More desecration

Published September 27, 2023

THE far right, particularly in Europe, has been carrying out a sustained campaign of desecrating Islam’s holiest symbols.

Over the past few months, there have been numerous instances where the Holy Quran has either been burnt or desecrated in European states.

While earlier instances occurred mostly in Sweden and Denmark, the latest outrage took place in the Netherlands on Sept 23, when the leader of the Dutch wing of Pegida, a notorious pan-European hate group, desecrated the Holy Book outside a number of Muslim embassies.

These included the missions of Pakistan, Turkiye and Indonesia. Before the Quran burnings, there was a wave of offensive caricatures, and if one is to travel back in time, there were Orientalist tropes demeaning Islam and its sacred figures in the name of ‘scholarship’.

Clearly, these attacks on the Islamic faith are not motivated by an attachment to free speech, but by raw hatred. It should be noted that many of the hatemongers involved in these heinous acts belong to the same violent white nationalist ideological spectrum that spawned the killers who massacred Muslims in Christchurch, Oslo and Montreal.

Islamophobia is, therefore, not about intellectual notions of free speech, but about condoning and advocating real-world violence against Muslims. And it is not just Western extremists who use Islamophobia to target Muslims; the Sangh Parivar in India has been indulging in anti-Muslim violence for decades, now apparently with the state’s blessings.

But one positive development in this regard was witnessed at the UN General Assembly last week, where leaders from the Muslim world — showing rare unity — spoke with one voice to condemn Islamophobia.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan said “a plague” of racism was afflicting the West, while Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi commented that the acts of desecration were “not worthy of human dignity”. Pakistan has also consistently spoken up against Islamophobia at global forums.

Beyond condemnation, practical steps are needed, particularly in the states where repeated acts of desecration have occurred, to put an end to these provocations.

Both Denmark and Sweden are reportedly considering banning the desecration of religious texts on security grounds. These steps should help curb this menace and need to be ratified at the earliest.

Just as Europe has taken a consistent approach against anti-Semitism — after millions of Jews were massacred on European soil over six decades ago — so too must Western states take a firm stand against Islamophobia. Just as questioning the Holocaust is a crime in many Western states, similarly, acts of hatred targeting Islam or any other religion must be outlawed.

A new compact is needed between civilisations based on mutual respect and tolerance. This cannot be achieved if the most sacred symbols of one of the world’s largest faiths are constantly attacked and desecrated.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2023

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