UN’s Campaign Against Islamophobia An Important Move – OpEd


By Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

This summer, the UN passed two major resolutions, one by the Human Rights Council and the other by the Security Council, on how to deal with bigotry and religious hatred around the world, including Islamophobia. Measured, balanced and nuanced, the new UN instruments could help in dealing with this growing phenomenon. 

A UN report in April 2021 found that suspicion, discrimination and outright hatred toward Muslims had reached “epidemic proportions.” In many parts of the world, Islamophobia has been on the rise because it is cynically deployed in political campaigns, especially by extreme-right groups and political parties for electoral gain, with considerable success. It has also been weaponized to justify discrimination and violence perpetrated against Muslim minorities. 

A recent study by the Brussels-based European Center for Populism Studies documents how, in Europe, the rise of populism has been associated with a rise in Islamophobia, with “exponential increases in votes” for anti-Islam political parties, which falsely portray Islam and Muslims as existential threats. The study also found that Islamophobia has become a form of accepted racism, not only on the margins of European societies but also at the center. That populism-Islamophobia nexus has been observed in other parts of the world as well. 

It is paradoxical that the bigotry against Muslims is higher in societies where Muslims constitute very small minorities, as in some Eastern European nations, according to research cited by the center: “Islamophobia without Muslims has proven to be a blessing for right-wing populists,” who have instrumentalized hatred against Muslims and deployed it successfully to win elections and enter government coalitions. 

To meet this growing threat, the UN Human Rights Council in July adopted a resolution condemning any “advocacy and manifestation of religious hatred, including the recent public and premeditated acts of desecration of the Holy Qur’an.” It stressed the need for “holding those responsible to account,” consistent with international human rights law. It called upon member states to adopt national laws, policies and law enforcement frameworks that address, prevent and prosecute acts and advocacy of religious hatred that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and to take immediate steps to ensure accountability. 

The council urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and all relevant bodies, within their respective mandates, to speak out against advocacy of religious hatred. 

In June, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2686 to tackle another related aspect, expressing “deep concern” at instances of discrimination, intolerance and extremism, including in cases motivated by Islamophobia. It cited “instances of violence fueled by hate speech, misinformation and disinformation, including through social media platforms.” Then, in 16 operational paragraphs, the resolution spelled out the steps to be taken by states to deal with this growing danger. 

The resolution stressed that hate speech, racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia can contribute to driving the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflicts and undermine initiatives to address the root causes of conflict and prevent and resolve conflict, as well as reconciliation, reconstruction and peace-building efforts. It urged countries and international and regional organizations to publicly condemn violence, hate speech and extremism motivated by discrimination, including on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or language. It encouraged all relevant stakeholders, including religious and community leaders, media entities and social media platforms to speak out against hate speech and promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence. 

The UNSC called on states to encourage interreligious and intercultural dialogue and respect, promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals, and ensure equal access to justice and preserve the integrity of rule-of-law institutions.

It encouraged states to prevent the spread of intolerant ideology and incitement to hatred through education — to promote tolerance, human rights and interreligious and intercultural dialogue — as well as openness, inclusion and mutual respect. 

The resolution instructed UN representatives, envoys, missions and peacekeepers to monitor incidents violating these values and called on the secretary-general to report back to the council in June 2024 on this matter. 

To raise awareness about this phenomenon and help combat it, a number of countries and organizations have appointed special representatives to tackle it. For example, Council of Europe Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic Buric in 2020 appointed the council’s Director of Communications Daniel Holtgen to the new position of special representative on antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred and hate crimes. 

Commenting on the appointment, Pejcinovic Buric said: “On Friday, it will be one year since the deadly antisemitic attack at a Synagogue in Halle, Germany, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. In February this year, a far-right extremist killed 10 people, several of them with a Muslim background, in Hanau. These are no longer isolated events. We are witnessing an alarming increase in antisemitic and anti-Muslim attacks in many parts of Europe today, often incited and aggravated by hate speech online.” 

In March 2022, the UN General Assembly declared March 15 of every year as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia to try to stem this tide. In January this year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he would appoint Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s first special representative for combating Islamophobia to tackle the racism, discrimination and religious intolerance faced by millions of Muslim Canadians. 

In February, the European Commission appointed Marion Lalisse as its new coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred. Lalisse will work with member states, European institutions, civil society and academia to strengthen policy responses in the field of anti-Muslim hatred. In her new role, the coordinator will be the main point of contact for organizations working in this field in the EU. 

In an earlier era, the UN was instrumental in outlawing racial discrimination and slavery. These new moves are important to stem the rising tide and tackle new forms of bigotry around the world, especially Islamophobia. The UN secretary-general and the commissioner of human rights are now tasked with monitoring and reporting incidents of Islamophobia and the measures taken by UN members to combat this nasty form of nativism.  

  • Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the Gulf Cooperation Council assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily represent the GCC. X: @abuhamad1 

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