The following is the text of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s address to the annual high-level meeting of the UNAOC Group of Friends “Shaping a Better World: Building Cohesive and Inclusive Societies in a Challenging COVID-19 Environment”;
“H.E. Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos,
High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilization,
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by commending the Alliance of Civilization, and the two main co-sponsors of the initiative – Turkey and Spain – for organizing today’s meeting. The greatest paradox of today’s world is that while globalisation has brought people closer, it has also spawned divisions and frictions among and within societies. It was against this backdrop that the Alliance of Civilizations was founded fifteen years ago, to advance mutual respect for different cultures and religious beliefs, and to provide a platform for bridging divisions and overcoming prejudices. While the Alliance has done commendable work over the years, its job is far from over. The sounds of “Clash of Civilizations” still reverberate. We are witnessing global resurgence in intolerance, discrimination, racism, hate speech and violence on the basis of religious beliefs. The exploitation of COVID-related fears to stoke racism and stigmatization demonstrates the deep-rooted nature of the challenge ahead of us. In many places, including in our own region, the pandemic has aggravated the suffering of people due to negative religious stereotyping. The enormity of this problem continues to grow, partly by a rise in populism, and partly by mainstreaming of contempt through unregulated social media platforms. Freedom of expression does not grant the freedom to insult or hurt others. Most worrisome is the State sponsorship of violence on the basis of religion or belief. Today, Islamophobia is unmistakable in the manifestos of far-right and neo-fascist parties that call for expulsion of Muslims; in the politicization of the hijab; in cow vigilantism; in burning of the Holy Quran; in the deliberate vandalizing of Islamic symbols and holy sites; and in attempts at incitement in the name of free speech through deliberately hurtful caricatures and competitions. We Muslims live our religion. Understanding must be shown for the pain and anguish caused to Muslims when Islam and its Prophet (PBUH) are insulted.
As member of the Group of Friends of Alliance of Civilization, and guided by the vision of our Founding Fathers, Pakistan remains committed to promoting religious tolerance, understanding and cooperation at home and abroad. A recent manifestation of this commitment is the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, the world’s largest Gurdwara, allowing easy access to our Sikh brothers from the neighborhood and all across the world to practice their religious rites.
Pakistan has called that wilful provocations and incitement to hate and violence must be universally outlawed. The UN General Assembly should declare an “International Day to Combat Islamophobia” and build a resilient coalition to end the scourge. Promotion of “Alliance of Civilizations” requires building bridges, not burning them; respecting each other’s religions and beliefs, not ridiculing them; constructive engagement and not estrangement. Let us work together for building a peaceful world where different civilizations and cultures co-exist in harmony and on the basis of mutual respect. I thank you”