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Various Pak regimes raised voice against hostility and bigotry towards Muslims

By Sabir Shah
March 19, 2022

LAHORE: The recent decision by the 193-member United Nations General Assembly to approve a resolution setting March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia is a product of the untiring efforts initiated by successive Pakistani governments since General Pervez Musharraf’s time in 2004, research shows.

Introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the passage of the resolution thus consolidates global awareness about curtailing systematic hate speech and discrimination against Muslims.

Talking to “The News International,” Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, said: “This milestone has been achieved after about 18 years of dogged and persistent efforts initiated by successive Pakistani governments, though the word ‘Islamophobia’ was not used by most.

Determined voices have thus been raised from the Pakistani power corridors multiple times in this context. March 15 marks the day when a gunman had entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 victims and injuring 40 others on March 15, 2019. But I must mention here that Pakistan, along with the Philippines, has been pressing for an intellectual inter-religious dialogue to promote harmony, tolerance, and co-existence since the Musharraf-led regime in Islamabad. This issue was first raised under the Agenda Item of ‘Culture and Peace.’ It hence goes without saying that these tenacious efforts have, in a way, served as a building block for the latest resolution.”

Archival research shows that on September 21, 2016, the-then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, had first used the term ‘Islamophobia,’ which had cropped up following a fall-out in relations between many Muslim and Western nations in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

While addressing the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Nawaz Sharif had asserted: “In many countries, the ghost of intolerance has revived ‘Islamophobia’ and Xenophobia.”

Half a decade earlier, on September 28, 2011, this is what Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, had contended before the United Nations General Assembly: “Respect for beliefs, cultures and traditions are the hallmark of civilised conduct. We are particularly concerned over campaigns that tend to stigmatise Islam and Muslims. Islam is a religion of peace. It is important that the international community celebrate our common humanity and unity in diversity.”

On September 21, 2017, in his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, had also raked up this issue.

Abbasi had propounded: “Rising racism and religious hatred – manifested in Xenophobia and ‘Islamophobia’ are erecting physical walls and psychological barriers between nations and peoples even as our world becomes increasingly interdependent.”

On September 8, 2017, as Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, had called for building walls against racism, bigotry, Xenophobia and ‘Islamophobia,’ rather than erect walls to keep people out.

On April 4, 2019, while addressing the UN General Assembly after Pakistan had unanimously adopted a resolution that strongly condemned continuing acts of terrorism targeting individuals on basis of religion or belief, Maleeha Lodhi had opined that the growing prejudice against Islam was becoming increasingly common as a result of extreme nationalist and populist ideologies in the West as well as in the region.

She was heard emphasising: “Pervasive ‘Islamophobia’ is a global phenomenon that calls for a global response: collaborative, coherent and committed action against incidents that fuel, funnel and fortify this narrative against Islam and Muslims. The rise of extreme nationalist and populist ideologies in liberal Western democracies and elsewhere, including in our region, are fanning the flames of intolerance and anti-Muslim hatred.”

On June 19, 2019, the Pakistani envoy was quoted as saying: “Words don’t just have consequences. Words can kill. Social media platforms should not be allowed to become conduits for incitement to violence. Just as technology companies have set ground rules that deter use of these platforms by terrorists, corporate responsibility should extend to ensure that harmful and hate-filled messages are not disseminated on social media platforms. It is time that we evolve ways to ensure that information technology companies are held accountable for the content that incites violence and weaponises individuals.”

Maleeha, who also served as Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States twice and High Commissioner to England, had further stressed: “To tackle hate speech a ‘whole of government’ and a ‘whole of society’ approach is needed."

On June 25, 2019, she came out proposing a six-point plan at the United Nations to counter increasing racism and faith-based hatred around the world.

At an event “Countering terrorism and other acts of violence based on religion or belief,” which was arranged by Pakistan along with the UN, Turkey and the Holy See (the Pop-led universal government of the Catholic Church that operates from Vatican City State) at the United Nations headquarters, she had held: “A particularly alarming development is the rise of ‘Islamophobia,’ which represents the recent manifestation of the age-old hatred that spawned anti-Semitism, racism, apartheid and many other forms of discrimination."

Although loud echoes of ‘Islamophobia’ have been heard in the United States and the developed West after the 9/11 episode, this expression was first used some 99 years ago, in 1923, in an article appearing in the “Journal of Theological Studies,” an academic journal established in 1899, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.