The United Nations investigator on racism on Friday condemned a rising trend of Islamaphobia in Europe, where he said it was being exploited by some right-wing political parties and branded it the most serious threat to world peace.
"In the current context, Islamaphobia constitutes the most serious form of religious defamation," Doudou Diene, U.N. special rapporteur on racism said in a speech and report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose 47 member states were holding a debate on religious defamation.
More and more political leaders and influential media and intellectuals were "equating Islam with violence and terrorism," and some were seeking to "silence religious practices by banning the construction of mosques", Diene said.
Pakistan, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), called the rise of Islamaphobia "alarming".
"Recent acts of defamation in the shape of blasphemous sketches in Sweden and posters in Switzerland reinforce this conclusion. Such blasphemy should not be encouraged in the name of freedom of expression," Pakistan's envoy Masood Khan said.
"The international media continues to use the misguided actions of a small extremist minority as an excuse to malign the entire Muslim world, as well as the religion of Islam," he said.
He said the 57-nation OIC, which represents 1.3 billion Muslims, condemned terrorism in all its forms.
Scapegoating in Europe
Diene, a Senegalese lawyer, said in his 21-page report to the Council that Islamaphobia had grown since the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States.
Worldwide, an increasing number of traditional democratic parties were "resorting to the language of fear and exclusion, scapegoating and targeting ethnic or religious minorities in general, and immigrants and refugees in particular", he said.
In Europe, Muslims faced growing difficulties to establish places of worship and carry out their religious practices such as dietary regimens and burials, according to the U.N. envoy.
"Political parties with open anti-Islamic platforms have joined governmental coalitions in several countries and started to put in place their political agendas. In sum, Islamophobia is in the process of permeating all facets of social life."
Diene also accused Switzerland's most popular party, the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC), of inciting hatred.
He urged the withdrawal of the party's controversial campaign poster calling for expulsion of foreigners who commit serous crimes, depicting three white sheep booting out a black sheep under the headline "For the Security of All".
The Swiss SVP/UDC has launched a referendum to ban construction of minarets in the Alpine country, home to 350,000 Muslims. A similar move is underway in Cologne, Germany.
Switzerland's delegation defended its system of direct democracy, where multiple issues are put to referendum each year, saying it showed great political transparency although "sometimes with exaggerated, regrettable views being expressed".
"The Swiss government has repeatedly stated its commitment to fight racism and the Swiss government will continue to take a clear stance against all forms of discrimination and xenophobia," Swiss ambassador Blaise Godet said.