By Frizia Rounak / GICJ
On 15th March every year, the world observes International Day to Combat Islamophobia. On this day, we acknowledge the pressing and intensifying issue of Islamophobia, which is further fuelled and amplified by persistent and damaging stereotypes that perpetuate and generalise negative attitudes towards Muslims globally. March 15th was chosen as the designated date of observance as it is also the anniversary of the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings of 2019 in New Zealand, in which 51 people were killed.
The purpose of the International Day to Combat Islamophobia is to raise awareness about the rising trends of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims around the world. It seeks to promote a better understanding of Islam and to encourage people to challenge negative stereotypes and biased attitudes towards Muslims. The day also aims to encourage governments and civil society organisations to take measures to prevent and combat Islamophobia, and to promote respect for diversity and cultural differences. Ultimately, the day seeks to promote peace, tolerance, and mutual understanding between people of different faiths and cultures.
According to the United Nations (UN), Islamophobia is “a fear, prejudice and hatred of Muslims that leads to provocation, hostility and intolerance by means of threatening, harassment, abuse, incitement and intimidation of Muslims and non-Muslims, both in the online and offline world. Motivated by institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility that transcends into structural and cultural racism, it targets the symbols and markers of being a Muslim.” 
Islamophobia has increased in recent years due to several factors, including media coverage that often portrays Muslims as terrorists or extremists, the political climate in many countries that has led to the scapegoating of Muslims for societal problems, and the rise of far-right and nationalist movements in many countries that promote anti-Muslim sentiment. Following the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001, and other similar acts of terrorism that have been committed in the name of Islam, the level of institutional distrust towards Muslims and individuals who are seen as Muslim has dramatically increased to an “epidemic proportion”.  This has led to a generalisation of Muslims as a whole, with many wrongly believing that all Muslims are responsible for such attacks. Social media and general media has played a significant role in spreading Islamophobia. with false information, conspiracy theories, and hate speech being shared widely and easily. This has led to the targeting and harassment of Muslims in both physical and digital spaces.
Many countries and organisations have responded to security threats by implementing measures that disproportionately affect Muslims, labelling them as high-risk for radicalization. Meanwhile, negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims, along with harmful stereotypes, have contributed to the normalisation of discrimination, hostility, and violence against Muslims and their communities. In some countries where they are a minority, Muslims face discrimination in education, employment, and access to goods and services, and may be denied citizenship or legal immigration status due to xenophobic attitudes that associate them as a risk to national security and as terrorism risks.
Additionally, Muslim women are often targeted in Islamophobic hate crimes, and as the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion - Ahmed Shaheed, put it, Muslim women face a “triple penalty”. This means that Muslim women face discrimination on three levels for different reasons - firstly they are discriminated against for their gender; secondly, for belonging to an ethnic minority; and finally, for being Muslim. Studies show that incidents of Islamophobic hate crimes frequently increase after events such as terrorist attacks, which can wrongly attribute collective responsibility to all Muslims or fuel inflammatory rhetoric. 
Overall, Islamophobia has increased due to a complex combination of factors. It is important to address and dismantle these prejudices in order to promote a more harmonious and peaceful society.
As cases of Islamophobia continue to increase, greater efforts must be made by the international community to combat discriminatory practices towards Muslims. Over the past several years, many countries have taken measures to combat Islamophobia. For example, Canada has established a task force on anti-Muslim racism and has allocated funding to support research and community-based initiatives to combat Islamophobia. The government has also introduced legislation to criminalise hate speech and protect religious minorities. Similarly, the UK has established a cross-government working group on anti-Muslim hatred, which brings together representatives from different government departments to address the issue. The government has also funded programs to promote interfaith dialogue and support Muslim communities. Many other countries have also taken similar initiatives. However, it is not enough.
Some of the main reasons for the increase in Islamophobia are related to the lack of education and awareness, a lack of media literacy, and insufficient legislation to welcome, protect, and include such religious minorities into wider society. Hence, some concrete steps that can be taken by all stakeholders include the following:
- Education: Education is a powerful tool to prevent Islamophobia. Governments can incorporate lessons on Islam, its history, and its contributions to society in school curricula. This can help dispel myths and misconceptions and promote interfaith harmony.
- Legislation: More concrete laws must be legislated and implemented that prohibits discrimination against Muslims in the workplace, housing, and other areas of society. These laws can also provide legal recourse for victims of Islamophobia.
- Dialogue and engagement: Governments can facilitate dialogue and engagement between Muslims and non-Muslims. This can be achieved through interfaith events, cultural festivals, and other activities that promote mutual understanding and respect.
- Media literacy: Public figures and media outlets must avoid inflammatory and derogatory language that can fuel Islamophobia and measures must be taken to promote media literacy programs that teach citizens how to critically evaluate media reports and distinguish between factual information and propaganda. This can help reduce the spread of false information about Islam and Muslims.
- Support for Muslim communities: Governments can provide support for Muslim communities by promoting their cultural and religious practices, funding community programs, and protecting their rights.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) notes with deep concern that Islamophobia and other related issues such as hate speech and xenophobia are on the rise and demand concrete steps be taken by all stakeholders to address this issue and make a positive change. As such, GICJ urges all states to commit themselves to ensuring that the rights of all minority religions are respected, protected, and justice is served to perpetrators of hate crimes towards these minorities. As the President of the UN General Assembly and Turkish diplomat, Volkan Bozkir, put it “although today our conversation is focused on Islamophobia, the source of this scourge is a source that imperils us all. The answer is solidarity, equality, and respect for the equal dignity and entitlement to fundamental human rights of every individual”. 
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