International community should act against the rise of religious hatred and Islamophobia

Eastern Crescent
Eastern Crescent 7 Min Read 31 Views

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The author is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.

Religious hatred unfortunately appears to be on the rise, making it very important for governments across the world to take the appropriate actions to adequately address this critical issue.
A recent incident in Stockholm — at a protest that was authorized by the Swedish authorities — saw the public burning of a copy of the Qur’an. This caused outrage among many governments. Turkiye condemned the decision by the Swedish authorities to approve the protest, while dozens of people stormed the compound of the Swedish Embassy in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. Other Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Iran, called for Sweden to be held accountable. Saudi Arabia and Indonesia condemned the incident, with the latter describing it as an act of Islamophobia.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari last week told the UN Human Rights Council via a video link: “We must see this clearly for what it is: incitement to religious hatred, discrimination and attempts to provoke violence.” He added that such incidents happened under “government sanction and with the sense of impunity.”
Instead of bridging gaps between communities and promoting peaceful coexistence, such actions only promote violence, tear societies apart, escalate hatred toward a specific community and create rifts between different religions and ethnic groups.
First of all, it is important to point out that free speech should not be used as an excuse to allow the promotion of hatred toward a specific group or religion. While Germany’s ambassador to the UN Katharina Stasch called the acts in Sweden a “dreadful provocation,” she also pointed out that “freedom of speech sometimes also means to bear opinions that may seem almost unbearable.” However, burning a holy book must not be considered an act of free speech; instead, it should be regarded as hate speech. Just as the German penal code bans publicly denying the Holocaust and disseminating Nazi propaganda, burning a holy book should also be prohibited.
In a step in the right direction, a motion was filed at the UN Human Rights Council. The body approved a resolution that urges countries to “prevent and prosecute acts and advocacy of religious hatred.” It calls for accountability and condemns all kinds of religious hatred, including “public and premeditated acts of desecration of the Holy Qur’an.”
Pakistani Ambassador Khalil Hashmi pointed out that the opposition to the resolution of a few countries “emanated from their unwillingness to condemn the public desecration of the Holy Qur’an or any other religious book. They lack political, legal and moral courage to condemn this act, and it was the minimum that the council could have expected from them.”
To combat religious hatred, such actions should be taken seriously, exposed and denounced publicly. Silence will only empower and embolden those who attempt to divide society through hatred and violence.

This is why it is critical to pressure political leaders to take action in the fight against religious hatred. Rallies that advance hate should also be prohibited.
More fundamentally, acceptance, diversity and inclusiveness should be promoted. This important objective can be achieved through proper education and the raising of awareness of prejudices, stereotypes and bigotry. Education ought to be anchored in respecting different religions, ethnicities and faiths.
In addition, advancing interfaith and intercultural dialogue is vital. This is crucial when it comes to reducing tensions and conflicts across the globe. The more countries that pursue this fundamental goal, the more peace the world will experience.
Several Muslim countries in the Middle East have been leading the way with regard to interfaith and intercultural dialogue. For example, in the past few years, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has placed significant emphasis on interfaith dialogue and has played a key role in advancing and promoting this critical mission. Under his leadership, the Kingdom has been reaching out to other religious groups and faiths.
In 2020, for example, Saudi Arabia presided over a global interfaith forum that saw the participation of Muslim clerics, Jewish rabbis, Christian priests and other religious leaders. And a multifaith conference was held in Riyadh in 2022. It was titled the Forum on Common Values Among Religious Followers. The conference was the first of its kind and about 100 religious leaders, including more than 15 rabbis, attended.
Another Muslim country leading interfaith dialogue is the UAE. One critical development there was this year’s opening of the Abrahamic Family House, which brings together the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The values and mission of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi align with the important objective of interfaith dialogue, as it states that its vision is “for people to come together in peace, diverse in our faiths, yet common in our humanity. Our mission is to bridge our common humanity through the exchange of knowledge, dialogue, and the practice of faith. Our values are peaceful coexistence, curiosity, and the centrality of human fraternity.” It adds that these values “embody the multiculturalism and diversity of the UAE, where communities from more than 200 nationalities live together peacefully.”
In a nutshell, it is incumbent on the international community to strongly act against the rise of religious hatred and Islamophobia. Peaceful coexistence and interfaith and intercultural dialogue ought to be promoted. Religious hatred should be firmly confronted, as it accomplishes nothing except the promotion of violence, the division of societies and the creation of rifts between communities.

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