06, Mar 2021 | CJP Team
A report by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed has been submitted before the on-going Human Rights Council’s 46th session. It examines how Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred infringes upon freedom of religion or belief.
The report states that “perpetuating discrimination, hostility and violence towards Muslim individuals and communities undercuts the ability of affected Muslims to be Muslim and violates freedom of religion or belief and myriad other human rights.”
The report highlights how Muslims are targeted following events beyond their control, including terrorist attacks and anniversaries of such attacks, and these incidents illustrate how Islamophobia may attribute collective responsibility to all Muslims for the actions of a very select few or feed upon inflammatory rhetoric. It highlights the importance of delving into the effects of Islamophobia by stating that a threat to the freedoms of one community is an obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights more broadly.
Here are some extracts from the report that help us understand how the narrative of discrimination against the Muslim community leads to violation of their constitutional and human rights.
Data on India
The report cites the Status of Policing in India report 2019, and states that half of police personnel reportedly believe that Muslims are “very much” naturally prone to committing crimes and another 36 percent feel that Muslims are “somewhat” naturally prone to committing crimes.
“Muslim women also appear to receive more extreme hate speech than other women online: 55% of the most aggressive online hate speech documented by Amnesty India directed at female politicians was directed at Muslim women,” said the report.
The report also finds, “Conspiracy theories drawing on xenophobic and racist narratives about Muslims are also propagated by far-right groups online. Designed to influence attitudes towards policies meant to promote immigration and inclusion, or to ascribe blame for challenges facing a society, such theories include fabrications that immigrant Muslim populations are going to “out-breed” native populations.”
The report speaks about a survey of 20 States, including India, where Muslims experienced discrimination in their efforts to access goods and services – including public transport, airports, administrative offices, shops and restaurants. It says, “Mob violence or extremists threatening deadly violence targeting Muslim communities are growing concerns in India, Sri Lanka and Mali. Police were allegedly complicit, colluded with or actively participated in mob attacks against Muslims in Sri Lanka and India.”
In India, Hindutva nationalists have pushed the “Love Jihad” narrative, claiming that Muslim men conspire to marry, seduce or otherwise induce Hindu women into converting to Islam.
The report points towards the shutting down of Amnesty India’s office; a move that is being seen as an aftermath of the organisation releasing a report on the 2020 Delhi riots that accused police of human rights violations against Muslims.
Communalisation of a pandemic
The report also makes note of the ‘Corona jihad’ narrative peddled by news media outlets in the immediate aftermath of the Tablighi Jamaat “revelation” which was politicised out of proportion which only augmented the already deep rooted animosity towards Muslim population.
“In India, WhatsApp group chats and forwarding features have been used, including allegedly by government officials, to propagate disinformation about the Muslim population, depicting members of Muslim communities in India as criminals or terrorists, sometimes including specific calls to violence.”
But the report points out that it was not just India that was plagued by such anti-Muslim narratives during the pandemic. In Sri Lanka, disinformation rapidly spread online that Muslims deliberately disseminated Covid-19 in the country, and in the UK, discourse online alleged that Muslim communities were responsible for the spread of Covid-19.
The report points towards the harmful depictions of Muslims in movies which play into the precarious stereotypes with some even claiming that the “Muslim-as-terrorist” film has become a “legitimate genre (or subgenre) in its own right. It is observed that Muslims and those who ostensibly manifest an ethnically Arab identity online — including by wearing “Muslim dress” in profile pictures or having “Muslim or Arab names” — are regularly accused of being “terrorists” and “suicide bombers”.
Further, the report notes surges in online hate speech as a result of “trigger events” such as terror attacks or even political events; while the response is strong in the first 24-48 hours of the incident it can take months for online expressions of hatred to taper to the baseline. “Notably, Muslims do not necessarily have to be perceived as “at fault” in the context of the trigger-event to be targeted,” says the report.
In the Indian context this can be read into the venomous hashtags that trend on Twitter whenever a criminal incident takes place such as crimes against women. If the accused turn out to be belonging to Muslim community, the trope immediately falls in place and if they are unidentified, yet the first suspicion by these online hate mongers are Muslims.
In Germany, communal rooms that Muslim students use for prayers have reportedly been closed by authorities at some universities citing fears that such spaces could be used for radicalisation. In Spain, teachers have been reportedly trained to consider changes in appearance (e.g., growing a beard) as a sign of radicalisation.
When surveyed, 1/3 of Muslims across 15 EU Member States, for example, felt discriminated against when seeking employment; and compared to other ethno-religious groups, Muslim minorities experience higher unemployment rates, lower wages, and higher employment in temporary, insecure and low-paid work. Muslim minorities are often underrepresented in “top” professions including politics, law and medicine.
Legislative bans on religious dress and workplace dress codes can directly exclude women from certain employment contexts and/or lead to “self” exclusion from particular careers and places of work. A report by University of Bristol in the UK revealed that British Muslim women are reportedly 71% more likely to be unemployed than white Christian women, despite having the same educational level and language skills.
Further, experiences of hostility based on their religious identity evokes feelings of isolation among Muslim students, often resulting in irregular schools attendance and lower educational outcomes. Other discriminatory barriers for Muslims students are subtler, with teachers lowering expectations for Muslims based on stereotypes of their ethno-religious background, thereby investing less time and fewer resources in Muslims, having few Muslim teachers or no reporting/support mechanisms for victims of Islamophobia.
Muslims also are known to experience poor housing conditions and religious-based discrimination is an aggravating factor. Public and private actors reportedly discriminate against Muslim in housing markets through practices such as charging higher rental prices, rejecting rental applications or physically threatening Muslims. Muslims were also reported to be highly vulnerable to Covid-19, due to poor housing or living in segregated residential areas, such as in Gujarat.
The report stresses upon the importance of certainty of citizenship in one’s country as the ability of persons to enjoy a range of human rights frequently depends on their citizenship, nationality or immigration status. The report briefly mentions the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise carried out in Assam which disproportionately excluded Bengali-speaking Muslims —including Muslims who have lived in the state for generations – from the list of verified citizens and instead declared them “illegal immigrants” as also the much-talked about and heavily criticised Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019 fast-tracks the citizenship of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian individuals who arrived from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh with notable exclusion of Muslim community.
The US disproportionately applies its Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) — a largely secretive extreme vetting process for immigrants perceived to be a threat to national security — to immigrants from Arab, Middle-Eastern and South-Asian countries. France, Germany and Switzerland have rejected citizenship applications in situations where the applicant was unwilling to shake hands with a government representative because doing so would violate their religious belief that it is prohibited to touch someone of another gender with whom they are neither intimate, nor related.
The report also makes mention of widespread incidents of reported violence against Muslims in countries like China and Myanmar. Approximately 1,30,000 Rohingya Muslims are reportedly imprisoned in 24 internment camps in Rakhine, Myanmar, where they are subjected to squalid conditions, physical abuse and forced confinement. In China, allegations have emerged that Uighur women are systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured in so-called “re-education” camps in Xinjiang Province.
Between 2014 and 2019, over 10,000 Islamophobic incidents were recorded across the US, with both the number and violent nature of cases rising most years.
When the religious practices, beliefs, employment, education, and immigration statuses of Muslims are repressed by States, or when State actors advance stigmatising discourses against Muslims, private citizens can be emboldened to attack Muslims, and may even consider themselves to be acting in defence of their nation-state or their culture. Although the report does not mention it, such radicalised narratives have been responsible for the North East Delhi violence where over 50 people died, most of them Muslims, targeted by various mobs who were pushed over the edge by inflammatory speeches by leaders of the ruling BJP government.
The report also speaks about the effects of counter-terrorism measures adopted by government upon the Muslim population and the abuse and misuse of such laws to target Muslim communities. Certain reports by Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Human Rights Committees suggest that national security and counter-terrorism measures have disproportionately and discriminatorily targeted Muslims in 17 States, including India, often with little transparency during their adoption, the use of sweeping definitions of “terrorism” and poor oversight during their implementation. The reference, here, is towards the draconian laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) which allow law enforcement to detain a person for at least 3 months or in some cases up to 2 years without a trial and without filing of charges against them.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) may apply in cases where discrimination on religious grounds intersects with forms of discrimination based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. The report identifies the limitations of state action to curb hate speech unless it reaches the high threshold of incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence under international human rights law.
The special rapporteur encourages States to adopt measures that operationalise the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, which includes a six-part threshold test (taking into account the context, speaker, intent, content and form, extent of dissemination and likelihood of harm), on how to establish whether hateful expression should be considered to reach the level of incitement that must be prohibited.
The European Commission has established a dedicated coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred. Andorra, Kyrgyzstan, Switzerland, Sweden and Croatia have anti-hate crime legislations and countries like Croatia, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Sweden have created specific task forces or trained police officers to monitor, identify and respond to hate crimes. Brazil’s Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights has a communication hotline for victims of discrimination to submit complaints, including a category for religious-based incidents.
Ireland educates schoolchildren on common prejudices and attitudes that might infringe on dignity, including Islamophobia. The Observatory of Islamophobia in the Media has increased awareness on how to report on matters involving Muslims and Islam in ways that avoid stigmatization and the reproduction of harmful stereotypes.
The complete report may be read here