Over the past few years, Europe was exposed to an asymmetrical progression of international terrorism threat comprising the carrying out of attacks inside or around religious buildings located in the densely populated urban public spaces. In the current climate, believers of different faiths are increasingly finding themselves under siege.
The polarization and exploitation of religious confrontation has degenerated into a wave of supremacist violence and new forms of extremism, sparking numerous terrorist attack threats to Houses of worship and their relative
Hate crimes against believers and against places of worship, regardless of their ethnic origin and their approach to religion, are perpetuated in all EU countries, although on the other hand with a different intensity depending
on the believers’ and ethnic minorities’ various dispersion, plus depending on the regional and local atmosphere of intolerance of the hosting society. Such threats and discrimination motivated by intolerance, prevent believers from freely expressing their identity, and freely practicing their faiths. This, thereby eventually produce a general sense of social insecurity, fear in the entire population, and represent a serious limitation of the right to religious freedom.
The profound impact that these hate threats generate in the lives of believers and ethnic communities deeply affects the emotional and psychological sphere of citizens of different ethnic background, generating on the one hand obstacles to the process of legitimation and integration, and on the other hand, forms of separation and ghettoization.
Their negative consequences at the same time complicate the public authority’s ability to intervene and protect citizens of the new faiths as well as the tranquility of the native citizens.
Nevertheless, resilience is preserved in these communities thanks to the fact that the protection of faiths and places of worship – synagogues, churches, and mosques – is a duty guaranteed by religions, human values, laws, and international agreements. Every attempt to attack places of worship or threaten them by violent assaults, bombings or destruction, is a deviation from the teachings of religions as well as a clear violation of international law.
Terrorism threatens people’s security, spreads panic, terror, and pessimism, which is not tolerated by any religion, no matter how extremists instrumentalize it.
The results from our research have revealed that the prevalent security systems at some places of worship do not conform to the standard regulations and are therefore not sufficient to avert possible threat crimes.
As vulnerabilities constitute those intrinsic limits of the potential targets, they, if analyzed, will undoubtedly help determine the level of risk to which places of worship are exposed.
The Shield Project’s threat awareness is hence elaborating a tool that will contribute to the development of subjective social resilience and identify policy interventions aimed at reducing vulnerabilities, and consequently the level of risk that believers are exposed to in their places of worship.
While the role of the Muslim Community too is essential to favor the paths of integration and interrelation with the civil community as well as to weaken the threat against places of worship, an ad-hoc strict security approach that targets the strengthening of the already existing Security Measures for Places of Worship is urgent, though it would temporarily risk increasing the perception of insecurity in the community of the believers and would indirectly give legitimacy to the perpetrators of threat crimes.
To develop and implement a security program that can be adapted to the needs of individual places of worship, the Shield project recommends a global targeted action with the following approach:
- identifying clear roles and responsibilities for developing and implementing the security measures;
- conducting a vulnerability assessment to understand the risks to all the Houses of Worship;
- building community readiness and resilience by ensuring that the Houses of Worship are aware of potential threats, are prepared to respond in the event of an emergency or incident, and that they are connected with the wider community;
- applying physical security measures to monitor and protect the outer, middle, and inner perimeters, while respecting the purpose of each area of the House of Worship;
- focusing on the safety of children with security measures to protect childcare and daycare facilities and schools.