UNITED NATIONS — Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari urged the global community on Friday not to underestimate the resentment and sense of injustice Muslims felt when faced with deliberate acts of Islamophobia, like the burning of holy books.
The foreign minister was speaking at a special high-level event at the UN headquarters in New York to highlight the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, which will be observed on March 15, reports Dawn.
In a message condemning Islamophobia, UN Secretary General António Guterres urged all nations to “keep working together to advance the shared values of inclusion, tolerance and mutual understanding”. He warned that the “growing hate that Muslims face is not an isolated development but the resurgence of Ethno-nationalism”.
In 2020, former prime minister Imran Khan initiated the move that led to the recognition of March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) backed the move.
March 15 was chosen as the anti-Islamophobia Day because it was on this day in 2019 that a gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people. The day will be observed in 140 countries.
OIC Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha said in his message that March 15 was a reminder for all that “hatred could manifest into disastrous violence, when it’s committed on the ground of faith or religion”.
Addressing the event, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Nazila Ghanea underlined the need to collectively combat the forces of hate, saying: “An attack on one is an attack on us all.”
The Pakistani foreign minister, who chaired the proceedings with UN General Assembly’s President Csaba Korosi, pointed out how Islamophobia prevailed today, how Muslims were unjustly targeted because of their religion, and how the issue remained underreported.
“The dangers of Islamophobia often gain international attention when a heinous act of violence and terrorism strikes innocent Muslims while the daily, silent drip of discrimination, hatred, and hostility against Muslims remains largely ignored and underreported,” he regretted.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari offered a practical action plan which includes “the appointment of a UN Special Envoy to combat Islamophobia, the adoption of international measures for the protection of Holy Sites and the adoption of laws to outlaw hate speech”.
He also suggested providing legal assistance and appropriate compensation to the victims of Islamophobia and the establishment of national and international judicial mechanisms and laws to punish those responsible for such acts.
Mr Korosi said freedom of religion has been guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that “this is an international law that must not be breached”. The UNGA president urged member states to uphold this fundamental freedom.
The United Nations describes Islamophobia as “a fear, prejudice and hatred of Muslims that leads to provocation, hostility and intolerance by means of threatening, harassment, abuse, incitement and intimidation of Muslims and non-Muslims, both in the online and offline world”.