Steven Edwards, Canwest News Service · Wednesday, Jun. 16, 2010
UNITED NATIONS — Muslim governments on Wednesday pressed the United Nations to step up investigations of Western countries to root out what they call “Islamophobia” — defined by them as discrimination against people of the Muslim faith.
Delegates from Islamic countries, such as Egypt, Iran and Pakistan, drafted new guidelines for the UN’s freedom-of-religion investigator that say Western diplomats aim to shield Islam from commentary Muslims might deem derogatory.
During a debate in front of the UN Human Rights Council, they also charged that the UN’s anti-racism investigator — in a report he tabled about his activities — had not focused enough on what they called the rising incidence of discrimination against Muslims in Western countries.
According to the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the anti-racism investigator should focus on what it called “contemporary” racism, “particularly in Western societies.”
The group said Islamophobia was growing “particularly in the countries of the North.”
Egypt and Libya also charged that Muslims were targets of racism and discrimination in Western countries.
“People of foreign descent, such as Africans, Arabs, Muslims and Asians, do face derogatory stereotyping and stigmatization in an environment of victimization and xenophobia and, at times, violence,” said Ahmed Ihab Gamaleldin, the Egyptian delegate.
From Ottawa, Canada called for a “constructive approach” to ensuring the right of freedom of religion.
But the OIC is likely to see their new guidelines for the freedom-of-religion investigator approved, since Muslim countries and allies — such as Cuba, Russia and China — form a voting bloc in the Geneva-based body that overshadows that of the Western democracies.
Once passed, the new mandate is likely to see Western countries come under increased UN pressure to prevent criticism of Islam, even if that means overriding traditional freedom-of-speech protections.
One provision calls on the UN investigator to “work closely with mass media organizations to ensure that they create and promote an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for religious and cultural diversity,” according to the draft that Pakistan tabled on behalf of the OIC.
Many human-rights groups have argued that Islamic countries seek enhanced “protections” against religious discrimination in order to justify crackdowns in their own countries against apostates and others deemed to be working against the Islam religion.
“UN Watch is alarmed by the Islamic bloc’s attempt to turn an international shield for religious freedom into a sword for religious-motivated state censorship,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based watchdog group. “It’s part of a larger campaign to invert the real danger of Islamist extremism into an imagined narrative of Western victimization of Islam and its adherents.”
Veteran UN-accredited activist David Littman highlighted that the focus on the West appeared out of place when the council has “yet to address” a charge made in the chamber last week by Syria that Israeli children are taught to sing about drinking the blood off Arabs.
The claim recalls an ancient blood libel claiming that Jews use human blood in their religious and other rituals.
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