(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) PARIS, June 11 (KUNA) -- Rejection of foreigners, racism and hate speech made a strong impact on the political landscape in Europe in 2018, spurred by popular anxieties over economic, geopolitical and technological evolutions, the Council of Europe (CoE) said on Tuesday.
Citing the latest annual report by the "European Commission against Racism and Intolerance", the Strasbourg-based CoE said populist politicians in Europe sought to divide societies along national, ethnic or religious lines and used minorities and migrants as scapegoats to blame for the public malaise.
Radical views which were once the domain of extremist parties are not creeping into the mainstream political discourse and politicians ply for votes in hotly-contested elections.
"Not only were such views expressed by fringe politicians, but they increasingly gained footing within mainstream political parties and national governments, which remained a major concern" for the report.
The CoE statement said that such ideologies which espouse incompatibility between national/ethnic or religious groups "present a danger to inclusive societies" in the same way as those which promote "racial superiority".
The report further warns against the adoption of the "us versus them" mentality in political and public interventions.
Moreover, the CoE said that the report on 2018 noted with alarm "the increasing spread of fake news" which often produced distorted images of "vulnerable groups" who were targeted with hate speech.
Societal leaders must "not only avoid using hate speech, but proactively counter it," the Council said.
A number of countries have taken legislative steps to combating hate speech and this is praiseworthy, the report remarked.
An increasing number of States have also created special police task forces to work with vulnerable groups, which has been a trust-building initiative.
These practices should be expanded and hate speech should be actively fought against, the CoE recommended.
Nonetheless, religious bias and discrimination still abounded in 2018, particularly against the Muslim population.
"Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment were still prevalent in most member states in 2018. Muslim women were frequently the targets of violence which often involved pulling off face veils and headscarves or being spat at," the report stressed.
Other communities, notably Jews, Africans and the Roma people were also targeted to different extents by violence and discrimination and insults, the report said.
The Council of Europe is composed of 47 member states and it monitors democracy and human rights in its members. (end)