Ram Madhav
March 23, 2024

A Narrow Resolution

(The article was originally published in Indian Express on March 23, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

In 2022, Pakistan moved a resolution at the United Nations calling for the establishment of an “International Day to Combat Islamophobia”. Several countries, including India, objected saying that singling out one religion for religiophobia is ill-advised as many religions face similar situations. They were ignored and the UN went ahead to declare March 15 as the day to combat Islamophobia.

Having established Islamophobia as the UN’s concern, the Pakistani representative returned with a new demand this year that a “special envoy” be appointed to “initiate specific actions to combat Islamophobia”. Many countries raised objections this time also. But the resolution was adopted by a majority vote, and the UN decided to make a massive budgetary allocation for the office of the special envoy.

This shows the rot in the UN system. The UN is expected to be religion-neutral. That’s why India and several other European nations suggested that the scope of the resolution may be enlarged to include discrimination against all religions. In 2022, the Permanent Representative of India, Ambassador T S Tirumurti vociferously argued that while there was a global rise in sectarian violence, anti-Semitism, Christiano-phobia and Islamophobia, anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sikh examples abound as well.

He insisted that it was time to acknowledge that there exists an “abundance of phobias”, rather than thinking that only one phobia, Islamophobia, exists. He also reminded those present that there was already a UN-designated “International Day of Tolerance” on November 16 and underscored that the important word “pluralism”, a principle which India firmly upholds, was missing in the entire resolution.

Such rational arguments, reiterated once again by the current Permanent Representative Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj this year fell on deaf ears of the declining institution.

The Indian representative was more forthright in warning the international body that such resolutions could set a precedent resulting in the prestigious organisation itself getting divided into “religious camps”.

Holding the bull by its horns, Kamboj categorically told the member countries that clear evidence existed to prove that “over decades, followers of non-Abrahamic religions have also been affected by religiophobia” through a systematic spreading of hatred and disinformation against them in many countries.

Showing a mirror to the champions of the discriminatory resolution, Kamboj stated that the “destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas, violations of gurudwara premises, massacres of Sikh pilgrims in gurudwaras, attacks on temples, and the glorification of breaking idols in temples” are all the contemporary forms of religiophobia against non-Abrahamic religions.

Pakistan is a country stuck in a time warp, “like a broken record” as the Indian Permanent Representative remarked. More importantly, championing a resolution of this nature is like “ulta chor kotwal ko dante” — pot calling kettle black. That country has indulged in systematic cleansing of not only religious minorities like Hindus, Sikhs and Christians but also various sects that had origins in Islamic lands or its theology. Brutal persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan is well-known.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims and hundreds of them were killed and dozens of their mosques and graves destroyed. So is the plight of the Baha’is, a community that has origins in Iran and believes in the universality of God’s teachings and plurality of prophets. The community too faced similar persecution in Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere.

Discrimination against any religion, in the form of Islamophobia or other contemporary forms of religiophobia, “particularly anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist, and anti-Sikh sentiments” must be rejected. The UN should have heeded the suggestions of India and others that the need of the hour was to rise against all forms of intolerance and religious violence.

For example, Belgium had proposed a broad-based amendment to the resolution that the UN “condemns the incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against persons based on religion or belief, including against Muslims, as well as the increasing number of attacks on religious sites and shrines and expresses concern at other acts of religious intolerance, negative stereotyping, hatred and violence”.

There was another suggestion that instead of appointing an exclusive envoy for Islamophobia, the current focal point against antisemitism, the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, could also serve as a focal point to combat Islamophobia. But Pakistan, supported by several other Islamic countries like Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia and Türkiye, vehemently opposed any such inclusive amendment insisting that “Islamophobia is as old as Islam itself”.

That raises the important question as to how real is “Islamophobia”. In recent history, the word “Islamophobia” was first used by a French editor in the colonial ministry, Alain Quellein, in his work The Muslim Policy in West Africa, while castigating the colonial officials for the prevalence of it. Maurice Delafosse, another colonial official living in Dakar, wrote about the same, commenting that “Islamophobia serves no purpose in West Africa”.

The word became a potential political weapon in the hands of the Islamists after the 1980s. Ayatollah Khomeini used this argument to issue a Fatwa against Salman Rushdie for the publication of his book The Satanic Verses. From then to now, Islamists have been using this bogey to subject their own co-religionists and others to horrendous crimes including executions on the flimsy premise of blasphemy.

In 2013, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (formerly the Organisation of Islamic Conference), whose member countries regularly indulge in the persecution of religious minorities, even demanded that freedom of expression must be put an end to where Islam was concerned. But what Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim congregation in Indonesia, said in the Nahdlatul Ulama declaration at an International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders in May 2016 must be an eye-opener for those who blame others for Islamophobia.

“Specific modes of interpreting Islam (tafsir)” are the most significant factor responsible for spreading religious extremism among Muslims, the NU declaration confessed, unreservedly admitting that “this spread of religious extremism, and terrorism, is directly contributing to the rise of Islamophobia throughout the non-Muslim world”.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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