The UN has declared March 15 the International Day to Combat Islamophobia with the goal of taking “concrete action in the face of rising hatred, discrimination, and violence against Muslims.”
“It says to me that we really have a problem, a big problem, in order for the UN to come out and recognize that Islamophobia is a worldwide issue and to talk against it,” said Heisam Galyon, a member of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston.
In a phone interview with Anadolu, Galyon said the only way to address Islamophobia is to get the message out to the world, which is exactly what the UN is doing.
“We need to talk about it,” said Galyon. “You can’t solve a problem if you don’t bring it up.”
While Galyon acknowledged that discrimination against Muslims is an age-old problem, he said the prevalence of Islamophobia came to light in the US immediately after the 9/11 attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“They saw us as terrorists, as Osama bin Laden,” said Galyon. “It really did great harm to Muslims here in the United States. People who had neutral views about Islam, all of sudden, developed negative views about them just like after Pearl Harbor in World War II where the US created internment camps and discriminated against the Japanese community living in America.”
In declaring Wednesday as International Day against Islamophobia last year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the nearly 2 billion Muslims worldwide “face bigotry and prejudice simply because of their faith” and that Muslim women suffer “triple discrimination” due to their gender, ethnicity, and faith.
“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,” said Guterres.
UN General Assembly President Csaba Korosi also 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” and urged countries to uphold the freedom of religion and take action against the hatred.
“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,” said Korosi.
The UN said all countries “must confront bigotry wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head,” including tackling online hate speech, adding that it is working with governments, regulators, media and technology companies “to set up guardrails, and enforce them.”
“It’s a really big issue. It’s an international issue. And I’m glad the UN is recognizing this,” said Munir Ibrahim, the former president of the Indian Muslim Association of Greater Houston.
Ibrahim told Anadolu via phone that while Islamophobia in the US is not at the extreme level it once was more than two decades ago after 9/11. He said that “discrimination and alienation against Muslims are still societal problems” that need to be addressed.
“Kneeling and praying and wearing a hijab have become negative symbols of judgment for places around the world, not just the United States,” said Ibrahim, who added that Islamophobia affects Muslims in all nations, from Europe to Russia to India and China.
Ibrahim emphasized that the “best way” to combat Islamophobia is to shed light on the problem and educate the public about tolerance, understanding and kindness.
“Let this international day be the catalyst,” he said. “Battling Islamophobia and discrimination should be communicated every day.”
However, Ibrahim believes tolerance is a two-way street, saying that as much as non-Muslims need to understand a different religion and way of life, he said that Muslims need to do their part to be tolerant of other religions and their practices.
“In Houston, Muslims have done a good job of embracing all communities and religions,” he said. “We are all the same. We may pray differently. We may worship differently. But we are still all the same.”
That being said, Ibrahim believes that Islamophobia is still a major concern that the US and the rest of the world face.
“I believe that 99% of Muslims are good and there is just 1% of bad, as with any other community,” said Ibrahim. “But I fear that we are just one moment away, one negative incident, from extreme Islamophobia becoming prominent again, from this hatred and discrimination that’s underlying in society from coming to the surface,” he said.
Both Ibrahim and Galyon believe the road going forward can be a positive one to combat Islamophobia worldwide, but it will take plenty of work from all sides.
“Muslim communities need to get more involved and reach out to other communities,” said Ibrahim. “Educate society about Islam, bring them into your mosques and share your religious beliefs. Embrace other cultures and learn about other religions, just as you want others to learn about yours.”
Galyon believes governments must do their part too in order to set the standard that hatred and intolerance of any kind are unacceptable.
“I think each country has to pass some laws making Islamophobia a crime,” said Galyon. “There should be punishment for people who attack Muslims or desecrate their places of worship.”
“There have to be penalties for people who commit hate crimes against Muslims,” he added. “Somehow, they need to be held liable for both their discriminatory actions and words.”
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