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Hatred of Muslims at ‘epidemic’ level, says UN chief

9th Apr 2021
Hatred of Muslims at ‘epidemic’ level,  says UN chief

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (Credit: Jean Marc Ferré/UN)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred has risen to “epidemic proportions,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned on March 17 to mark the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Guterres described skyrocketing anti-Muslim bigotry as part of a wider shift globally towards nationalism, and away from minority rights. Underlining that “diversity is a richness, not a threat”, Guterres called for greater investment in promoting social cohesion and tackling bigotry in a message.

“We must continue to push for policies that fully respect human rights and religious, cultural and unique human identity”, he said in a pre-recorded video broadcast during a commemorative event held online, organized by the 60-member-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The Secretary-General cited a recent report to the UN Human Rights Council, which found that suspicion, discrimination and outright hatred towards Muslims have risen to “epidemic proportions”. Examples listed included disproportionate restrictions against Muslims manifesting their beliefs, limits on accessing citizenship, and widespread stigmatisation of Muslim communities.
The study also highlighted how Muslim women face “triple levels of discrimination” because of their gender, ethnicity and faith, he added, while the media and some persons in power have further compounded stereotypes.

“Anti-Muslim bigotry is sadly in line with other distressing trends we are seeing globally – a resurgence in ethno-nationalism, neo-Nazism, stigma and hate speech targeting vulnerable populations including Muslims, Jews, some minority Christian communities as well as others”, the Secretary-General said. Stressing that “discrimination diminishes us all”, the UN chief called for safeguarding the rights of minority communities, many of whom are under threat.

“As we move towards ever more multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, we need political, cultural and economic investments to strengthen social cohesion and tackle bigotry,” he stated.

Guterres underscored that fighting discrimination, racism and xenophobia is a priority for the UN. Following a fall-out in relations between many Muslim countries and some Western nations in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US – and subsequent attacks in London, Madrid and Bali – the organisation established the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in 2005.
Miguel Ángel Moratinos, UNAOC High Representative, recalled the initiative was launched as a “political soft power tool” whose objectives include promoting mutual respect among diverse cultures and religions.

“Despite progress made in building bridges of understanding through the promotion of intercultural and interfaith dialogue, manifestations of anti-Muslim hatred persisted and morphed into different forms”, he said.

“Islamophobia cannot be seen in isolation from the worrying increase in xenophobia and hate speech against minorities including immigrants and other faith communities.”
Moratinos said mutual respect, interfaith harmony and peaceful co-existence can be achieved “when there is broad space for everyone to practise the rituals of their religions or beliefs freely and safely.”

President of the UN General Assembly, Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozkir, urged countries to re-commit to the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other related instruments, expressing hope that they will lay the foundation for national laws to end hate speech and hate crimes.

“Our conversation is focused on Islamophobia, but the source of this scourge is a source that imperils us all. The answer is solidarity, equality, and respect for the equal dignity and entitlement to fundamental human rights of every individual”, he said.

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