Muslim nations urge for measures against Islamophobia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during an emergency meeting of the OIC in Istanbul, on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2019

Muslim nations urge for measures against Islamophobia

  • The OIC said attacks against mosques and murders of Muslims showed the "brutal, inhumane and horrific outcomes" of hatred of Islam
  • Erdogan also said far-right neo-nazi groups should be treated as terrorists in the same way as Daesh

JEDDAH: Muslim nations on Friday called for tough international action to combat Islamophobia following the terror attack on two New Zealand mosques. The executive committee of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), meeting in Istanbul, expressed its outrage at last week’s Christchurch massacre, and deep concern over the resurgence of racist movements and terrorist activities around the world.
Foreign ministers attending the emergency session, issued a raft of demands aimed at tackling the scourge of hate-related violence toward Muslims and other minority groups. They said raids on mosques and the killing of Muslims highlighted the “brutal and inhumane consequences” of hatred of Islam.
Members called on all governments to review their legal frameworks regarding terrorism and urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an observatory to monitor extremist acts against Muslims.
The OIC committee also suggested that the UN and other regional and international organizations should declare March 15 (the day of the Christchurch attack) an international day of solidarity against Islamophobia.
It said the UN should convene a session of its General Assembly to debate the issue of racism and appoint a special representative on combating Islamophobia. The UN was also requested to expand the scope of its existing sanctions on terror groups to cover individuals and entities associated with extremist ethnic organizations.
Fifty worshippers died and many others were seriously injured during last Friday’s shootings at the Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in New Zealand’s South Island city.
The OIC reiterated that terrorism had no religion or justification and was a crime regardless of when, where or against who it was committed.
In its final communique, the OIC committee said a recent global rise in terrorist activities was hampering international efforts to promote peace and harmony between nations.
Adhering to international policies on safeguarding the rights, dignity, religious and cultural identity of Muslim communities and minorities in non-member states was key to tackling the issue, the ministers declared.
They noted resolutions of previous Islamic summit conferences and meetings which expressed concerns over attacks on mosques and other Muslim properties.
The OIC foreign ministers thanked the government of New Zealand for its unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attacks and the firm stance of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and offered their full support to a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the outrage.
The committee also extended its sincere condolences to the families of the victims.
The meeting stressed the need for the OIC to maintain close contacts with UN and EU governments of countries with Muslim populations and minorities to identify ways of promoting cultural harmony, understanding, respect, and tolerance.
Communicating with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to remove and prohibit content inciting violence and hatred toward Muslims was also important, the OIC ministers stated.
Members requested the OIC Contact Group on Peace and Dialogue to prioritize efforts to combat religious discrimination, Islamophobia, intolerance, and hatred against Muslims and to hold regular interfaith meetings. They added that all the necessary human and financial resources should be given to the OIC’s work in communicating with centers around the world concerned with Islamophobia.
Meanwhile Ridwaan Jadwat, Australia’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “Australians share their deepest sympathies with those affected by the devastating terrorist attack by a right-wing extremist in Christchurch and share the grief of New Zealanders and Muslim communities the world over.
“The day after the attack, the prime minister and foreign minister reached out to the Muslim community to convey deep condolences and show solidarity, visiting a mosque and meeting Muslim leaders including the grand mufti and the Australian National Imams Council.
“We will always protect and defend our Muslim community in Australia and our people’s right to practice peacefully their religion without fear. Everyone has a right to feel safe in their places of worship.”
The envoy said his government was extending community safety grants to protect religious schools, places of worship and assembly.
“This is the time for unity and inclusion. We must all work together against extremism and take care to ensure our public debates about this horrific incident do not encourage the very divisions between faiths and cultures that extremists seek to create.”


Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

Updated 12 min ago

Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

  • Education centers risk closing or reducing costs after nationwide disruption

BEIRUT: The future of thousands of Lebanese students is at stake as private educational institutions assess their ability to continue operations in the next academic year, due to the economic crunch facing Lebanon.

“If the economic situation continues, private schools will be forced to close down for good, a move that will affect more than 700,000 students, 59,000 teachers and 15,000 school administrators,” said Father Boutros Azar, secretary-general of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools in Lebanon, and coordinator of the Association of Private Educational Institutions in Lebanon.

Over 1,600 private schools are operating in Lebanon, including free schools and those affiliated to various religion societies, Azar said.

The number of public schools in Lebanon, he added, is 1,256, serving 328,000 students from the underprivileged segment of society and 200,000 Syrian refugee students.

“The number of teachers in the formal education sector is 43,500 professors and teachers — 20,000 of them are permanent staff and the rest work on a contract basis,” Azar said.

This development will also have an impact on private universities, whose number has increased to 50 in the past 20 years.

Ibrahim Khoury, a special adviser to the president of the American University of Beirut (AUB), told Arab News: “All universities in Lebanon are facing an unprecedented crisis, and the message of AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, a few weeks ago, was a warning about the future of university education in light of the economic crisis that Lebanon is facing.”

Khoury said many universities would likely reduce scientific research and dispense with certain specializations.

“Distance education is ongoing, but classes must be opened for students in the first semester of next year, but we do not yet know what these classes are.”

Khoury added: “Universities are still following the official exchange rate of the dollar, which is 1,512 Lebanese pounds (LBP), but the matter is subject to future developments.”

Lebanese parents are also worried about the future of their children, after the current school year ended unexpectedly due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr. Tarek Majzoub, the minister of education and higher education, ended the academic year in public schools and gave private schools the right to take a call on this issue.

He said: “The coming academic year will witness intensification of lessons and a review of what students have missed.”

But what sort of academic year should students expect?

Differences have developed between school owners, parents, and teachers over the payment of tuition fees and teachers’ salaries.

Azar said: “What I know so far is that 80 percent of the Catholic schools in Lebanon will close their doors next year unless they are financially helped. Some families today are unable to pay the rest of the dues for the current year either because their breadwinners were fired or not working, while others do not want to pay dues because schools remain closed due to the pandemic.

“Lebanese people chose private schools for their children because they trusted them for their quality — 70 percent of Lebanese children go to private schools. Today, we are facing a major crisis, and I say that if education collapses in Lebanon, then the area surrounding Lebanon will collapse. Many Arab students from the Gulf states receive their education in the most prestigious Lebanese schools,” he added.

“What we are witnessing today is that the educational contract is no longer respected. It can be said that what broke the back of school owners is the approval by the Lebanese parliament in 2018 of a series of ranks and salaries that have bankrupted the state treasury and put all institutions in a continuous deficit.”

Those in charge of formal education expect a great rush for enrollment in public schools and universities, but the ability of these formal institutions to absorb huge numbers of students is limited.

Majzoub said that his ministry was “working on proposing a law to help private schools provide a financial contribution for each learner within the available financial capabilities or grants that can be obtained.”

The undersecretary of the Teachers’ Syndicate in Private Schools, former government minister Ziad Baroud, said: “The crisis of remaining student fees and teachers’ salaries needs to be resolved by special legislation in parliament that regulates the relationship between all parties — teachers, parents, and schools — and takes into account the measures to end teachers’ contracts before July 5.”

Baroud spoke of “hundreds of teachers being discharged from their schools every year based on a legal article that gives the right to school owners to dismiss any teacher from service, provided that they send the teacher a notification before July 5.”

H said it should be kept in mind that thousands of teachers have not yet received their salaries for the last four months, and some of them had received only 50 percent or even less of their salaries.

Khoury said: “The AUB received a loan from the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami at the beginning of the 1975 Lebanese civil war to keep it afloat. In the 1990s, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri provided aid and grants to the universities. Today, no one can help universities.”

Last Thursday, the Lebanese parliament adopted a proposal submitted by the leader of the Future Parliamentary Bloc, Bahia Hariri, to allocate LBP300 billion to the education sector to help it mitigate the effects of COVID-19.