(MENAFN - Arab News) The secretary-general of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation has urged the international community to take effective action to prevent growing Islamophobia or enmity toward Islam and Muslims all over the world.
"Islamophobia is on the rise. In fact, it has entered the third phase," said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu in a statement on the occasion of the publication of Amnesty International's report titled "Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination Against Muslims in Europe."
The OIC chief also blamed Muslim extremists for the growing hatred against Islam and Muslims. "These extremists present a wrong picture of Islam through their negative practices that have nothing to do with noble Islamic values and teachings," he said.
Speaking about the various phases of Islamophobia, Ihsanoglu said in the first phase, enemies used freedom of expression as a pretext to attack Islam and Muslims and it appeared in the form of cartoons denigrating the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
"During the second phase, there were attempts to institutionalize hatred against Islam and Muslims. In Switzerland, for example, the government conducted a referendum on constructing minarets on mosques, which resulted in banning minarets."
The OIC recently announced its plan to establish a satellite channel and promote investment in the media to fight Islamophobia and enhance exchange of information among the member states.
The OIC dismissed suggestions that Islamophobia is equal to classical racism and xenophobia, saying that it is mainly based on stigmatization of a religion and its followers. "As such, Islamophobia is an affront to the human rights and dignity of Muslims," the organization said.
According to a Amnesty report, which was published recently, Muslims in Europe face discrimination in education, employment and religious freedom. The report indicated that rightist parties were using Islamophobia to grab political power.
"Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the head scarf. Men can be dismissed for having beards," said Marco Perolini, Amnesty's expert on discrimination.
"Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes," he pointed out. The report details the problem with a focus on Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
European Union legislation "prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims, and especially Muslim women of foreign origin," Perolini said.
The right to establish places of worship "is being restricted in some European countries, despite state obligations to protect, respect and fulfill this right," Amnesty said.
Muslims in the Catalonian region of Spain must pray outdoors "because existing prayer rooms are too small to accommodate all the worshippers and requests to build mosques are being disputed as incompatible with respecting Catalan traditions and culture."