In spite of the Olympics’ message of harmony and inclusivity, it seems that the games have been afflicted by the kind of bigotry and hatred that plagues the world today.
Authorities at the Winter Olympics have announced that it has halted plans to build a multi-faith prayer room where Muslim spectators would be allowed to pray.
The decision from Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) came after “strong opposition” from city groups. The group leading the protest has been PyeongChang Olympics Gangwon Citizens’ Islam Countermeasure Association. The recently formed group started a Google petition that has received more than 56,000 signatures. The petition alleges that the idea of a prayer room gives preferential treatment to Muslims, and also warns citizens that the move may also encourage fundamental Muslims whom they should all be wary of.
“The government has already spent too much of the taxpayers’ money on the Games, and we shouldn’t spend more building a prayer room,” Seo Ji-hyun, the director of operations at the Islam Countermeasure Association, said in a conversation with Al-Jazeera. He also advised Muslims to forego prayers as they supposedly would while driving or flying.
Muslims make up only 0.2 percent of the population in South Korea but have already become a contested demographic.
The number of Muslim tourists traveling to South Korea has increased by 33 percent. KTO has made efforts to woo Muslims in order to become more “Muslim-friendly”, through attempts like issuing halal certificates to restaurants. Some quarters in the population have also caught up on the kind of Islamophobia rife in the US. The Citizens’ Association for a Proper Country, under Jeong Hyeong-man, has rallied against halal-friendly establishments and asked citizens to beware of “the increase of Muslim terrorist bases in Korea.”
KTO’s decision has come under scrutiny by the Korean Muslim Federation.
“This decision demonstrates that we, as a host country, lack thoughtful understanding,” Lee Ju-hwa, a KMF representative, told Al Jazeera in a statement.
Even though the Olympics will no longer have a prayer room to facilitate spectators, there will still be canteens at the Olympics serving halal food.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters