At UN, FM Bilawal for global unity to counter Islamophobia

Says despite protests, Islam and Muslims are unfortunately linked to terrorism n Antonio Guterres calls for standing up against all discriminations

UNITED NATIONS    -    Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhut­to Zardari Friday opened a special high-level meeting to commemorate International Day to Combat Islam­ophobia, with a fervent call to every­one – from any religion or creed – to stand together in the fight against hatred, bigotry and intolerance. 

"The observance of this Day serves to reinforce our shared commitment to raise awareness about the insidi­ous phenomenon of Islamophobia, advance mutual respect and under­standing, and develop concrete mea­sures to eradicate this contempo­rary plague," he told the delegates in the UN General Assembly Hall, while highlighting that Islam is a religion of moderation, tolerance and pluralism. 

The meeting is co-convened by the Office of the President of the General Assembly and Pakistan in its capacity as the Chair of the Organization of Islam­ic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers. Last year, the 193-member Assembly adopted Resolution 76/254 designating March 15 as the Interna­tional Day to Combat Islamophobia.

Apart from Casaba Korosi, the Assembly’s President, present at the meeting, among others, were UN Secretary-General An­tonio Guterres and High Repre­sentative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Miguel Moratinos. OIC Secretary-Gen­eral Hissein Brahim Taham and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Nazila Ghanea, were due to ad­dress by video link. 

In his opening remarks, FM Bilawal said since the 9/11, an­imosity and institutional sus­picion of Muslims and Islam across the world escalated to “epidemic proportions”. 

“Despite protestations to the contrary,” the foreign minister said, “Islam and Muslims are routinely linked to terrorism”.

In some cases, he said, the rhetoric of hate and incitement to violence was officially in­spired, noting that repeated po­groms of Muslims had been in­stigated by officially sanctioned neo-fascist policies and ideolo­gies with complete impunity. 

“The policies and violent ac­tions of those who deny the right of self-determination of Muslim peoples represent the worst manifestations of Islam­ophobia today,” FM Bilawal add­ed. In this regard, he urged the UN secretary-general to formu­late an ‘action plan’, in coordina­tion with the OIC countries, to halt and reverse Islamophobia.

Such an action plan, he said, could include the appoint­ment of a UN Special Envoy to combat Islamophobia; adop­tion of measures to protect Holy Sites, including the thou­sands of mosques and mauso­leums; adoption of laws – at the national and internation­al level - to outlaw hate speech, Holy Quran’s vandalization, and discrimination and violence against Muslims and other com­munities; provision of legal as­sistance and appropriate com­pensation to those subjected to such Islamophobic acts and; es­tablishment of national and in­ternational judicial mechanisms and laws to hold those responsi­ble for acts of Islamophobia ac­countable.

“Unfortunately,” the foreign minister said, “the virus of Is­lamophobia is spreading faster than we have been able to react. 

“Not even the greatest democ­racies are immune. We have witnessed democratic societies impose Muslim bans. So-called free societies allow for the des­ecration of holy texts and holy sites. Even my region is not im­mune with democratic secular societies under the threat of be­ing transformed to religious and Islamophobic states. 

“Today, we must renew our re­solve to build an inclusive soci­ety where different cultures and beliefs are celebrated and diver­sity is embraced. We can ill af­ford to ignore dangerous ide­ologies and acts dividing us as humanity,” he added.

“The declaration of 15th March as an International Day to Com­bat Islamophobia by the Gener­al Assembly is a demonstration of global solidarity with both known and unknown victims of Islamophobia,” FM Bilawal said. Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) taught Muslims to treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of race, cul­ture, gender or religion, the for­eign minister said, but noted that unfounded phobia of Islam and its adherents was a sad real­ity, and the challenge was much deeper and deeply rooted.

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