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EDITORIAL: The United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA’s) adoption of a resolution – sponsored by Morocco, co-sponsored by Pakistan – calling for countering hate speech and deploring attacks on places of worship and religious symbols, goes to show that Muslim states’ reaction to growing Islamophobia, especially in Europe, has affected the western political consciousness enough to register where it matters; the UN.

Indeed, even the Swedish government seems to have had enough of the ‘freedom of speech’ excuse for religious provocation and says it is already working on legal ways to prevent future instances of burning the holy Quran.

It’s important to remember that a number of Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, warned about this phenomenon, which later came to be called Islamophobia even at the UN, right at the beginning of the so-called war on terror.

It’s no coincidence that just as that war raged in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spilled over into Pakistan and Syria, a very strong wave of anti-Muslim sentiment also swept across the north Atlantic region. That was when both western political and social spaces shrank for Muslims and Muslim sympathisers. And instead of nipping this evil in the bud when it would have been much easier, western governments chose to fall behind the ‘freedom of speech’ argument to protect and promote religious intolerance in their countries.

The result, two decades down the road, is that anti-Muslim rhetoric has become the staple of most right-wing politicians and social media influencers in many European countries as well as the United States. And now, after so much damage has been done, they’re rushing to pass resolutions under cover of the UN; to appear politically correct more than anything else. But now they have their work cut out for them.

As examples from many European countries, and also India, show, these hateful trends have become deeply entrenched in some societies, and it will take some time of passing appropriate laws and implementing them properly to reverse them.

It’s interesting that Spain’s attempt to dilute the final resolution proved unsuccessful. Speaking on behalf of the EU (European Union), the Spanish delegate submitted that acts referred to in the resolution, though undesirable, did not constitute a violation of international law, and asked that the part that implied that they did should be removed from the final draft. But the proposed amendment was defeated 62-44, with 24 abstentions, and the general assembly urged members states to engage with all stakeholders to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue and respect and acceptance of differences and also to reject the spread of hate speech which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.

This is a remarkable step forward, but it has not come without a lot of hard work and intense lobbying. However, now that Muslim states are having their voices heard and respected on the international stage, they should go a step further and ensure that minorities within themselves are also safe from all sorts of discrimination and targeting.

There can be no denying that the world has become an increasingly intolerant place over the last few decades; to the point that major political parties in some countries, like the BJP in India, draw their most potent political capital from targeting and persecuting religious minorities.

So far Muslims have faced the worst form of religious intolerance, from desecration of their most sacred symbols to outright large scale murders purely on religious grounds. Now we’ll see how effective the UNGA is in getting governments to get their citizens in line.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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