalisation.
The speakers included EU Commissioner for the Security Union, Julian King - who gave the keynote speech - and Figen Murray who tragically lost her son in the 2017 Manchester terrorist attacks.
Speaking in Brussels, Sajjad said:
“Today’s conference was about bringing together all sections of society to promote positive engagement against radicalisation and to help foster a welcoming Europe. In this respect, we succeeded. Figen Murray and Commissioner King brought together the policy-making formulation and someone with direct experience of losing a loved one.
“In 15 years of being a Member of Parliament though, I have never been so worried. Xenophobia has been on the rise for many years now and has only been exacerbated by the Brexit vote and a rise in populism across Europe.
“This is why we - as Europe - are the continent that has to stand up and fight for our values if we are to win the day. There are no others that seem willing to do so and is the reason why I continue to make the European Parliament available as a platform to the tremendous challenge I see ahead of us.
“It means our Member States must remain totally engaged in fighting this rise of extremism and collectively, under the banner of the European Union, our commitments must be strengthened.”
Also commenting on the event was Figen Murray, who after the heart-breaking death of her son Martyn Hett, decided to use her influence to create and promote a strong counter-narrative to extremism by talking to young people in schools, colleges and prisons telling her personal story:
“It was a pleasure to speak to such a welcoming audience today and I am pleased I came all the way to Brussels to do so. I truly believe it is of the utmost importance that I continue to deliver a robust counter-narrative to radicalisation and hate that continues to be delivered by extremists across the world. Doing this in a positive way, contrary to the rhetoric of hate, underpins the approach I take. Right now though, it is time everyone took responsibility for what is happening in our societies if we are to see any change in the way people think on the matter.”
The other speakers at the event were Estelle Cincinatis from the European Jewish Community Centre in Brussels, Dr Ajmal Hussain from the University of Manchester, Dr Shelley Piasecka from the University of Chester & Professor Simon Piasecki from Liverpool Hope University, all of who came to a similar conclusion that a welcoming Europe is a Europe that accepts people for who they are and that if we build together, then tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
Sajjad Karim is the Vice President of the European Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) and Chair of its Working Group on Islamophobia.