Hostility towards religious groups increasing worldwide

Published 15 January 2014  |  
AP

A new survey has concluded that the number of countries where religious individuals experience high levels of social hostility reached a six year high in 2012.

According to research by Pew Research's Religion & Public Life project, the trend appears to impact all religious groups to varying degrees in the vast majority of countries round the world.

Christians are the most harassed group worldwide, with reports of social hostility being found in 155 countries over the period 2006 to 2012.

Focusing specifically on 2012, there were reports of harassment of Christians in 110 countries, five more than in 2011.

Pew measured government laws, policies and actions restricting religious beliefs and practices, as well as levels of social hostility by individuals or groups in society. Acts of social hostility included religion-related armed conflict or terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons, or other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

Looking at social hostility, attacks against minority religious groups occurred in 47% of countries, compared to 38% in 2011 and 24% in 2007.

Particular incidents highlighted by the research included attacks by Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka on a Mosque in the town of Dambulla in April 2012, and the occupation of a Seventh Day Adventist Church in the town of Deniyaya in August of the same year, where the monks later converted the building into a Buddhist Temple.

There were also attacks against Coptic Christian churches and Christian-owned businesses in Egypt. In August 2012, in the Egyptian village of Dahshur, a dispute between a Christian and a Muslim led to one death and more than a dozen injuries. Several Christian homes and businesses were destroyed and nearly all Christian families fled the village.

Occasions where violence or the threat of violence was used to force people to adhere to particular religious norms were found in 39% of countries, compared to 33% in 2011, and 18% in 2007.

These included one incident in September 2012 where a relatively young Vietnamese religion called Cao Dai organised an attack against an unofficial grouping under its banner because they were not worshipping in the style dictated by the senior council.

In India, members of a Hindu nationalist organisation known as Hindu Jagarana Vedike, enforced a morality code which resulted in an attack on young men and women for allegedly drinking and dancing at a birthday party in the state of Karnataka in July.

The research report also detailed the beheading a 24-year-old man in the Barawa, Somalia in November 2012 after the Al-Shabab Islamist group controlling the port town accused him of converting to Christianity.

Harassment of women over issues of religious dress also increased substantially, being found in nearly a third of all countries in 2012 (32%) compared to a quarter in 2011, and only 7% in 2007.

Muslims are the group most affected by this, and cases include a Han Chinese man who accosted a Uighur Muslim girl in Henan province and lifted her veil in November 2012 (which caused violent protests in response). In Moldova, two men attacked a Muslim woman in the capital city of Chisinau, calling her a "terrorist" and tearing her headscarf.

Mob violence with religious causes was found in a quarter of countries in 2012, compared with 18% in 2011, and 12% in 2007. In May 2012, in Kenya a Muslim mob attacked and killed two pastors who were visiting a Christian who had converted from Islam. In Nigeria, hundreds of Muslim youths attacked and burned Christian businesses and places of worship in November 2012 after a Christian was accused of blasphemy. Four Christians were killed.

Sectarian violence and religion-related terrorist violence both rose less substantially. Religion-related terrorism, such as the Nairobi mall attack, was found in 20% of countries in 2012, only a 1% increase from 2011, while sectarianism saw only a 3% increase between 2011 and 2012, from 15% to 18%.

The al-Shabab attack on a Nairobi mall last year and the August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin were detailed in the report, as well as an attack in China in October 2012 by Tibetan Buddhist monks against Hui Muslims at a site where a new mosque was being built in Gansu province.

The percentage of countries with some level of government interfered with worship or other religious practices increased from 74% in 2012, up from 69% in 2011. Pew research highlighted the case of Tuvalu, where the central government began enforcing a law that prevents unapproved religious groups from holding public meetings.

Public preaching by religious groups was restricted by governments in 38% of countries in 2012 compared to 31% in 2011. Tunisian authorities were noted by Pew Research as having made efforts to remove imams suspected of preaching what were seen as divisive theologies, including Salafism.

Governments used force against religious groups or individuals in nearly half (48%) of the world's countries in 2012, a 7% increase from 41% in 2011.

The Pew reports quotes an account by the US Department of State: "The government arrested 12 anti-slavery activists and charged them with sacrilege and blasphemy, along with other civil charges, for publicly burning religious texts to denounce what the activists viewed as support for slavery in Islamic commentary and jurisprudence."

The top five countries with high social hostility towards religion in 2012 were Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Somalia, and Israel. In terms of governmental restriction, the top five of 2012 were Egypt, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.

Overall, the only large region that did not see significant increase in social hostility towards religious groups was the Americas, which remain the least hostile in terms of government and social hostility.

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