The observation follows the unanimous adoption of an Assembly resolution last year that proclaimed 15 March as the International Day, calling for global dialogue that promotes tolerance, peace and respect for human rights and religious diversity.
As the UN Secretary-General stated, the nearly two billion Muslims worldwide – who come from all corners of the planet – “reflect humanity in all its magnificent diversity”. Yet, they often face bigotry and prejudice simply because of their faith.
Furthermore, Muslim women can also suffer “triple discrimination” because of their gender, ethnicity, and faith.
The high-level event was co-convened by Pakistan, whose Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, underlined that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and pluralism.
Although Islamophobia is not new, he said it is “a sad reality of our times” that is only increasing and spreading.
“Since the tragedy of 9/11, animosity and institutional suspicion of Muslims and Islam across the world have only escalated to epidemic proportions. A narrative has been developed and peddled which associates Muslim communities and their religion with violence and danger,” said Mr. Zardari, who is also Chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers.
“This Islamophobic narrative is not just confined to extremist, marginal propaganda, but regrettably has found acceptance by sections of mainstream media, academia, policymakers and state machinery,” he added.
Everyone has a role
The President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, noted that Islamophobia is rooted in xenophobia, or the fear of strangers, which is reflected in discriminatory practices, travel bans, hate speech, bullying and targeting of other people.
He urged countries to uphold freedom of religion or belief, which is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“All of us carry a responsibility to challenge Islamophobia or any similar phenomenon, to call out injustice and condemn discrimination based on religion or belief – or the lack of them,” he added.
Mr. Kőrösi said education is key to learning why these phobias exist, and it can be “transformative” in changing how people understand each another.
Hatred on the rise
The growing hate that Muslims face is not an isolated development, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told attendees.
“It is an inexorable part of the resurgence of ethno-nationalism, neo-Nazi white supremacist ideologies, and violence targeting vulnerable populations including Muslims, Jews, some minority Christian communities and others,” he said.
“Discrimination diminishes us all. And it is incumbent on all of us to stand up against it. We must never be bystanders to bigotry.”
Stressing that “we must strengthen our defenses”, Mr. Guterres highlighted UN measures such as a Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites. He also called for ramping up political, cultural, and economic investments in social cohesion.
Curb online bigotry
“And we must confront bigotry wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. This includes working to tackle the hate that spreads like wildfire across the internet,” he added.
To this end, the UN is working with governments, regulators, technology companies and the media “to set up guardrails, and enforce them.”
Compassion and solidarity
Other policies already launched include a Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, and the Our Common Agenda report, which outlines a framework for a more inclusive and secure “digital future” for all people.
The Secretary-General also expressed gratitude to religious leaders across the world who have united to promote dialogue and interfaith harmony.
He described the 2019 declaration on ‘Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’ – co-authored by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed El Tayeb – as “a model for compassion and human solidarity.”