by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 2, Sha'ban, 1443)
Discrimination based on color, race, ethnicity or religion is repugnant and must not only be condemned but also opposed practically. There are numerous United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions affirming concrete action against racial or other forms of discrimination. Yet, Islamophobia continues to rage and exacts a heavy toll of innocent Muslims in many parts of the world including Canada.
One particular UNGA resolution proposed that “The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” be observed annually. It coincides with the day the white police force in South Africa opened fire and killed 69 blacks in Sharpeville in 1960. They were holding a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws”. South Africa was then under apartheid rule. It ended in 1992 and South Africa elected its first black president, Nelson Mandela in 1994.
In 1979, the General Assembly adopted a programme of activities to be undertaken during the second half of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. The UNGA decided that a week of solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination, beginning on March 21, would be organized annually in all States. There is even an International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination but racism in different forms still exists. Its most virulent form is Islamophobia: targeting Muslims because of their faith and how they dress.
While states have adopted various measures, from perfunctory to serious, against racial discrimination, Islamophobia continues to grow with deadly consequences. It exists at multiple levels: individual, institutional and state. Some individuals may harbour prejudices but it is the state that provides the framework both through active policies and also lack of policies to confront this menace that leads to its spread.
Let us consider the UNGA debate and subsequent adoption of a resolution against Islamophobia on March 15. Proposed by Pakistan, the resolution was supported by 55 Muslim-majority countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as many other countries in North Africa and Russia and China.
It affirmed that March 15 will be marked annually as the UN-recognised international day to combat Islamophobia. March 15 marks the anniversary of the 2019 attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in which 51 Muslim worshippers were murdered in cold blood as they gathered for Friday prayers.
It has now emerged that the Christchurch terrorist, originally from Australia, was influenced in part by a pro-Israel Canadian media outlet, Rebel Media, whose owner Ezra Levant promoted Islamophobic tropes. Levant tried to silence, unsuccessfully as it turned out, those that exposed his media outlet’s influence on the mass murderer. The Christchurch terrorist was no doubt influenced by other racist outlets and individuals as well leading him to commit one of the most despicable crimes against innocent Muslims.
The UNGA vote on Islamophobia, while welcomed by OIC Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha, had its opponents as well. Taha said it would “consolidate global awareness of the threat of hatred and fanaticism against Muslims.”
And who opposed the UN-recognised international day to combat Islamophobia? France, the European Union and India spoke against the resolution but did not oppose its adoption by consensus. Looking a little deeper, it is not surprising why these three entities spoke against the resolution.
While Europe, especially France, Germany and Britain, have led the racists and bigots and have also enacted laws specifically targeting Muslims, India has also come out swinging against its 200 million Muslim citizens. India’s anti-Muslim campaign has become particularly violent since Narendra Modi became the prime minister in 2014. The Hindutva fascists are now in power and have made no secret of their plans to carrying out the genocide of Muslims. They have already started killing Muslims by hacking them to death or burning them alive.
The French representative at the UN, Nicolas de Riviere took refuge behind the excuse that France supported the protection of all religions and beliefs but questioned the singling out of a specific religion. He described the resolution as “unsatisfying” and problematic.
What he failed to explain was, why has the French regime instituted laws that target Muslims only? Further, Paris took the lead in banning the hijab, the Muslim women’s head covering. Women can uncover as much as they want, but Muslim women and girls cannot cover. This goes against French laicite (secularism), we are told.
And what was Monsieur de Riviere’s problem with recognizing Islamophobia as a racist ideology? He said “the term Islamophobia has no agreed upon definition in international law, unlike the freedom of religion or conviction. But it’s this liberty that France defends, as well as all the other public freedoms, such as the freedom of expression or conviction.”
De Riviere need not have indulged in such verbal gymnastics. The regime that he represents is racist to the core. They are unabashedly anti-Muslim. The rest of Europe is little better, as was evident from the opposition of the EU representative. The bloc represents 27 European countries and while it has permanent observer status at the UN, it does not have voting rights.
The EU representative said a focus on Islamophobia was an “unnecessary duplication” after the UN in 2019 adopted August 22 as an “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.” The EU’s Islamophobic attitude surfaced when its statement said, “We are concerned with the approach of addressing only one religion through a General Assembly initiative.”
The EU representative could not be oblivious of the fact that under the rubric of freedom of expression, vulgar cartoons of the Prophet (pbuh) have been published in several European countries. Such acts are meant to humiliate Muslims. Freedom of expression has limits. No other religion or its revered personalities are subjected to such vulgar attacks.
Opponents of Islamophobia simply exposed their racism and bigotry by speaking out against the resolution. Muslims have a long hard battle ahead of them. The UN General Assembly resolution is a welcome step that was pushed hard by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan but much more needs to be done before this latest form of racism and bigotry is finally confronted and discredited, even it would be virtually impossible to eliminate.