UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan has urged the international community to focus on combating the rising phenomenon of Islamophobia, which now forms part of far-right and neo-fascist parties’ manifestos in several countries.

“We are witnessing the global resurgence in intolerance, discrimination, racism, negative stereotyping, and violence against persons, on the basis of religion or belief,” warned Ambassador Aamir Khan, Pakistan’s deputy permanent representative to the UN.

Addressing a meeting of UN Alliance of Civilisation (UNAOC) in New York on Tuesday afternoon, Ambassador Khan said while no religious community was “immune from such discrimination, a particularly alarming trend is the global resurgence in Islamophobia.”

This, he said, was a major cause of concern for Muslims across the globe. Borr­owing a quote from a UN report on freedom of religion and belief, Ambassador Khan pointed out that “institutional suspicion and fear of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions.”

In 2005, some UN members founded the Alliance of Civilisations to reduce tensions between the Muslim world and the West that escalated rapidly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

One of the core objectives of this Alliance was to advance mutual respect for all cultures, traditions and religious beliefs, and to serve as a platform to bridge divergence and friction especially between the West and Islam.

In one of its key documents — “A call for Mutual Respect” — the alliance noted with “deep concern” the growing tensions and intolerance triggered by the publication of the satirical caricatures.

The document notes that Muslims consider this insulting, and deeply offensive and such inflammatory caricatures also provoke acts of violence against innocent civilians, attacked for their sheer religion, belief or ethnicity. The document calls for mutual respect of all religions and beliefs and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.

In a recent statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin also emphasised this point, saying that insulting a prophet does not count as freedom of expression. This was rather a “violation of religious freedom and the violation of the sacred feelings of people who profess Islam,”, he added.

In his address to the alliance, the Pakistani envoy said the greatest paradox of today’s world was that while “it has brought people closer and created vast networks of connectivity and interdependence, this proximity has also spawned divisions and frictions among and within societies.”

“Irrespective of our diversity,” Ambassador Khan said, “it is in our enlightened interest to respect each other’s religious beliefs, eliminate the most pervasive forms of religious discrimination and combat incitement to violence.”

Noting that the Alliance had done commendable work over the years, he said: “Today, the sounds of a Clash of Civilisations still reverberate, causing great anguish within the Islamic world.”

“We would therefore urge UNAOC to retain a sharp focus on combating Islamophobia while formulating its programme and activities,” Ambassador Khan said.

At the United Nations, “an unequivocal show of empathy and solidarity with victims of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred would help in responding to public concern in many Muslim countries,” he added.

In recent years, key world leaders and UN officials, including the Secretary General, have underscored the importance of collectively addressing the problem of Islamophobia.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2022

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