To commemorate the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on Combatting intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue convened, with the support of the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the United Nations, a panel discussion entitled “Islamophobia and the Implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18: Reaching out”. The panel discussion, which was aimed at analysing opportunities and challenges ahead for the fight against the scourge of Islamophobia, took place on Friday 29th April 2016, from 10:30 to 13:30, at Palais des Nations (Room XVIII).
Criticizing and disapproving Islam are not, per se, manifestations of phobia and fear; adherents of other faiths, along with agnostics and secular humanists, also disagree with Islam, on the basis of both points of theology and religious practice. What is considered as phobic and prejudiced is thus a peculiar unfounded form of hostility towards Muslims, leading to discrimination and sectarianism. How can one draw the difference between legitimate criticism and disagreement towards any religion, including Islam, on one hand, and unfounded prejudice and hostility such as Islamophobia, on the other?
The panel discussion aimed to assess the progress made in the implementation of HRC Res. 16/18 and provided concrete answers to this dilemma by exploring ways to delineate the boundaries between the freedom of expression and opinion, on one hand, and the freedom of religion and belief, on the other. The objective was to enhance peaceful harmony between these two fundamental rights, which are often presented as incompatible, and acknowledge the interconnection and interdependence between them, as well as the possibility to overcome potential challenges in their application on the ground.
The discussion was opened by H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre’s Board of Management, and H. E. Ms. Tehmina Janjua, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the United Nations, and was moderated by H. E. Mr. Idriss Jazairy, Resident Member of the Geneva Centre’s Board of Management. H. E. Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, former Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, was the guest of honour and keynote speaker, while Mr. Roberto Savio, Founder of Inter Press Service, was the discussant. Well-renowned panellists (Cheikh Khaled Bentounès, Spiritual Guide of the Tarika Alawiya; Dr. Raphaël Liogier, Director of World Religion Watch; Mr. Trevor Mostyn, Journalist and Lecturer at Oxford University; and Mr. Doudou Diène, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discriminations, xenophobia and related intolerance) provided the audience with a well-grounded, professional perspective.
“Islamophobia promotes irrational fear and suspicion of Islam and feeds on attitudes of racist aversion from everything related to the Islamic and Arabic cultures. Yet, Islam carries a specific message of harmony, bringing people closer together through its advocacy of tolerance and fraternity.” – So stated H. E. Dr. Al Qassim in his opening remarks. “Conflating Islam’s intrinsic values that preach love and peace with unscrupulous deeds practiced by groups, which instrumentalize Islam in the pursuit of violence and power, is the foundation for anti-Islamic prejudice”.
By means of an objective, unbiased assessment of the phenomenon of Islamophobia, of its political and historical roots, the panel discussion analysed opportunities and challenges ahead for the fight against hatred and discrimination directed towards both Muslim individuals and communities. It assessed the deteriorating situation and lay down the foundations for a collective, concerted exercise aimed at charting the way forward to overcome Islamophobia, and at following up on the recommendations laid out in HRC Res. 16/18.
H. E. Dr. Al Qassim wishes to thank H. E. Ms. Tehmina Janjua for co-hosting such a successful event, which was attended by 130 people, and looks forward to co-operating again with the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the United Nations on matters of common interest. This panel discussion has certainly paved the way for a fruitful, long-term collaboration.