“The EU is strongly committed to promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief, as we are convinced that its full enjoyment contributes to the building of pluralistic, tolerant and democratic societies” underlined EU Ambassador Stevens, opening the event. Furthermore, he stated out that “Freedom of religion or belief is intrinsically linked to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Taken together, these fundamental freedoms play an important role in the fight against all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.”
Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, presented the key findings of his latest report to the Human Rights Council. In his report he points out that “expressions of discrimination, hostility and violence motivated by anti-Muslim bias are serious obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. The dangers of Islamophobia have been vividly manifested through heinous and violent attacks against Muslims across the globe that have captured headlines and international attention, but the majority of the human rights violations and abuses engendered by Islamophobia often gain little media attention, and, by some estimates, largely go unreported. He expressed his concern about “the vicious circle between the negative stereotyping of Muslims and their beliefs and the steered structures that perpetuate discrimination and how they are reinforcing each other.”
Tommasso Chiamparino, the European Commission Coordinator on combating Anti-Muslim Hatred, referred to policies the European Union already has in place, such as the Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law and advanced non-discrimination laws such as the Race Equality Directive and the Equality Employment Directives and laws to protect victims of hate crime. He acknowledged that the law needs to be complemented by robust policy efforts and holistic responses, for example with the Commissions’ adopted Anti-Racism Action Plan for 2020-2025.
Prof. Khaled Beydoun, Scholar-in-Residence at the Harvard University Berkman Klein Center, gave an insight on the developments in the United States, emphasizing the high level of ‘state-sponsored Islamophobia’ during the Trump administration. He expressed hope that with the Biden Administration anti-muslim rhethoric will decline. Among the speakers was also Arsalan Suleman, former Acting Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation of the US Department of State. Suleman pointed out the importance of having political leaders in office that are pushing forward the efforts to combating anti-muslim hatred.
The need to develop an inclusive definition and framework to combating islamophobia was echoed by Dr. Khatija Khader, Educator and Former OHCHR Minority Fellow, who highlighted in her presentation the fact that “Islamophobia is a phenomenon that affects Muslims around the globe.”
Founder and Managing Director of New Horizons, Shada Islam, looked in her intervention at the Commissions’ adopted Anti-Racism Action Plan for 2020-2025, which in her opinion “recognizes the existence of systemic, structural and institutionalized racism across European Union and recognizes unconscious bias and acknowledging the lack of diversity. We need to better enforce the many laws that we have.” She also appealed to the EU to “change the story of what it means to be a European.”
Iman Abou Atta, Director of the NGO Tell MAMA, which is the leading organisation on supporting victims of anti-muslim hate and measuring and monitoring anti-muslim incidents, highlighted the need to ensure that we also tackle the issue of online attacks and hate-speech against Muslims. “We often talk about physical attacks, but the online world goes hand in hand with this and we need to make sure to address both,” she said.
The event was moderated by Merete Bilde, Policy Adviser at the European External Action Service.