VIENNA -- Imams and Islamic leaders urged European governments yesterday to launch affirmative action-style programs and streamline citizenship paths to help ease integration for the continent's 33 million Muslims.
The appeal was part of a declaration wrapping up two days of discussions on efforts to forge a European-focused identity for Muslims on the continent. But the document included a gloomy reality check: It noted the growing public chill toward Islam as well as the small but vocal radical Muslim groups that appear to mock European values.
''Muslims in general have come to symbolize the 'foreigner' who should be kept at a distance in these times of uncertainty," said the eight-page document produced after workshops and speeches by more than 150 European-based imams and top religious advisers. ''Muslims are confronted with a strong need to justify themselves."
It conceded that Muslims cannot transform their communities alone. The message carried undertones of a warning: European authorities must offer opportunities to Muslims or risk creating social time bombs such as last year's riots in France in poor and mostly Muslim suburbs. ''Integration is not a one-way street, but a mutual process," the declaration said.
It extended a wish list to European officials, including US-style affirmative-action employment programs for Muslims and initiatives for Muslim women to overcome cultural barriers that often prevent them from seeking jobs.
''Independence is closely linked to financial independence and employment, and politicians can create measures so that fathers and husbands don't always have to provide the primary source of income," the document said.
France and other nations have considered ideas to give Muslims job boosts -- known here as ''positive discrimination" -- but the concept has not gained wide support across Europe. The 25-nation European Union, which has increased efforts at integration, has only limited power over national employment laws.
The statement also calls for more government support for language training and interreligious contacts to help ''erode racism and Islamophobia" at a time when fodder is plentiful, including the 2004 slaying of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the anti-Western sermons of radical preachers such as London's Abu Hamza al-Masri, and the deadly fallout from caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
The declaration by the European imams said ''freedom of press and opinion is a general and essential good." But it noted that Europe's Islamic leaders have not reached a common view on how to reconcile such openness with possible offenses to their faith.
''We can't live in parallel societies, one Muslim and the other 'European,' " said Iyman Salwa Alzayed, a religious adviser to Muslim teachers in Austria. ''This is not good for the European Muslims and it's not good for Europe. Both will suffer."