Monday, September 24, 2012

Religious intolerance on the rise worldwide, says Pew Research Centre report

The report says the US and UK are among countries showing a worrying rise in religious discrimination

Three-quarters of the world's human population of seven billion live under strong government curbs on religion, or among serious "social hostilities" involving faith issues, find researchers.

The US and UK, say the researchers, are among countries showing a worrying rise in religious discrimination.

The conclusions of the project, conducted by the Pew Research Centre, an American thinktank,'s Forum on Religion and Public Life, were published on Thursday. The analysis, of 197 countries and territories, identifies a sharp rise in religious limits globally and a 6% increase in restrictions in the four years until 2010.

The survey, The Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion, is the second successive one by Pew to note increasing intolerance worldwide.

Painting a stark picture of a "rising tide" of intolerance and government restrictions on religious matters, the report cites evidence including "crimes, malicious acts and violence motivated by religious hatred or bias, as well as increased government interference with worship or other religious practices".

The project notes an acceleration in intolerance, reporting a 63% rise from mid-2009 to mid-2010 in numbers of countries that increased government restrictions, in comparison with Pew's last survey that had noted a 56% rise.

Remarking on the trend, the report says: "The number of countries where harassment or intimidation of specific religious groups took place rose from 147 as of mid-2009, to 160 as of mid-2010."

In the survey the UK is second among countries marked "high" – on a scale from very high, the top offending countries, to low – with regard to "social hostility", one of the two indices used to evaluate levels of intolerance.

The ranking puts the UK, on the table of descending scores, in the next place down below Kenya, and at one place above Burma. The ranking marks a rise for the UK since the last survey. In Europe only Russia fared worse.

In the second index – covering government restrictions – the UK remains on the "moderate" list.

Commenting on the UK's social hostility placing, a lead researcher, Brian Grim, said the rise had been driven by several issues. "That included Christians voicing concern about being able to talk about their religion, a spike in antisemitic incidents and also anti-Muslim sentiment. It also included concern about issues within the Muslim community itself and honour killings."

In the period covered by the survey there had been an upsurge in sectarian tension in Northern Ireland which had since subsided.

Among other countries showing marked increases in religious intolerance for the first time, though still classed only as "moderate", is the US, which also registers a rise for the first time on both scales, moving from a low category of religious limits to moderate.

"From mid-2009 to mid-2010," the report's authors note, "a number of the sources used in the study reported an increase in the number of incidents at state and local level in which members of some religious groups faced restrictions on their ability to practise their faith."

These included "religious groups in the US [which had] faced difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools or other religious institutions".

A more marked increase was recorded in the social hostilities index, moving the US from the lower end of the moderate range of hostilities to the upper end of the moderate range. This was largely driven by an increase in religion-related terrorist attacks in the year to mid-2010.

The report also noted legislation by some states to ban "sharia law", or prevent construction of mosques.

The percentage of the world's population living in countries with low levels of restriction, the report calculates, fell between 2007 and 2010 from 14% to 6%.

The survey reports that in all five main regions of the world – including the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa where religious restrictions previously had been declining – freedom of faith is coming under increasing pressure.

While the survey notes growing religious restrictions in places where that might be expected, including in Nigeria which has seen a spate of attacks against Christians, as well as in Indonesia, where pressure from Islamists forced dozens of churches to close, it also identifies growing problems in some western democracies including Switzerland, which, in 2009, banned the construction of minarets, and the US...Read the full story by Peter Beaumont in The Guardian

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Police officers stand guard during a protest against the film Innocence of Muslims outside the US embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. / Credits: Tatan Syuflana, AP-The Guardian

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