Pakistan calls for international action to combat Islamophobia

UNITED NATIONS - Pakistani Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi and other speakers at an event held at the United Nations on Thursday voiced serious concern over the increasing hate crimes targeting Muslims in the West, stating that the most effective action to reverse this dangerous trend lay in promoting interfaith cooperation.
They also stressed the need for unity among Muslims as they build bridges to other religious communities through stepped up interaction.
The occasion was a side-event, organised by the Missions of Pakistan and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (IOC), as part of the annual observances of 'World Interfaith Harmony Week' (Feb 1 to 7).
A brainchild of Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, the side-event was entitled: Countering Xenophobia Through Interfaith Cooperation.
"This was a modest effort to bring us together in solidarity, in defence of our values and respect for each other's faith, as part of human family to promote solidarity," the Pakistani envoy, who co-chaired the event, told delegates in a full-to-the-capacity UN conference room.
In her concluding remarks, she also spoke of the current challenges and disturbing trends towards hate and discrimination, stating, "Hope, not fear should guide us in addressing this issue."
OIC Ambassador Ufuk Golcen, the other co-chair, while highlighting the dangers of Xenophobia and bigotry, said interfaith cooperation was the way to bringing about a harmonious environment and peaceful conditions.
Three prominent inter-faith activists -- Dr. Faroque Ahmed Khan, Dr. William Vendley and Dr. Munir Al-Kassem -- in their presentations called for dialogue among leaders and dialogue among religious communities in an effort to end the rising tide of religious and ethnic discrimination and bias incidents.
Al-Kassem narrated his experiences in Canada where his family migrated at the height of a civil war in Lebanon in 1976. Over the years, he said, discrimination against refugees and minorities had become strong in parts of Canada but this might change now with the rise to power of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a liberal politician. "Indeed, Trudeau has reclaimed Canada's identity."
Al-Kassem said he had raised a total of 9.3 million Canadian dollars, with the help of Muslim communities in Canada, to help re-settle the incoming Syrian refugees.
Dr. William Vendley, Secretary-General of the Religions for Peace International, dialogue between religious communities should be taken to a level that they not only have good relations but also standby each other. He cited the example of Kenya where a terrorist group hijacked a bus and asked Muslims to leave but they didn't in solidarity with others.
Dr Faroque Ahmad Khan, a founding member of the Islamic Centre of Long Island, at which he said he had also launched an inter-faith institute. With the help of video presentation, he explained how he has been able to bring together people of various religious groups on the Lond Island. Dr. Khan urged OIC's New York office to establish closer links with the members of the Muslim community.
Most speakers, including Saudi Arabian Ambassador Ambassador Abdallah bin Yahya Al-Moallimi, who took the floor lauded Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi for the well-thought-out move to focus international attention on Xenophobia and to discuss ways and means to counter this phenomenon. They evinced keen interest in the debate in which ambassadors and representatives of Fiji, Sierra Leone, Morocco also took part.
In her opening remarks, the Pakistani envoy called for action to combat the forces of Islamophobia and warned that if timely steps are not taken to check this disturbing trend, it could threaten regional and global peace and security.
Pakistan and the OIC countries are most concerned by the recent sharp rise of acts of discrimination, hate and violence against specific religious and ethnic communities, especially Muslims, she said. "Unfortunately, this is happening in countries, which are the traditional champions of human rights and humanitarianism." The instances of insults against Islam and Muslims are now legion," she said, adding, "Islam has been called unspeakable names; minarets have been portrayed as missiles." Expressions of such hate and prejudice, Maleeha Lodhi said, had provoked physical and psychological violence against Muslims and their businesses, mosques and community centers in some countries. Muslim communities live in fear and their alienation expands the divide between faiths and cultures within and among nations, she added.
Noting this campaign of hate and prejudice has received a fillip from ignorant media portrayals of Muslims, the Pakistani envoy said that unprincipled politicians have sought to build their political fortunes by spreading fear and xenophobia, promising to build walls against migrants; barring refugees, even widows and orphans; banning the adherents of a specific religion from entry to their countries shores -- an obvious reference to the utterances of US Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In this regard, she pointed out President Barack Obama acknowledged this by stating at a mosque in Wednesday, "we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths. And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. "
The recent massive influx of refugees and migrants fleeing brutal conflicts, persecution and deprivation to the havens of Europe initially evoked many heartwarming acts of generosity, humanity and solidarity,she said. But the purveyors of hate had sought to turn the tide against the advocates of openness and humanitarianism, especially after the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris, she added. "They have equated helpless refugees and migrants with violent extremists in order to generate political support for the forces of hate, prejudice, intolerance and xenophobia."
Noting that xenophobia and discrimination led to the Holocaust 70 years ago, the Pakistani envoy said, "Those who have declared the denial of the Holocaust a crime should hardly argue that the freedom of expression allows insults against Islam and hate speech and incitement to violence against Muslims."
"Hate inevitably breeds hate," Maleeha Lodhi said.
"Islamophobia will breed its antithesis. It is a recipe for a clash of cultures- a clash we must avoid if the world is to have any hope of collective action to end the chaos in the Middle East and eliminate all forms of terrorism."
"During this 'World Interfaith Harmony Week', we look to all those who believe in humanity's common future, to help in evolving a consensus for action to combat the forces of xenophobia, prejudice, hatred and racism. "Such a consensus should provide for bold political actions and robust legislative norms".

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