UN Day against Islamophobia: A call for action to stamp out anti-Muslim hatred, says the UN chie
March 15 came and went. None celebrated the Ides of March. Also on March 15, the first-ever United Nations Day to combat Islamophobia, too, came and went. There was very little awareness campaign apart from perfunctory United Nations statements which received little media attention, though Islamophobia is one of the pressing global issues.
On March 15, last year, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 76/254, designating the date as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. The resolution introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was unanimously adopted but not before India, France, and the European Union made some observations.
To mark the day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres affirmed that the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, observed for the first time this year, was “a call for action to stamp out anti-Muslim hatred”.
“Discrimination diminishes us all. We must stand up against it,” he said in a Twitter post. “Today & every day, we must counter the forces of division by reaffirming our common humanity.”
The UN Chief said anti-Muslim bigotry is part of a larger trend of a resurgence in ethnonationalism, neo-Nazism, stigma, and hate speech targeting vulnerable populations.
In Sri Lanka, where Islamophobia was part of politics, the UN day was a nonday, whereas the Government should have made use of it to stress the principles the UN stands for. In the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), it is affirmed that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
The UDHR, regarded as the human rights holy scripture, has been embraced by every UN member. It stands as a reminder that never again shall the world see atrocities similar to the Holocaust during which millions of Jews were exterminated by Germany’s Adolf Hitler and his Nazi butchers who believed in a pseudoscientific Master Race ideology.
Despite the horrors of the Holocaust, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and apartheid do exist to demonize and divide people who are part of the human family. UN treaties, and supporting domestic legislation do exist to combat the evil that discriminates against people, but only to be observed in the breach in most counties or to be selectively applied.
The irony is that the very laws that are adopted to end discriminatory practices are implemented discriminately.
In Sri Lanka, it is alleged that the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights Act which was supposed to end racial discrimination and hate speech was selectively misused to harass Muslims, political opponents, and even artistes. While the ill-informed police charge the suspects under the ICCPR Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and other draconian laws, the Attorney General’s Department did precious little to stop the misapplication of the law. The AG’s role is not to be an accomplice in the government’s wilful abuse of the law, but, like a caregiver, to advise — and if necessary warn — the government not to play politics with the law.
Take the case of an impoverished Muslim woman from Mahiyangana. She was arrested for wearing a kaftan that depicted the picture of the ship’s helm. The police deliberately interpreted the picture as the Dharma Chakra and booked her under the ICCPR Act. That this was Islamophobia and abuse of law was lost on the state’s legal officers.
Islamophobia came to the mainstream in Sri Lanka after the end of the separatist war in 2009. The separatist war itself was given a racial twist and called an ethnic war for political reasons rather than being dealt with as a civil war. Instead of building a Sri Lankan nationalism that recognises unity in diversity, respects democracy, and adopts meritocracy, Sri Lankan politicians, in the promotion of ethnonationalism, saw an easy way to capture power.
After Tamil ethnonationalism was tamed by sheer military force, the ultranationalists’ turned their weapons on the Muslims, who stood for Sri Lanka’s unity. Such self-centered political opportunism, while kindling anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama, Digana, Minuwangoda, and other places, only led to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, the ascension of an incompetent candidate to the presidency and brought about the economic crisis.
As Islamophobia was aroused by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna elements to win the 2019 presidential election, some sections of the mainstream media willingly joined the ultranationalist bandwagon and falsely accused a Muslim doctor of making thousands of Sinhala women infertile. Also accused of making Sinhala women infertile were Muslim traders selling women’s undergarments and Muslim eateries selling ‘wanda’ or pregnancy-preventing kottu. Although these allegations were proved wrong, it is unfortunate that the country lacks a media culture to name and shame the fake news messengers posing as journalists and peddling Islamophobia.
Islamophobia was also evident during the Covid pandemic, with the then government, egged on by its anti-Muslim advisors, denying the Muslims the right to bury their kith and kin dying of Covid, although the World Health Organisation, fair-minded Sri Lankan scientists, Islamic countries, and international human rights organisations pointed out that it was safe to bury those who died of Covid.
On a positive note, the Aragalaya protests that overthrew the Islamophobic President have brought about a general realisation across the country that all this anti-Muslim hype had an ulterior motive – capturing power.
In neighbouring India, too, Islamophobia is almost the state policy. The Bharatiya Janata Party seized on the sheer devastation the 2019 Easter Sunday bombing caused in Sri Lanka and won the elections that year by projecting itself as the only party that had the willpower to end the so-called Islamic terrorism. Since the ultranationalist BJP assumed power in India in 2014, its members have been given the carte blanche to demonise India’s 200 million Muslims – the world’s third-largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan.
BJP leaders have publicly claimed that India’s Muslims do not deserve the same rights as everyone else living in the country. Some have even called for the mass killings of Muslims. The lynching of Muslims for eating, selling, or possessing beef continues with impunity. The rich Muslim segment of India’s history is obliterated, while mosques and Muslim houses are bulldozed for road projects. Mercifully, the Dravidian south is not infected by the BJP’s Hindutva and Islamophobic ideology.
Islamophobia is a multibillion-dollar industry in the West. In a 2021 report, the United States-based Muslim rights group, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), revealed that a staggering $105,865,763 was poured into 26 Islamophobia Network groups between 2017 and 2019, within the US alone. These groups spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about Muslims and Islam, the report titled Islamophobia in the Mainstream said.
In Europe, several reports point to a rise in Islamophobia. In the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, and other European countries, Islamophobia is “becoming increasingly normalized”.
Declarations of a UN day to combat Islamophobia alone will not end the inhuman practice of dividing humanity. Much needs to be done to establish equality and fraternity in human society before another holocaust tarnishes human history.
Courtesy Daily Mirror
Disclaimer: Islamophobia: The inhuman politics behind the scourge - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view