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Patient at the psychiatrist

Since March 2023, the PARTES project ("Participatory approaches to protecting places of worship" - more information here), funded by the EU, has been investigating attacks on religious communities and respective places of worship. Their findings show that minority faiths are more likely to be targeted than mainstream religions. However, the question of the social motivations of this phenomenon remains to be answered.

This blog entry delves deeper into the interconnected nature of social and spatial exclusion, and how it adversely affects minority ethno-religious communities. The research reveals that this exclusion fosters stigmatisation, which in turn, significantly increases the risk of attacks on places of worship frequented by these minority faiths. The text firstly explores the connection between exclusion and the vulnerability of minority religious communities. Next, it examines how labelling excluded ethno-religious groups as societal threats can actually increase the risk of attacks against specific religious communities. Finally, the conclusion ties together the theoretical concepts with the research findings from the PARTES project.

Exclusion and vulnerability of ethno-religious communities

European cities have undergone significant transformations in recent decades. This is evident in the growing diversity of identities, cultural spaces, and places of worship.[i] However, alongside this positive change, some negative trends have also emerged. These include increasing societal polarisation, the creation of exclusionary dynamics, and even the homogenization of ethnic and religious demographics in deprived areas.[ii]

The physical organization of space itself can reflect and reinforce social exclusion.[iii] Interviews conducted for the PARTES project revealed a key concern:  many minority faith communities lack the resources to locate their places of worship in central city areas. This forces them to establish themselves on the outskirts, often in rented apartments, small venues, or even industrial parks. These peripheral locations, coupled with limited funding, make it difficult for minority faiths to implement adequate security measures. This isolation creates a vulnerability to attacks, as tragically evidenced by the bombing of an unofficial mosque located in an Athens apartment in January 2022.[iv]

The situation becomes even more critical when social and spatial exclusion work together. Social exclusion encompasses various economic, social, and cultural factors. It can be based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, income, gender, disability, country of origin, and more.[v] When some of these disadvantages overlap, the impact is particularly severe in deprived areas, both inner-city and peripheral. While these neighbourhoods may have been more diverse in the past, the combined forces of spatial and social exclusion put religious communities at a heightened risk. Often, this exclusion stems from a lack of access to employment opportunities and a lack of action from public authorities.

In these disadvantaged neighbourhoods, ethnic and religious-based exclusion leads to the stigmatisation of entire populations. Local acceptance or rejection plays a crucial role in fostering or hindering discrimination against minority faith communities.[vi] Researchers have observed a pattern of rejection, particularly when Muslim communities seek to build mosques. Some locals may organize protests or leave hateful symbols, like pig heads, at the planned construction site.[vii] This blatant rejection fosters a sense of threat and exclusion within the religious community.

Consequently, three interlocking factors – spatial, social, and economic exclusion – create a dangerous cycle of vulnerability for minority ethno-religious communities. This constant marginalisation fosters a pervasive sense of fear, leaving them worried about attacks on their places of worship.


How exclusion increases the risk of incidents against places of worship

Excluded groups, particularly those targeted for their ethnicity or religion, become easy prey for extremist groups. Far-right organisations often peddle conspiracy theories, like a Jewish cabal controlling the world or Muslims planning a European takeover.[viii] These dangerous narratives paint minority communities as a "perceived threat," justifying their exclusion and making them more vulnerable to attack. These narratives create an identarian group perception – us versus them - that legitimates exclusion, fostering exclusionary narratives, hatred, and violence.[ix]

One example of a manipulative campaign against minority religious communities comes from Generation Identity in Austria. They hung misleading "warning signs" next to Islamic facilities, posting photos online with hateful commentary.[x] Similarly, Hogar Social in Spain conducted provocative campaigns in front of mosques in Madrid and Granada. They set off flares and displayed banners with inflammatory messages like "#TerroristasWelcome".[xi] Notably, both incidents occurred shortly after the jihadi attacks in Brussels and Cambrils, suggesting an attempt to stigmatise and link the entire Muslim community with terrorism.

The division between "us" and "them" identities[xii] puts ethno-religious communities at risk of hate and violence. This creates a perceived clash between the "national identity" and a constructed "threat." This framing fuels prejudice and political intolerance[xiii], leading to hatred towards these ethno-religious minorities, who are seen as a danger by majority groups.

PARTES findings: challenges, needs and best practices to protect places of worship

According to the research conducted in the PARTES project, places of worship are primarily targeted by low-level acts of hate. These include threatening graffiti, letters, or online harassment directed at minority religious communities. It does not seem to be a coincidence that such exclusion and stigmatisation heighten their vulnerability by painting them as outsiders. Furthermore, the most severe incidents often coincide with specific events that elevate tensions. For example, a mosque in Vitoria, Spain, was desecrated with blood and a pig's head after the Spain-Morocco match in the Qatar 2022 Football World Cup, which was fuelled by a vicious online hate campaign against Muslims and Arabs. This manipulation of public opinion through hate speech is a major factor deepening social exclusion.

This vulnerability is further amplified by weaknesses in prevention and protection of places of worship. On the prevention side, several factors contribute to the marginalisation of these groups:

  1. Exclusion of minority religious communities from dialogue spaces

  2. Lack of communication channels with law enforcement

  3. Apathy of public authorities towards addressing spatial and social exclusion

Physical protection shortcomings also lead to more serious problems. For instance, the absence of basic security measures like CCTV cameras hinders the identification of hate crime perpetrators. Additionally, the poor location of some religious venues makes them unprepared for high-impact incidents.

PARTES researchers, recognizing the dangers of social exclusion, have identified best practices to foster inclusion and reduce stigma for religious communities. These practices include:

  • Interfaith prayer events that demonstrate unity between different faiths.

  • The establishment of "roundtables for coexistence" in cities, like in Fuenlabrada and Melilla in Spain, where religious communities can discuss city-wide issues with stakeholders. This initiative serves as a successful and replicable model for open communication.

  • Strong council support, including participation in public celebrations of various religious festivals and public condemnation of all violent and discriminatory acts against these communities.

In conclusion, safeguarding places of worship requires local authorities to prioritise tackling the root causes of social exclusion. This social exclusion fuels rising poverty and, consequently, the stigmatisation of religious communities. Spatial exclusion, which ghettos these communities, fosters an "us versus them" mentality that puts minority faith groups at constant risk. Therefore, addressing social exclusion in all its forms remains paramount for our societies.

Picture of author Guillaume Monod

José Luis Salido-Medina is a researcher on hate crime, ideologies and extremist movements at the Euro-Arab Foundation for Higher Studies (FUNDEA) and involved in the PARTES project. José Luis is a PhD candidate in Social Sciences in the field of Political Science at the University of Granada, member of the Spanish Network against Hate Crime and Underreporting (REDOI) and validated expert by FIIAPP (Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs) for RAN Policy Support.

[i] Albert Blanco, Víctor (2022). «Diversidad religiosa, políticas públicas y gentrificación en París y Barcelona». Papeles del CEIC, vol. 2022/1, papel 257, 1-20. (

[ii] Kohn, Margaret (2013). What is wrong with gentrification?, Urban Research & Practice, 6:3, 297-310, DOI: 10.1080/17535069.2013.846006

[iii] Madanipour, Ali (1998). “Social Exclusion and Space” in LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. (Eds.) The City Reader, 203-212.

[v] Madanipour, Ali (1998). “Social Exclusion and Space” in LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. (Eds.) The City Reader, 203-212.

[vi] Albert Blanco, Víctor (2022). «Diversidad religiosa, políticas públicas y gentrificación en París y Barcelona». Papeles del CEIC, vol. 2022/1, papel 257, 1-20. (

[vii] There are the instances of Bucharest in Romania (2015), Mouraria in Portugal (2016) and Barcelona in Spain (2017).

[viii] Farinelli, F. (2021). “Conspiracy theories and right-wing extremism – Insights and recommendations for P/CVE” RAN. Retrieved from: 

[ix] Merry, M. (2015). Social Exclusion of Muslim Youth in Flemish- and French-Speaking Belgian Schools, Comparative Education Review, vol. 49(1).

[x] Martin Sulzbacher (24 June 2021). Beispiel Islam-Landkarte: Wie die Identitären einige Medien narrten. Retrieved April 2024, from

[xi] ABC. (2017, August 20). La mezquita del Albaicín de Granada es atacada por radicales de extrema derecha. Retrieved from ABC:; 20minutos. (23 de March de 2016). Grupo de ultraderecha lanza bengalas junto a la Mezquita de la M30 y cuelga un cartel: "Hoy Bruselas, ¿mañana Madrid?". Obtenido de EuropaPress: 

[xii] Berger, J.M. "Extremist Construction of Identity: How Escalating Demands for Legitimacy Shape and Define In-Group and Out-Group Dynamics", The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism - The Hague 8, no. 7 (2017).

[xiii] Aydin, N.; Krueger, J.I.; Frey, D.; Kastemüller, A. & Fischer, P. (2014). Social exclusion and xenophobia: Intolerant attitudes toward ethnic and religious minorities, Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, Vol. 17(3), 371-387.


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