UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 (APP):UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Friday called for an international action plan to help protect religious sites worldwide, during a visit to a New York Islamic center one week after the deadly shooting at two mosques in New Zealand.
Addressing the Juma congregation, he announced that he was tasking the head of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations to develop “an action plan” so all U.N. bodies can help safeguard religious sites. He told reporters outside that “hate speech is spreading like wildfire.”
The secretary-general named Mian Naeem Rashid of Pakistan among the heroes who lost their lives while trying to save others. Rashid and his son Talha were killed trying to confront the white supremacist who attacked their mosque in Christchurch last Friday.
The UN chief spoke, with a “heavy and full heart,” of the grief and sympathy felt for the families of the victims, and the moving displays of “leadership, love and community from the people of New Zealand.”
Among the diplomats present in the mosque during the secretary-general’s visit was Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi.
“Mosques and all places of prayer and contemplation should be safe havens, not sites of terror,” Guterres told namazis.
“Worshippers must feel safe to worship.”
The secretary-general met with namazis at the Islamic Cultural’s Centre’s mosque and offered “solidarity with the Muslim Community from New York to New Zealand and beyond”.
“You are not alone,” Guterres promised the Muslim community, and all others feeling targeted. “The world is with you. The United Nations is with you. I’m with you.”
Speaking to reporters, the UN chief announced that he had asked Spanish diplomat Miguel Moratinos with the drafting of an action plan for the United Nations to support efforts to protect religious sites.
Moratinos heads the UN Alliance of Civilisations, a group led by Spain and Turkey that seeks to foster better understanding between cultures and societies.
The group will reach out to governments, religious leaders and organizations to explore actions to prevent such attacks as the Christchurch shooting that left 50 dead.
Guterres said the attack in New Zealand was “utterly appalling” but “perhaps not utterly surprising”, citing the rise of anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism and bigotry.
Social media is being exploited to spread bigotry while many political movements either openly admit to being neo-Nazi or are “lip syncing their words,” he added.
Citing a US academic study, the UN chief highlighted the important role of the media in the representation of Muslims and Islam, noting that, over the last decade, attacks in the United States received 357 per cent more coverage than attacks carried out by others.
Guterres called for a reaffirmation of the sanctity of all places of worship and “the safety of all worshippers who visit revered sites in a spirit of compassion and tolerance. People everywhere must be allowed to observe and practice their faith in peace.”
The UN chief spoke of the victims of the Christchurch shooting, and said he was “deeply moved by the extraordinary display of leadership, love and community from the people of New Zealand.”