Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Wednesday highlighting disturbing rise in Islamophobia across the globe urged upon the international community to ‘build bridges and respect each other’s religions and beliefs’. He was virtually addressing Islamophobia at the high-level meeting of the Group of Friends of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). The event was co-hosted by the foreign ministers of Spain and Turkey, and chaired by the High Representative of UNAOC. The foreign minister commended the work of the Alliance of Civilizations in advancing mutual respect for diverse cultures, traditions and religious beliefs. He reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to the promotion of inter-faith and inter-cultural harmony. He mentioned that recent manifestation of this commitment was the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, the world’s largest Gurdwara, allowing easy access to Sikhs from the neighbourhood and all across the world to practice their religious rites.The foreign minister cautioned that the alarming bells of ‘Clash of Civilizations’ were still reverberating around the world. He expressed anguish at the exploitation of Covid-related fears to stoke racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, stigmatization, and violence against vulnerable minorities, including in our own neighbourhood. The foreign minister also highlighted the disturbing rise in Islamophobia, evident in the manifestos of far-right and neo-fascist parties, the politicization and censorship of the Hijab (Muslim woman’s veil), cow vigilantism, burning of Holy Quran, deliberate vandalizing of Islamic symbols and holy sites, and attempts at incitement through the publication of hurtful caricatures.The foreign minister reiterated the call made by Prime Minister Imran Khan to universally outlaw willful provocation and incitement to hate and violence, and to designate an ‘International Day to Combat Islamophobia’. Foreign Minister Qureshi commended the work of the UN Alliance of Civilizations in advancing mutual respect for diverse cultures, traditions and religious beliefs. He said Pakistan, as its founding member, remained committed to promotion of these noble ideals at home and abroad.Pointing to the challenges in promoting interfaith harmony and peaceful co-existence, FM Qureshi cautioned that the sounds of a “Clash of Civilizations” – a reference to the theory of American political scientist Samuel Huntington -were still reverberating around the world. The exploitation of coronavirus-related fears to stoke racism, stigmatization, and violence against vulnerable minorities and individuals has illustrated the deep-rooted nature of prejudice and hate which continues to grow especially in states which allowed fascist politics and hate speech to prosper. Qureshi also highlighted the ‘disturbing’ rise in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred in many parts of the world, saying that freedom of expression was not a license to allow people to deliberately disseminate racist ideas or defame and ridicule religious symbols and personalities. In this regard, the foreign minister called for banning of hate speech and incitement to violence. He also called for the declaration of an International Day to Combat Islamophobia.In response to FM Qureshi’s statement, Moritonos said that fighting xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia was important for the work of Alliance of Civilization and in this regard referred to its public condemnation of the recent burning of the holy Quran in Sweden.The UN Alliance of Civilizations was established to galvanize international action against extremism through fostering of international, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and cooperation. The Alliance benefits from a political support of the Group of Friends, a community of countries and international organizations which actively promotes the Alliance’s objectives and work at the global, regional and local levels, as well as worldwide.The Group is a driving force of UNAOC and plays a vital role in UNAOC’s strategic planning and implementation process. The group currently includes 153 members, with 124 UN member states, 1 non-member state, and 28 international organizations, representing all continents, societies and cultures.