The United Nations' Commission on Human Rights last week adopted a resolution expressing its deep concern regarding the stereotyping of religion, particularly Islam, as a faith that has been "wrongly associated with human-rights violations and with terrorism."
Although the language of the draft resolution appeared unthreatening as it used such general terms as "human rights, social harmony, and religious and cultural diversity," the measure narrowly passed with 15 members choosing to vote against it, and 9 others abstaining.
Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, voted against the resolution, saying that they objected to the favoritism of Islam.
"The EU was concerned about the overall approach taken in this resolution. This resolution stressed one religion above all others," the Belgian representative said. It further clarified, "the concept of defamation could easily be abused by extremists to censure all debates on religious freedom."
While religious rights are guaranteed by the constitution in most European countries, a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and subsequently anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise, most notably in Germany and France. Both countries also voted against the resolution.
India, although abstaining from the vote "shared the concern that Islam was frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism." Yet India's representative at the 57th Session of the Commission on Human Rights justified his country's abstention, saying that "terrorism had no religion" and that "some quarters were using the issue to perpetuate their own agenda."
Surprisingly, Russia, whose military policy in areas such as Muslim majority Chechnya has often been described as inhumane and brutal, voted in favor of the resolution.
Observers say Russia's strong economic interests in many Muslim and Arab countries most likely contributed to its vote in favor of the resolution.
The United States and Canada, two countries that are home to millions of Muslims, both rejected the resolution.
In a vague statement read at the time of the vote, Canada's representative said: "[It is] troubling the degree to which questions of racism and questions of religious intolerance were mixed in that resolution in such a way that did not promote a greater understanding of the relationship between the two issues, rather confused them."
The US vote coincided with the appointment of Bishop J. Delano Ellis as an advisor to a congressional panel on faith-based issues.
Ellis, known for his disparaging remarks about Islam as "at best false" and at worst "bloody and dangerous", has increased American Muslims concerns about issues of civil rights in the US.
The vote also comes at a time when American Muslims are still disproportionately targeted by so-called anti-terrorism laws such as the secret evidence provision that is used during immigration hearings. The law allows prosecutors to withhold evidence against the defendant, a practice widely criticized as unconstitutional.
Some saw the resolution on Islam as being anti-Israeli because it was also grouped with other resolutions, which mainly condemned Israel's violation of human rights against the Palestinians, the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and Israel's actions in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Ramzy Baroud is free-lance writer living in Seattle, Washington.