Islamophobia is a global epidemic. The horrific massacre of children and teachers at the Army Public School in Peshawar, in a valley of Pakistan's Khyber Pass, is just the latest in the litany of terror that feeds this mistrust and hatred worldwide.
The killers, who say these were revenge killings, are reported to have called out the name of Allah as they fired. But, as so many of the world's religious and political leaders have proclaimed in the wake of this atrocity, nowhere in the teachings of Islam is this carnage justified.
There is a compelling need for the international community to understand the distinction between terror and Islam. We need to counter the worldwide escalation of Islamophobia - the fear and hatred of Islam itself -- just as surely as we would need to combat any epidemic that threatens the well-being of humanity.
Recently, I was invited to speak about religious conflict in today's world at one of Morocco's leading universities. This place of higher learning, Al Akhawayn University, is an independent, public, coeducational university established to promote "the values of human solidarity and tolerance". It was a truly appropriate setting in which to talk about religious hatred.
Being a buddhist, I spoke from the perspective of someone deeply concerned about the outbreak of violence by Buddhist extremists against Muslims, Christians and Hindus in South and South East Asia.
In the last two years there have been more than 300 attacks on the mosques, businesses and homes of Sri Lanka's Muslim population - as well as attacks on other religious minorities. It deeply saddens me to say that these have been led, in many cases, by Buddhist monks and carried out in the name of Buddhism.
There have been similar outrages in Myanmar (Burma) where Buddhist mobs have forced 100,000 Rohingya Muslims, many of them women and children, into impoverished refugee camps.
This outbreak of hatred takes place against a global backdrop.
The latest report of the Observatory of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which brings together Islamic nations within the United Nations, covers October 2012 to September 2013. It documents incidents in 18 nations involving assaults on mosques, desecration of Muslim graves, political and social campaigns against Islam and Muslims, intolerance directed against Islam and its sacred symbols, discrimination against Muslims in educational institutions, workplaces and airports.
These incidents not only target Islam. Nor must it be left to Muslims alone to defend themselves against this blight; this is a responsibility of all who care deeply for the shared values and dignity of humanity.
These attacks are part of a larger and deeply disturbing tendency worldwide to denigrate, demonize and unleash assaults, often with extreme cruelty, on entire groups of people, victimizing them for their identity.
Like all forms of religious, ethnic or cultural hatred, what is happening is a direct threat to the principles of co-existence that are essential if people of different faiths and traditions are to live and flourish together.
To quote the Secretary General of the OIC, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu,
In the present globalized world, peaceful and harmonious co-existence among diverse religions and cultures is not an option but the only means to enduring human cohabitation ... It has always been my firm belief that like apartheid, the challenge for the international community is to dismantle Islamophobia completely and prevent its spread before it gets out of hand and jeopardizes global peace and security ... The sanctity of freedom of expression and freedom of religion cannot be allowed to be endangered by those few radical extremists who are determined to create unrest and divisions in our present day world.
The argument is put forward that Islamophobia as a whole is justified by the atrocities carried out by extremists in the name of their faith - like the carnage in Peshawar - thereby casting suspicion on the hundreds of millions who belong to the same broad tradition but who have nothing whatsoever to do with these outrages.
If the logic of this mass demonization were to be applied universally, the curse of suspicion would fall like a shadow across most of humanity. The historical record shows that, sadly, few of us can claim that no one has ever committed harm in the name of our faiths, our cultures or our peoples.
Whatever atrocities have been carried out in the name of any of humanity's faiths, cultures or peoples, let us not now - out of fear, ignorance or indignation - hand victory to those who seek to poison our common humanity.
I believe a deep-seated approach is needed to understand and heal what is happening across the globe. It will not end simply by denouncing it and seeking to suppress it. It will continue to burn. If there is to be an effective international roadmap for constructive action, it needs to be grounded in a far more profound dialogue, based on the enduring, noble and transcendent values of our respective traditions.Suggest a correction