IN a civilised world, there can be no place for hatred and violence based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc. However, humanity is far from these lofty ideals, though advances have been made in combating bigotry. In the modern age, one of the most rampant forms of hatred is Islamophobia, that manifests itself in various forms, ranging from the harassment of women wearing the hijab, to murderous rampages such as the one carried out by a white supremacist in Christchurch in 2019. It was this incident that led to the observance of the International Day to Combat Islamophobia every March 15. Pakistan, particularly the former PTI government, played an instrumental role in the observance of the day internationally.
As the UN chief has observed, Muslims in many parts “face bigotry and prejudice simply because of their faith”. Some interesting observations were made during the discussion on a resolution condemning Islamophobia during the General Assembly in 2022, perhaps reflecting the anti-Muslim prejudices of supposedly secular states. The French delegate could not understand why a specific day was dedicated to Islamophobia. Meanwhile, the Indian representative also had issues with observing the day. These views highlight the fact that despite declared secularity, some states have issues with Islam and the Muslim culture. For example, in Europe, the far right has combined Islamophobia with racism and anti-immigrant sentiment to create a toxic atmosphere for Muslims and people of colour. France has been championing restrictions on the hijab in government buildings. Vile examples of Quran burning in different European states illustrate that for some, the continent’s mediaeval animus for Islam is very much alive. India, on the other hand, specifically under the BJP’s watch, has woven Islamophobia into state policy. The Sangh Parivar has for long reviled Islam — as seen in the Babri Masjid episode, the lynching of Muslims on suspicions of eating beef, and the disenfranchisement of Indian Muslim citizens on flimsy grounds. These episodes simply prove that for millions of people, Islamophobia is a lived reality that needs to be fought, as does prejudice against other faiths.
Yet it is also true that Muslim states need to do a better job of protecting minorities that live within their borders. When non-Muslims are not completely free to practise their faiths, not only is it a violation of their fundamental rights, it also gives fodder to Islamophobes to further spread poison. For centuries, the world of Islam and non-Muslim cultures have mingled and traded with each other, exchanging ideas and concepts, while also confronting one another on the battlefield. In fact, were it not for Europe’s interaction with Islam, the continent may have had a difficult time exiting the Dark Ages. Therefore, either we can learn from history and coexist, or continue regurgitating the venom of the past.
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2023