The EU is the world's most successful example of a regional alliance bringing peace, prosperity and a common identity to 500,000,000 people across the region.
From its humble beginnings in the European Coal and Steel Community in the post-war era to today's 28 member regional bloc, the European Union is an incredible achievement. Its history of conflict and its aspiration for peace and solidarity among European nations are a symbol of what is possible when nation-states overcome nationalistic sentiments in pursuit of a common project of economic security and social harmony based on the free movement of people, goods, services and capital.
On Thursday June 23rd our nation will vote in a referendum to decide whether the UK should be part of such a powerful alliance. Undoubtedly, the outcome of the EU Referendum will affect us all in different ways, but some of us will be more profoundly affected than others. It is estimated that there are at least 3 million people living and working in the UK from other EU member countries and if Brexit succeeds, the status and future of these people will be unclear. Brexit will also have an effect on UK nationals living in other EU countries, as well as children, young people, farmers and women especially those of ethnic or religious minorities.
Unfortunately, the tone of the debate around the referendum has been disingenuous, deteriorating and denigrating the weakest of our communities including Muslims and migrants through campaigns which have spread and celebrated hate, divisiveness, racism and Islamophobia. The foreign Office Minister James Duddridge has pushed for Brexit using the potential ascension of Turkey which is a Muslim majority country to make what he believes a robust case to leave the EU. Indeed, the bigotry shaping the discussion is subtle but poignant.
It is astonishing that the UK is questioning its role in Europe let alone having the referendum. For me as Welsh Muslim it is very important that the UK remains in the EU. Welsh Muslims have come under increasing scrutiny in an ultra-securitised environment created by the politicians of fear across the political spectrum. In a poll conducted by YouGov in June 2015, Muslims were the second least tolerated group in seven European countries (including the UK), with between 36-45% of people having a negative impression of Muslims.
British Muslim women are the most vulnerable to the impact of these negative impressions, facing trebled discrimination against her colour, faith and gender. The European Network Against Racism has found that Muslim women, more than any other group, face an enlarged pay gap and racial profiling in job applications. I do not find these conclusions surprising. I remember when I first took my CV to an advisor prior to applying for a job and her advice was "Sahar, you are educated and qualified but let's be real, you know how Muslims are perceived and your CV doesn't help you as it is 'too Islamic' ... you have to delete all your activities that are inspired by your faith and if you can remove the AL from your surname to avoid any reference to your ethnicity that would be even better". I was extremely distressed by her advice, but I acted upon it and I got shortlisted!
From my experience and others', it is evident that there are disproportionate high rates of unemployment faced by British Muslims, and British Muslim women in particular. However, many of these anti-Muslim experiences in the workplace were not reported, since religion unlike race, gender, age, disability and sexual orientation was not considered a ground for legal protection against discrimination and unequal treatment in the UK. Nevertheless, this changed when the UK adopted the EU Employment Equality Framework Directive, whereby religion was considered a ground for legal protection against discrimination. If it was not for the EU membership, many British Muslims would suffer in silence and would not have equal access to education, employment and public life in general.
But it is not just the adoption of rules on equal treatment that are an advantage to our membership of the EU. The EU is striving to promote equality and good practice amongst its members. Recently the EU appointed a Coordinator on Anti-Muslim Hatred, David Friggieri, a lecturer in EU law at the University of Malta and the longest-standing member of the team working on the implementation of the EU's Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia. Furthermore, the EU offers platforms to Muslim organisations often side-lined by Domestic Governments to contribute to debates on anti-Muslim hatred and will be spending £338 million between 2014-2020 to tackle Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. The Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Parliament provide avenues to challenge the UK Government on policies such as the discriminatory law of Prevent and the 'Snoopers Charter'.
Anyone, regardless their faith, race, gender and background ought to be treated equally and the EU provides a prominent avenue to promote such equality amongst its members, setting an aspiring global model and for this I am voting for the UK to remain in the EU.