Fighting the Wildfire of Hate Speech

Mar 22, 2019

Fighting the wildfire of hate speech

In the wake of a horrific mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has announced his intention to launch a UN action plan for the safeguarding of religious sites, declaring that “mosques and all places of prayer and contemplation should be safe havens, not sites of terror.”

By António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

The world is still reeling from the horrific terror attack in Christchurch one week ago. Our hearts remain heavy with grief and sympathy for the families of the victims.

Over the last few days, we have learned more about those victims and their stories.

Secretary-General signs book of condolence at New Zealand mission to the UN, UN Photo/Evan Schneider

We have read about people like Haji-Daoud, Husna, Naeem, Hussain and other heroes and heroines who lost their lives saving others.

We have gazed upon the picture of young Mucad, the curious, bright-eyed three-year-old child mercilessly gunned down as he ran towards the shooter in confusion.

We have heard the words of Farid, a husband lost in grief over the death of his wife, yet extending words of forgiveness, because, as he said, “that’s what Islam taught me.”

We have also been deeply moved by the extraordinary displays of leadership, love and community from the people of New Zealand. Kiwi hearts and hakas have lifted the spirits of a grieving world.

Secretary-General at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The Christchurch attack was utterly appalling — and yet, as many have noted, perhaps not utterly surprising.

Around the world, we have seen ever-rising anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism, hate speech and bigotry. I have repeatedly warned about these dangers.

Hate speech is spreading like wildfire. Social media is being exploited as a platform for bigotry. Public discourse is being coarsened.

Many political movements are either openly admitting their neo-Nazi affiliation, or lip syncing the words, and cutting and pasting the symbols and images.

The cancer is spreading. It is our duty to find the cure.

Secretary-General speaks to press outside Islamic Cultural Center of NY, UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The media has an important role to play. A recent study by researchers at Georgia State University and the University of Alabama found that over roughly the last decade, attacks in the US by those claiming to be Muslim received 357 per cent more coverage than attacks carried out by others.

I know many communities around the world are hurting and feeling vulnerable — in need of the strongest possible messages of support, solidarity and security.

We need to act against extremism in all its forms — whether it targets mosques, synagogues, churches or anywhere else.

That is why I visited the Islamic Cultural Center of New York on Friday and issued a global call to reaffirm 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.

Secretary-General greets worshippers at Islamic Cultural Center of NY, UN Photo/Evan Schneider

I have asked the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, to develop an Action Plan for the UN to be fully engaged in support of safeguarding religious sites.

The Alliance will reach out to governments and faith-based organizations, religious leaders and others — and explore actions to prevent these attacks and guarantee the sanctity of religious sites.

The reason is clear: Mosques and all places of prayer and contemplation should be safe havens, not sites of terror.

Worshippers must feel safe to worship.

Today and every day, we must stand united against anti-Muslim hatred and all forms of racism and bigotry.


Secretary-General’s statement on attacks on New Zealand mosques

‘Stand united against anti-Muslim hatred’ urges Guterres, after mosque shootings in New Zealand leave 49 dead

‘Mosques should be safe havens, not sites of terror’, says Guterres announcing UN plan to help safeguard religious sites

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