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Annan calls for steps to combat Islamophobia

December 09, 2004

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UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8: Calling for efforts to combat spread of "Islamophobia", UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday that "the weight of history and the fallout of recent events had left many Muslims around the world feeling aggrieved and misunderstood, concerned about the erosion of their rights, and even fearing for their physical safety.

He told a day long seminar - Confronting Islamophobia: Education for Tolerance and Understanding - that the efforts to combat Islamophobia must also contend with the question of terrorism and violence carried out in the name of Islam, adding that Islam should not be judged by the acts of extremists who deliberately targeted and killed civilians."

"The few gave a bad name to the many, and that was unfair. All of us must condemn those who carry out such morally reprehensible acts, which no cause can justify, he said.

He said that the historical experience of Muslims included colonialism and domination by the west, either direct or indirect. Resentment was fed by the unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, by the situation in Chechnya, and by atrocities committed against Muslims in the former Yugoslavia. "

"The reaction to such events could be visceral, bringing an almost personal sense of affront. But we should remember that these are political reactions - disagreements with specific policies. All too often, they are mistaken for an Islamic reaction against western values, sparking an anti-Islamic backlash, he said

KEYNOTE: Seyyed Hussein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, said Islamophobia was a question not only of fear but also of hatred - often by people who know little about the religion. In the keynote address, Nasr spoke of the role of fanaticism in conflicts and said there would be no Islamophobia without mistakes made by Muslims.

Seyyed Nasr said most people viewed Islam as an intolerant, monolithic religion bent on ruling the western world when in reality there were various schools of Islamic thought. The religion is not anti-Western and the Islamic dynasties over the centuries accepted both Jews and Christians fleeing persecution.

Fighting Islamophobia, Seyyed Nasr argued, required swift action from those in the west who understood that hatred breeds more hatred. He said Muslims must take the lead in speaking out against extremism - and steps that should be complemented by educational reforms and more effective use of the media.

The executive director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Institute of Indian Culture), Panchapakesa Jayaraman, in his remarks stressed that the world must act to oppose the existing Islamophobia and redress the chaos all around.