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International Day to Combat Islamophobia

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International Day to Combat

Islamophobia

A Landmark Achievement for Pakistan and the Muslim Ummah

March 15 will henceforth be the International Day to Combat Islamophobia after the UN General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution, on March 15, 2022, introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC. The landmark resolution, adopted by the 193-member world body and co-sponsored by 55 mainly Muslim countries, emphasises the right to freedom of religion and belief and recalls a 1981 resolution calling for “the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief”. It also calls for expanded international efforts to create a global dialogue that will encourage tolerance and peace centred on respect for human rights and the diversity of religions and beliefs. Condemning the attacks on Muslims, their places of worship and other religious sites, the text also expresses deep concern at “the overall rise in instances of discrimination, intolerance and violence, regardless of the actors, directed against members of many religions and other communities in various parts of the world, including cases motivated by Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and prejudices against persons of other religions or beliefs.” It maintains terrorism “cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group,” and calls for “strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue on the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels.”

Formally introducing the resolution, Pakistan’s UN envoy Munir Akram said anti-Muslim hatred has become a “reality” that is “proliferating in several parts of the world.” He added that Islamophobia has emerged as a new form of racism that includes, among others, discriminatory travel bans, hate speech and the targeting of girls and women for their dress.

“Such acts of discrimination, hostility and violence towards Muslims — individuals and communities — constitute grave violations of their human rights, and violate their freedom of religion and belief,” Amb. Akram said.

The ambassador referred to a report of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which, he said, stated that since 9/11 attacks, “institutional suspicion and fear of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions”.
In such climates of exclusion, fear and distrust, “Muslims often feel stigma, negative stereotyping and shame and a sense that they are suspect communities that are being forced to bear collective responsibility for the actions of a small minority,” he said.

Background
Pakistan has steered this initiative under the leadership and guidance of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the first Muslim leader to raise the issue of Islamophobia at the UN in his maiden address to the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2019. The Prime Minister has since been regularly advocating the need to effectively combat the scourge of Islamophobia at various regional and international forums.

The 47th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, held in Niamey, Niger, in November 2020, unanimously adopted a resolution initiated by Pakistan for the designation of March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia.

Following up, the first task was to convince the Islamic countries to move a resolution in the UN General Assembly as some of them were of the view that Western countries will not support it. Having mobilized their support, the OIC group was formed and it began extensive consultations with the Western countries on the text of the draft resolution for the UN General Assembly.

Over the past year, Pakistan, together with other Islamic countries, pursued an extensive diplomatic process with the UN Member States. Through constructive engagement, Pakistan and its OIC partners were able to secure unanimous adoption by the UN General Assembly.

The adoption of this resolution came at a time when hate speech, discrimination and violence against Muslims are proliferating in several parts of the world including in India. It is on vivid display in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Islamophobia today is manifested in negative profiling by security agencies, stigmatization, deliberate vandalizing of Islamic symbols and holy sites, killings by cow vigilantes, discriminatory laws and policies, ban on the hijab, attacks on mosques, pronouncements by far-right parties that call for expulsion, and even “genocide” of Muslims, anti-Muslim migrant bias, and attacks on the dignity of Muslim women.

So, the resolution is indeed an achievement of PM Imran Khan who has rightly described it as “recognition of the grave challenge confronting the world” — the challenges of Islamophobia, respect for religious symbols and practices and of curtailing systematic hate speech and discrimination against Muslims.

Who Opposed it?
The resolution was sponsored by 57 members of the OIC, and eight other countries, including China and Russia. Several member states hailed the document, but the representatives of India, France, and the European Union expressed reservations, saying that while religious intolerance was prevalent all over the world, the resolution singled out only Islam and excluded others.

Addressing the General Assembly, India’s permanent representative TS Tirumurti called on the UN to condemn “religiophobias” rather than singling out Islamophobia, citing discrimination against Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

“It is in this context that we are concerned about elevating the phobia against one religion to the level of an international day, to the exclusion of all the others,” he said.

Describing the resolution as “unsatisfying” and problematic, Nicolas de Riviere, the French permanent representative to the UN, told the General Assembly that France supported the protection of all religions and beliefs but questioned the singling out of a specific religion.

“The term Islamophobia has no agreed-upon definition in international law, unlike the freedom of religion or conviction. But it’s this liberty that France defends, as well as all the other public freedoms, such as the freedom of expression or conviction,” said de Riviere.

In a statement to the General Assembly, the EU said it was concerned by the proliferation of international days. It said a focus on Islamophobia was an “unnecessary duplication” after the UN in 2019 adopted 22 August as an “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief”. “We are concerned with the approach of addressing only one religion through a General Assembly initiative,” the EU statement said.

PM Khan’s Response
Following the adoption of the “landmark” resolution by the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Imran Khan said our voice against the rising tide of Islamophobia has been heard. “The UN has finally recognised the grave challenge confronting the world: of Islamophobia, respect for religious symbols & practices & of curtailing systematic hate speech & discrimination against Muslims,” the prime minister remarked on Twitter. He added that we have always raised our voice on this issue and termed it as a threat to world peace. There is a religious and emotional attachment. When the West targets them because of Islamophobia, the feelings of the Muslims are hurt, which leads to violent incidents.

Objectives
Amb. Munir Akram also outlined the objectives that he said the draft resolution served to achieve. The objectives are as follows:
· Raise international awareness about the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred
· send a clear message that the world opposes all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, negative stereotyping and stigmatisation;
· to promote the message of tolerance, peaceful co-existence and interfaith and cultural harmony among all religions, races and nations; and
· to demonstrate by commemorating this day unfettered solidarity with all humanity, convey a strong message of respect for human dignity, and reiterate common commitment to unity in diversity.

Significance of the resolution
For years, Muslims have been urging the world community to have a conversation about Islamophobia, a conversation that needs to be heard not just in the corridors of power but by all those who have fallen for demagoguery against Muslims and allowed their irrational fear to cloud their judgement. The likes of Trump, Marie le Pen in France, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Nigel Farage in Britain were only a symptom of a deeper disease. Islamophobia is rampant in the West and has been long before even 9/11. From the Hollywood portrayal of Muslims only as terrorists to the never-ending Western aggression in the Middle East, to the way Muslim refugees have been treated by the West, there has been an obvious anti-Muslim bias around the world – exacerbated by the rise of right-wing governments. This is why the UN’s decision to accept a resolution to observe March 15 each year as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia carries so much significance for Muslims around the world.

And it is not just the West that has given in to Islamophobia. The Modi-led government in India, with its Hindutva agenda, has been consistently pursuing anti-Muslim policies since it came to power. Just recently back, we saw how a Karnataka court upheld the state government’s ban on girls and young women wearing headscarves in school classrooms. There is now also the danger that other states will follow Karnataka and go in for similar measures, which serve little purpose other than discriminating against Muslim women on the basis of their religion. From the French ban on the headscarf to other European countries’ expressing the desire to dictate what Muslim women wear – under the cover of secularism – to now India using the hijab to go after its Muslim population, there is little doubt that Islamophobia affects a vast majority of Muslims.

The problematic idea of saving Muslim women from Muslim men has been debated at length by feminist activists and intellectuals from the Muslim world, and is seen as a larger question of looking at the Muslim women through an orientalist lens. In India, the problem becomes even worse because of the widespread campaign of hatred against Muslims and the dimension that it is taking in a society where a large number of Muslims have lived for centuries. Pakistan has welcomed the UN Day to Combat Islamophobia, especially since the resolution was introduced by Pakistan. For far too long has the international community stood by in shameful silence as Islamophobia has increased in many countries. A UN designated Day can help raise attention to and tackle the mindset that treats all Muslims as suspicious and normalises mass violence against them.

Way forward
There is no doubt that there is a negative attitude towards Islam in many parts of Europe and other Western countries. Although there are numerous mosques and hundreds of thousands of Muslims in these countries, they have never expressed any myopic of prejudiced views against Christianity or Judaism. They have blended into those societies. But, on the other hand, there are extremist elements in which there is an arbitrary hatred of Islam and it is in no way acceptable to Muslims. Such people have been protected in the name of freedom of expression. In France, Sweden and Denmark, such incidents have happened again and again, against which Muslims all over the world have protested and expressed strong reservations. But, unfortunately, the governments of these countries have patronized such heinous acts and defended them in the name of protecting the fundamental right to freedom of expression. So, in the face of growing discrimination, violence and intolerance against Muslims around the world, the UN resolution is a huge step towards promoting a culture of tolerance and peace globally as it indicates that the problems facing Muslims are being felt globally as well.

In a world riven by hatred, efforts are needed to promote tolerance and pluralism. This includes allowing followers of all faiths to practice their beliefs freely, while Muslim states also have a responsibility to protect their minorities from extremists. Unfortunately, populists and rabble-rousers always exploit the schisms in society. To counter their designs, states and conscientious citizens must resist this rising tide of hate by actively working towards a more tolerant world.

The writer is a senior analyst and columnist.

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