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A Sane Resolution

The UN general assembly's resolution to request for a special envoy to combat Islamophobia is welcome as Islamophobia – now a global phenomenon – is different from other sectarian insanities of persecution and violence.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

A couple of years ago, Pakistan moved a resolution at the United Nations calling for the establishment of an “International Day to Combat Islamophobia”.

Many countries, including India, opposed the same, arguing that this was unwarranted as there are people of many other religions who face similar situations.

This opposition was small and the UN went ahead and declared March 15 as the day to ‘combat Islamophobia’. Unfortunately, this went unnoticed last month.

This year, the UN General Assembly went further and passed a resolution requesting the secretary general to appoint a ‘special envoy’ to initiate specific actions to combat Islamophobia. This demand had come from Pakistan again. This was also opposed by many countries.

Indian envoy T.S. Tirumurti, while opposing the 2022 resolution on establishing a day to combat Islamophobia, said that ‘religiophobias’ did not just apply to the Abrahamic faiths.

“We even have an International Day of Tolerance observed on November 16. We are not convinced that we need to elevate phobia against one religion to the level of an international day,” he was quoted as saying.

Where does the truth lie? Is there any difference between phobias against other religions and Islamophobia?

It is true that people of other religions have faced such phobias in many parts of the world.

Speaking of South Asia, we have seen the persecution of Hindus (Tamils) in Sri Lanka and Pakistan in particular. We have also seen the persecution of Christians in Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. Currently in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Sikhs are facing the worst.

So how is Islamophobia – to fight which the UN decided to observe a day and may appoint a special envoy – different?

Unfortunately, current global politics is heavily dominated by identity-related issues. In India, even before global Islamophobia was brought in, Muslims already faced various types of intimidation and hate that led to acts of violence against them.

In contrast to other sectarian insanities of persecution and violence, Islamophobia was gradually built up from the 1970s, when Ayatollah Khomeini took over Iran in the aftermath of the overthrow of US stooge Raza Shah Pahlavi.

The US at that time propagated ‘Islam as the new threat’.

Why a new threat? Till that time, the US media was projecting communism as the threat to the free world.

The ‘free world’ stood for the US-dominated world. The US was facing a stiff challenge to its political and economic hegemony from the socialist bloc led by Russia (the USSR). The ‘global social common sense’ was perceiving communism as the threat.

This was the idea (propagated by the most powerful country) ruling broad sections of society, proving Karl Marx’s adage that ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class.

With the gradual decline of socialist Russia and its total collapse in the early 1990s, the global dominating force needed another demon to fight. This was also the time when the US was promoting the madrasas in its stooge country, Pakistan.

Quoting CIA documents, Mahmud Mamdani’s book, Good Muslim Bad Muslim, says that the US not only designed the curriculum of these madrasas using a narrow (Wahhabi) version of Islam, it also invested $8 billion to support the training of mujahideen that gave rise to the Taliban and later to al-Qaeda. The US equipped them with 7,000 tonnes of armaments, including stinger missiles.

One small clip by Hillary Clinton says it all: she states that the US needed to fight the Russian communists, so they propped up the Taliban and that having achieved the Russians’ exit, the US washed its hands off.

The US aimed to control the oil wealth of West Asia. Its policies were oriented in that direction. The 9/11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 innocent people belonging to most religions and many countries.

This was pretext enough for the US to launch an attack on Afghanistan, after which more than 46,000 people lost their lives in the war that followed, one estimate says. And next to this is the attack on Iraq on the pretext of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, which anyway were not to be found after the country was captured.

The attack on the World Trade Center, claimed to be done by Osama bin Laden and Arab elements, led to the most dangerous construct by US media: ‘Islamic Terrorism’. As the US media is as dominating as the country’s political, economic and military might, this phrase spread all over the world like wildfire. And this is what led to the global phenomenon of Islamophobia.

This ran parallel to the one-time popular thesis of the ‘clash of civilizations’ proposed by Samuel Huntington. The thesis concluded that this is the era where the clash of civilisations will dominate the globe and that the backward Islamic civilisation is out to attack the advanced Western civilisation.

It was this that led to the murder of a Sikh of mistaken identity as well as a pastor to burn the Koran, both in the US. This peaked with a short film, Innocence of Muslims, by an American Christian, Nakoula Basseley. The 14-minute movie became viral all over the world. It showed a mob of bearded modern Muslims attacking Christians.

We also remember the Danish cartoons that showed Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban.

The impact of all this is not restricted to one part of the globe, nor has Islamophobia disappeared.

The UN did its best to counter the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had set up a high-level committee, which also had an Indian representative, that came out with a remarkable report titled ‘Alliance of Civilizations’ and that refuted the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis.

This put forward the understanding that all human progress has taken place through alliances between different civilisations, cultures and religions.

True to the dynamics of the world, dominated by American interests, it was practically ignored by the media and Islamophobia continued.

In India, the problem is the most confounded as already, communal politics had already created hate among different communities. The global Islamophobia was an add-on to the prevailing hate against Muslims.

During the freedom movement, Muslim communalists spread hate against Hindus and Hindu communalists (the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS) spread hate against Muslims. After independence, the Muslim communalists became deflated and Hindu communalists have gone from strength to strength, leading to Islamophobia at multiple levels.

The UN’s moves are a welcome step in bringing peace to the hate- and violence-torn world today.

Ram Puniyani is president of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.

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