The institutionalisation of such a day has high symbolic value, despite its limits.

Exactly three years after the murder of 51 people in two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch, the United Nations adopted a resolution to make March 15 the International Day to Combat Islamophobia

This marks the highest political recognition so far of the problem Muslims have faced for years. Several NGOs have declared national days against anti-Muslim racism, such as July 1 in Germany or the European Day Against Islamophobia on September 21. But never has a state, much less a supranational institution, ever institutionalised a day to symbolise the importance of tackling anti-Muslim sentiment.

The UN General Assembly, representing 193 member states, approved the resolution by consensus. It was introduced by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which represents more than 50 mainly Muslim majority countries, recalling a 1981 resolution calling for “the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief.”

Contention came mainly from three sides: France, India, and the representative of the European Union, which is of little surprise. Recently, a report by an NGO has claimed that the French government’s anti-Muslim sentiment reaches the threshold of “persecution” under international law, and the anti-Muslim policies of President Emmanuel Macron's government have been heavily criticised. India has a long record of anti-Muslim policies, especially under the right-wing BJP government, and experts are warning of an impending genocide

And the current EU leadership seems to be more than reluctant in fighting anti-Muslim sentiment. While in the US, Congress passed the International Islamophobia Act in December 2021, the 2015-established position of the European Commission’s Coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred has been vacant for many months and beyond this has been regarded as widely impotent by many NGOs. 

But there are also movements in the right direction. The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has recently adopted a revised recommendation on preventing and combating “anti-Muslim racism and discrimination.” Importantly, this recommendation does not only find a precise word to name the problem beyond usual titles used by European institutions such as hate, crime and discrimination. It very deliberately challenges the structural dimension of the problem. 

This also seems to have been on the mind of Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram, who introduced the resolution on behalf of the OIC. He cited the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, saying: “Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, institutional suspicion and fear of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions.”

Such an institutional approach clearly turns the question towards the UN itself, given its central role in creating the global framework for deradicalisation policies that have harmed many fundamental freedoms and have been legitimised in the backdrop of an imagined Muslim threat. 

Despite the fact that countries like China, which has more than a bad record when it comes to religious freedom in general and anti-Muslim policies in particular, have co-sponsored this resolution, which is unlikely to lead to a change in their treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the resolution itself is of a high symbolic value.

It asks all countries, UN bodies, international and regional organisations, civil society, private sector and faith-based organisations “to organise and support various high-visibility events aimed at effectively increasing awareness, at all levels, about curbing Islamophobia.” 

The observation of the new International Day to Combat Islamophobia on March 15 is not only a reminder of the violence of white supremacists. It is also a major step in the right direction, making people and institutions conscious of a growing problem that even some political leaders deny, as the reaction of a minority to the resolution has revealed.

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