By Betul Yuruk
NEW YORK (AA) - UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday visited Islamic Cultural Center's mosque in New York, calling for efforts to ensure the global safety of worshippers and the protection of religious sites.
Guterres visited the mosque before the Friday prayer service, offering "solidarity with the Muslim community from New York to New Zealand and beyond."
"Today and every day, we must stand united against anti-Muslim hatred and all forms of bigotry," said the UN chief.
Last Friday, a terrorist open fired on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing at least 50 victims.
Over the past week, many of the victims' names became known, thanks in part to many on social media who have shared their stories, such as Mucad Ibrahim, a three-year-old, the youngest of the Christchurch victims and Farid Ahmed, who lost his wife after she jumped in front of him to protect him from the terrorist's gunfire.
Guterres called the attack appalling, yet "perhaps not utterly surprising".
"Around the world, we have seen ever-rising anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism, hate speech and bigotry," Guterres said. "I have repeatedly warned about those dangers."
Guterres requested the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, to create an action plan for the whole UN body to be fully engaged in support of safeguarding religious sites.
"Here today, in the peace of this holy space, I am making 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," Guterres said.
The UN chief also warned that hateful rhetoric is being spread around like "wildfire".
"Many political movements are either openly admitting their neo-Nazi affiliation, or lip syncing their words, and cutting and pasting the symbols and images," he said.
Part of the fire's spread is due to the role the media has played in perpetuating that Muslims are extremists, according to Guterres.
A study published in January by Georgia State University and the University of Alabama found that between the years 2006 and 2015, attacks in the U.S. by those claiming to be Muslim received 357 percent more news coverage than attacks carried out by others.
"We need to act against extremism in all its forms – whether it targets mosques, synagogues, churches or anywhere else," Guterres said.
Guterres sent a message to the Muslims around the world: "You are not alone. The world is with you. The United Nations is with you, and I am with you."
He was joined by Turkey's UN Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu as well as representatives from New Zealand, Australia, Kuwait and Pakistan.
*Umar Farooq in Washington contributed to the story