INTERNATIONAL DAY TO COMBAT ISLAMOPHOBIA: MORE INTENTIONS THAN ACTIONS.

By a resolution adopted on March 15, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly decided to proclaim March 15 as the International day to combat islamophobia.

Antonio Guterres

This March 15, 2023 was therefore the first day intended to « eradicate the poison of anti-Muslim hatred », said the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who added: « The approximately 2 billion Muslims in the planet reflect humanity in all its magnificent diversity. But they often face bigotry and prejudice just because of their faith.” Indeed, he insists, “Beyond structural and institutional discrimination and the general stigmatization of Muslim communities, Muslims are victims of personal attacks, hateful rhetoric and scapegoating. The triple discrimination faced by Muslim women because of their gender, ethnicity and faith is one of the worst consequences of this situation.”

Finally, António Guterres recalls that “For more than a millennium, the message of peace, compassion and grace of Islam has inspired people all over the world. All the major religions and traditions invoke the imperatives of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding », concluding: « Basically, these are universal values: they animate the Charter of the United Nations and are at the heart of our quest for justice, human rights and peace”.

The rise in hatred against Muslims is part of the resurgence of ethno-nationalism, neo-Nazi ideologies, white supremacism, and violence against certain populations, such as Muslims or Jews.

Some countries are at the forefront of anti-Muslim racism, and it is appalling to see that France is, alas, one of them. Under the pretext of secularism diverted from its principles as defined by Aristide Briand in 1905, the hunt for Muslims has begun in this country.

At the announcement of the proclamation of the International Day against Islamophobia, voices were immediately raised in France to denounce a concept which, according to some, does not exist. The weekly magazine Marianne has itself published delirious forums to deny the Islamophobic fact, even seeing it as a maneuver of « Islamist lobbying » or a « com stunt from Pakistan ». The thousands of Muslims who are confronted in this country with discrimination in hiring, physical violence, arbitrary closures of prayer areas, schools, associations, will appreciate.

But after all, negationism is an old French traditionIn any case, it is in the context of this international day, that several events and conferences have been organized in various countries.

The Muslim World League brings together European Muslim leaders in London

On March 11 and 12, the Muslim World League organized in London, in collaboration with the British Muslim Council, the « 1st Conference of Muslim Leaders in Europe »

This is the second time that the MWL has organized a major event in Europe. The previous one was held in Paris on September 17, 2019, under the title « Paris International Conference for Peace and Solidarity », in collaboration with the « Fondation de l’Islam de France », and under the joint chairmanship of Mohammed Abdelkarim Al-Issa, general secretary of the MWL, and Ghaleb Bencheikh, president of the FIF. It brought together French leaders of all religions around the fight against terrorism and the Charter of Mecca.
The Mecca Charter that was, one more time, at the heart of the London conference.

But what is the Mecca Charter?

Since Saudi Arabia, at the instigation of Crown Prince Mohammad Ben Salman, turned its back on Wahhabism, the Muslim World League has taken a new direction, based on tolerance, inter-religious co-operation, the struggle against discrimination.

This orientation materialized in May 2019, in Mecca, where the Muslim World League brought together 1,200 scholars, Muslim religious leaders from 139 countries. representing all currents and variants of Islam: Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, etc. Together they signed the Charter of Mecca, the founding text of the « new » Muslim World League, which defines the rights and duties of Muslims, the attitude to have towards non-Muslims, believers or not, and society in general. The Charter bases each of its principles on commandments from the Koran or the Sunnah.

The denomination « Charter of Mecca » refers to the Charter of Medina signed between the Prophet and the Jewish tribes of Medina and which guaranteed the rights of all the people of Medina.

The London conference brought together 300 European religious leaders, selected by the MWL, around themes such as religious diversity, inter-religious coexistence and cooperation, freedom of expression. At a time when, as the UN Secretary General pointed out, Muslims are victims of discrimination in many countries, particularly in Europe, it is to be regretted that this conference did not really address the very political subject of Islamophobia, and the concrete means of combating it, and preferred to be content with consensual generalities, as the MWL had in fact done in Paris.

Although politics was not totally absent since the MWL had chosen to reserve its honors to Chems Eddine Hafiz, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, who was one of the rare participants to have had the right to an ex cathedra speech, at the detriment of Ghaleb Bencheikh, former privileged interlocutor of the League, relegated to a simple panel. Mr Bencheikh had, by the way, decided not to present himself as the president of the Foundation of Islam of France, but as that of the association Religions for peace. Without prejudging the legitimacy of one or the other to « represent », as the name of the conference indicates, French Muslims, it is likely that the fact that the rector of the GMP is the most in the odor of the french president sanctity, counted in this choice. Unfortunately, this is to misunderstand the strategic versatility of the tenant of the « Elysee ».

We will also be surprised at the under-representation of French Muslims and their diversity, while the French Muslim community, with its 8 to 12 million members, is the largest in the entire Western world, and that French politics with regard to Islam has a decisive influence on European policy in this area.

Anyway, the interventions were, of course of good quality, but smooth and polished, a bit like the American « Politically correct ». In fact, American Muslims were over-represented at this conference. This might explain that.

Is this the best way to meet the expectations of discriminated Muslims? Let us simply remember that it is not through consensual speeches that black Americans were able to get rid of the racism that struck them until the Civil Rights of 1964.

Too bad, Muslims undoubtedly deserve that the emblematic leaders of international Islam show more pugnacity in defending them.

International Conference on Islamophobia, Baku

Another conference was held in Baku on March 15 -16 th, this time the theme was clearly Islamophobia. A promising initiative because Azerbaijan is perhaps the most spectacular example of inter-religious understanding, with its 48 ethnic groups, and its large Jewish and Christian communities who live in osmosis with Muslims, whether they are Shiites, like the majority of them, or Sunnis. This is, moreover, one of the explanations for the instrumentalization of the crisis with Armenia by the French right-wing parties, terrorized by the specter of « cosmopolitanism », and by the idea that an inclusive secularism, such as that which exists in Azerbaijan, could serve as a model for France.

Here again, as in London, the under-representation of the french Islam, despite its richness and diversity, and the choice of speakers within the themes addressed, reduced the potential impact of this conference, which remained very below what could be expected.

For example, the idea of a round table on the theory of the « Great Replacement », taken up massively by the European right-wing parties, was initially an excellent initiative. It would have been a unique opportunity to definitively reduce to dust this smoky lucubration popularized by the French Renaud Camus. But no real specialist in the matter was present at the conference. On the other hand, Imam Bashar Mohamed Arafat, leader of the Muslim community of Baltimore in the United States, present at this round table, did not have the possibility of expressing himself fully on his successful program of inter-cultural exchanges and inter-civilization meetings of young people from all over the world, a perfect illustration of a concrete initiative that deserves to be generalized to other countries.

The interventions, of high quality, as in London, ultimately remained cloistered inside an academic community, while we were entitled to expect prospects for action and programs for the implementation of these actions over time.

« It is not necessary to hope in order to act, nor to succeed in order to persevere. »

The famous maxim of William of Orange perfectly illustrates the half-hearted result of this « International Day against Islamophobia » and the conferences that accompanied it.

But after all, awareness of the Islamophobic phenomenon is recent, and it takes time to put in place a real policy of tolerance on an international scale. Despite the disappointment felt and the limited impact that these demonstrations had on the Muslim communities, we must praise these initiatives which at least had the merit of existing. Future editions will undoubtedly be more impactful.

It is also necessary that at the local level, initiatives of this kind are multiplied, even if, as in France, the authorities try to prevent it by all means.

In France precisely, around fifty municipal representatives from the Val-de-Marne district, near Paris, have launched, around the mayor of Ivry, Philippe Bouyssou, a « plan to fight against Islamophobia ». Their objectives : to raise awareness among the population of the discrimination experienced by some Val-de-Marnais because of their religion, to denounce these attacks when they take place or to provide legal assistance to victims to file a complaint. Specialist lawyers will help them accessible in their procedures, and the Human Rights League of Val-de-Marne will participate in future actions.

The elected officials did not hesitate to accuse the French State of Islamophobic acts. « We live today in a deleterious climate where the government mobilizes the state apparatus in an authoritarian, arbitrary and unjustified way to target Muslims designated as enemies from within », wrote the signatories. This naturally provoked the wrath of the Franch authorities, which « forcefully contests the notion of State Islamophobia and recalls that the action of state services is guided by respect for the principles of the Republic and the fight against all separatism. «  Same old song…

Jean-Michel Brun

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