Friday, September 14, 2007

Effect Without Cause?

Al-Reuters - The United Nations investigator on racism on Friday condemned a rising trend of Islamaphobia, especially in Europe, where he said it was being exploited by some right-wing political parties.

Doudou Diene, U.N. special rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, also accused Switzerland's most popular party, the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC), of inciting hatred.

He urged the withdrawal of the party's controversial campaign poster calling for expulsion of foreigners who commit serous crimes, depicting three white sheep booting out a black sheep under the headline "For the Security of All".

"In the current context, Islamaphobia constitutes the most serious form of religious defamation," Diene said in a speech and report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose 47 member states were holding a debate on religious defamation.

More and more political leaders and influential media and intellectuals were "equating Islam with violence and terrorism," and some were seeking to "silence religious practices by banning the construction of mosques", Diene said.

Pakistan, speaking for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), called the rise of Islamaphobia "alarming".

"Recent acts of defamation in the shape of blasphemous sketches in Sweden and posters in Switzerland reinforce this conclusion. Such blasphemy should not be encouraged in the name of freedom of expression," Pakistan's envoy Masood Khan said.

He said the 57-nation OIC, which represents 1.3 billion Muslims, condemned terrorism in all its forms.

"The international media continues to use the misguided actions of a small extremist minority as an excuse to malign the entire Muslim world, as well as the religion of Islam," he said.

Diene, a Senegalese lawyer, said in his 21-page report to the Council that Islamaphobia had grown since the Sept 11 2001 attacks on the United States.

Worldwide, an increasing number of traditional democratic parties were "resorting to the language of fear and exclusion, scapegoating and targeting ethnic or religious minorities in general, and immigrants and refugees in particular", he said.

In Europe, Muslims faced growing difficulties to establish places of worship and carry out their religious practices such as dietary regimens and burials, according to the U.N. envoy.

"Political parties with open anti-Islamic platforms have joined governmental coalitions in several countries and started to put in place their political agendas. In sum, Islamophobia is in the process of permeating all facets of social life."

The Swiss SVP/UDC has launched a referendum to ban construction of minarets in the Alpine country, home to 350,000 Muslims. A similar move is underway in Cologne, Germany.

Switzerland's delegation defended its system of direct democracy, where multiple issues are put to referendum each year, saying it showed great political transparency although "sometimes with exaggerated, regrettable views being expressed".