Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The Continuing Relevance of the Copenhagen Document - Muslims in Western Europe and the Security Dimension

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The Continuing Relevance of the Copenhagen Document - Muslims in Western Europe and the Security Dimension

Article excerpt

At the time of its adoption the Copenhagen Document was described as the 'peak of "standard setting on national minority issues"' (Wright, 1998: 4). Although it has subsequently been overtaken in academic discourse by legal minority rights instruments, the Copenhagen Document signalled a shift in the approach taken to minority issues in Europe. Whereas the question of minorities had primarily been approached as a human rights issue in the post-war period, the Copenhagen Document recognised the nexus between the protection of human rights and conflict prevention (1990: para 30) and, in so doing, contained a number of innovative provisions. Specifically, the Copenhagen Document recognised the need to adopt special measures (1990: para 31; Wright, 1996: 198), the right to self-identify (1990: para 32; Bloed, 1990: 40), the right to 'express, preserve and development their ethnic cultural, linguistic or religious identity ... free of any attempts at assimilation against their will' (1990: para 32; Jackson-Preece, 1997: 90) and that the establishment of'local or autonomous administrations' may be appropriate to ensure the effective participation of national minorities in public affairs (1990: para 35). Furthermore, this was the first instrument to add effective participation to the traditional 'two pillars' of minority protection: preservation of minority identity and non-discrimination and equality. While the Copenhagen Document was adopted with the situation in Central and Eastern European States and post-Soviet Union States in mind, its contents remain relevant to minority situations throughout the world.

This article focuses on Muslim minorities in Western Europe. Although it does not argue that these minorities constitute 'national minorities' for the purpose of the Copenhagen Document, it does argue that their situation is increasingly analogous to that of more traditional minorities. Muslim minorities now constitute citizens and permanent residents in Western European States, but with the rise of right-wing politics, Islamophobic discourse and restrictions on their rights justified by security concerns, these communities are increasingly marginalised. This, in turn, poses challenges in relation to integration, societal cohesion and conflict prevention. Whereas research into the rights of 'new minorities' has primarily focused on the challenges of integration and societal cohesion (Medda-Windischer, 2009; Berry, 2015), this article explores the rights of European Muslims from the perspective of the security dimension. It is submitted that if Western European States wish to proactively prevent conflict with their Muslim populations, lessons can be learnt from the approach adopted in the Copenhagen Document. In particular, there is a need to take proactive steps to facilitate societal cohesion through intercultural dialogue and tolerance, and the effective participation of these communities in public affairs.

Initially, a comparison is made between the situation of national minorities and Muslim minorities in Western Europe, in order to evaluate whether the aims of the Copenhagen Document are relevant to Muslim communities. Although there are some significant differences between national minorities and Muslim minorities, the permanence and marginalisation of Muslim communities in Western Europe alongside the prospect of conflict leads to the conclusion that lessons can be learnt from the Copenhagen Document. Secondly, the relevance of the standards established in the Copenhagen Document to the situation of Muslim minorities in Western Europe is drawn out, focusing on effective participation in public affairs (1990: para 35) and intercultural dialogue and tolerance (1990: para 36). It is argued that by focusing on the equal participation of these communities in society, these standards aim to increase societal cohesion and thereby reduce the potential for conflict. However, in practice, Western European States have not fully realised these rights in respect of their Muslim minorities. …

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