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March 15: UN Observes First International Day Against Islamophobia

SRINAGAR: The United Nations commemorated the first-ever International Day to Combat Islamophobia with a special event in the General Assembly Hall, where speakers upheld the need for concrete action in the face of rising hatred, discrimination and violence against Muslims. The event took place a few days ahead of March 15, the day fixed for International Day to Combat Islamophobia.

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A crowd of pigeons outside the Dargah-e-Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The observation follows the unanimous adoption of an Assembly resolution in 2022 that proclaimed 15 March as the International Day, calling for global dialogue that promotes tolerance, peace and respect for human rights and religious diversity. The day is also the anniversary of the 2019 attack on two mosques in New Zealand which left 51 people dead.

As the UN Secretary-General stated, the nearly two billion Muslims worldwide – who come from all corners of the planet – “reflect humanity in all its magnificent diversity”. Yet, they often face bigotry and prejudice simply because of their faith.

Furthermore, Muslim women can also suffer “triple discrimination” because of their gender, ethnicity, and faith.

Everyone has a role

The President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, noted that Islamophobia is rooted in xenophobia, or the fear of strangers, which is reflected in discriminatory practices, travel bans, hate speech, bullying and targeting of other people.

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He urged countries to uphold freedom of religion or belief, which is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“All of us carry a responsibility to challenge Islamophobia or any similar phenomenon, to call out injustice and condemn discrimination based on religion or belief – or the lack of them,” he added.

Kőrösi said education is key to learning why these phobias exist, and it can be “transformative” in changing how people understand each another.

Hatred on the rise

The growing hate that Muslims face is not an isolated development, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told attendees.

“It is an inexorable part of the resurgence of ethno-nationalism, neo-Nazi white supremacist ideologies, and violence targeting vulnerable populations including Muslims, Jews, some minority Christian communities and others,” he said.

“Discrimination diminishes us all. And it is incumbent on all of us to stand up against it. We must never be bystanders to bigotry.”

Stressing that “we must strengthen our defences”, Guterres highlighted UN measures such as a Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.  He also called for ramping up political, cultural, and economic investments in social cohesion.

Curb online bigotry

“And we must confront bigotry wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. This includes working to tackle the hate that spreads like wildfire across the internet,” he added.

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To this end, the UN is working with governments, regulators, technology companies and the media “to set up guardrails, and enforce them.”

Compassion and solidarity

Other policies already launched include a Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, and the Our Common Agenda report, which outlines a framework for a more inclusive and secure “digital future” for all people.

The Secretary-General also expressed gratitude to religious leaders across the world who have united to promote dialogue and interfaith harmony.

He described the 2019 declaration on ‘Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’ – co-authored by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed El Tayeb – as “a model for compassion and human solidarity.”

Interestingly, China and US attacked each other on the day at UN event.

China accused the US of “abusing” a UN event to mark an international day against Islamophobia after the American ambassador in New York used it to draw attention to Beijing’s persecution of its Uyghur minority.

Speaking at the event, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said that the US had formally recognised that Muslims are increasingly subject to “discrimination and violence”, and cited the treatment of the Uyghurs in China and the Rohingya in Myanmar.

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China’s persecution of the Uyghurs has been documented by human rights organisations and by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and has been widely condemned by western governments.

A Letter

Meanwhile, as many as 15 organisations across the world, including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Committee for Justice and Liberty in France, Asociacion Musulmana por los Derechos Humanos in Spain and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, have written a letter to UN calling for action against Islamophobia.

“We call on governments to recognize the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, condemn anti-Muslim bigotry and racism, dismantle Islamophobic policies and laws, and ensure that all of their citizens receive fair treatment under the law,” the first call to action said.

“We know that Islamophobia has gone global. The Christchurch shooter who murdered 51 Muslim men, women and children in New Zealand on March 15th four years ago was just one horrific example of how dangerous anti-Muslim extremism can become,” the letter said.

(Part of the news item was sourced from a report from UN official website)

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