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  5. Mufti Ashfaq Husain Qadri: Freedom of religion: US must look in mirror before showing it to others

Mufti Ashfaq Husain Qadri: Freedom of religion: US must look in mirror before showing it to others

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The United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) regularly releases the International Religious Freedom Report. Expectedly it singles out countries, names and shames them for oppressing religious minorities. India also often figures in this black list. The USCIRF 2024 report has targeted India for its treatment of religious minorities (especially Muslims).

However, the USCIRF report, a country-by-country catalog of the treatment of religious groups around the globe, exposes American hypocrisy more than actual record of religious parity and preservation of human rights.
America views itself as a refuge for religious freedom, as a wonderful example for other nations. But it’s a fallacy. The US Congress has been gathering evidence of ongoing religious discrimination in the United States, often coming from the government itself.

The US history is full of examples where America’s actions did not live up to the First Amendment’s lofty language guaranteeing free exercise of religion for all – such as watching mobs murder and force Mormons from Missouri to Illinois to Utah.
A study by Brigham Young University law professor W. Cole Durham found some years ago that minority religions were five times more likely to have zoning action taken against them to prevent them building churches than were large religious groups anywhere in the United States.

Incidents of blatant human rights violations based on racial or religious grounds keep surfacing with recurrent frequency. “Black Lives Matter” has in fact become the most vibrant civil rights theme in the country. Besides, the US support to oppressive states like Israel has also exposed that human rights are merely rights of some selected humans for US policymakers.
 
*Self Interests and Double Standards*
The US “concern” for Muslim human rights is actually based on ideology and national interests. The US’ unconditional support to successive Israeli governments has ensured that the conflict in West Asia will remain unresolved whatever be the human cost. As daily reports of genocide in Gaza are emerging and the US President’s office has failed to rein in Israeli assault, all US concern for human rights appear pure hogwash. In fact even the protest movement of US academia and students against US support to Israel has been oppressively suppressed by the Biden administration.

The US’ double-standard human rights policy has also had a significant impact on American society, with the human rights situation of US Muslims substantially deteriorating in recent times. The effects of the Muslim ban issued by former president Donald Trump are still felt today, with “Islamophobia” continuously leading to violent activities and hate crimes against American Muslims. A 2024 survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 70 percent of American Muslims believe that discrimination against Muslims has increased since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, and 53 percent say that news about the war makes them feel afraid.

The widespread discrimination against ethnic minorities in the US and the crimes committed by the US in the Middle East and other regions that seriously violated the sovereignty and human rights of other countries not only expose the hypocrisy of US discourses, but also constitute an irony on the role of the US as the world’s sole “human rights policeman.” Ultimately, the US-style human rights exist in a paradoxical way: there is a deviation between the US’ human rights discourse and human rights practice.
 
The US does not miss any chance to make the most of what it regards as “stains” on the human rights record of other countries, taking them as excuses to lecture them. By doing so, it is trying to weaponise human rights to satisfy its impromptu political needs today. The US paints a grim picture in countries like India, China and other countries.

In the case of China, the US government flags human rights excesses in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong. Even mainstream US publications such as the New York Times have regularly published reports depicting mishandling of dissidents and other ethnic groups in various parts of China. North Korea, an ally of China, attracts more sinister coverage.

Another punching bag for the US is Iran which is projected as the most devilish state in the Middle East. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies are slowly slipping out of the US “hate list” despite marginal improvement in their governance record.
 
*Mirror to US*
Myriad agencies monitor the state of freedom of religion within the United States. They regularly report on violations of religious freedom and human rights.  Even the United Nations Human Rights Committee monitors violation of religious freedom, racial profiling by law enforcement officials, hate crimes against minority communities, such as African Americans, Indigenous People, Hispanic and Asian people, and Muslims. The UN Committee is actually concerned that there is underreporting of hate crimes by law enforcement agencies to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Likewise, the Council of American-Islamic Relations receives hundreds of reports every year about incidents involving discrimination against Muslim population from across the United States. Last year, the National Association for Advancement of Coloured People protested against “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”
It is also important to note that hate crimes in the US substantially include religion as well, although large categories remain race and ethnicity. This can be gleaned from the report of the US Justice Department, which said that in 2022, more than 17% cases of hate crimes were linked to religion. There are thousands of registered cases of hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists in the US.
Such discriminations involving religious communities, including Black Christians and Muslims and other racial groups are rampant in European countries that are strategic allies and economic partners of the US.

Before acting as a religious policeman for other countries, mostly from the Global South, the US agencies, particularly USCIRF, should be aware of what is going on within the US. Instead of urging other countries to review religious freedom, the US should spend the time doing so itself, given its own shameful human rights record, both at home and overseas.

*(The Author is Chairman of All India Tanzeem Ulema E Islam)*

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