7 Facts About Religious Harassment Wordwide 2 November 2014

Lucy Smith reviews some of the key points from the Pew Religious Harassment Index.

Religious Worship

The Pew Research Center conducts the largest study of religious harassment annually. Its most recent was issued in June 2014, collecting data from several years. It explores two aspects of religious persecution – the first is government restrictions on religion (i.e. does a government, for example, place any prohibitions on religious dress?); the second is social hostilities (what the relationships on the ground are like between communities).

The findings are revealing, surprising, and often disheartening. That said, the study is conscious it only focuses on the negative, i.e. the extent of religious harassment, and not at aspects of religious freedom in the countries studied, meaning it isn’t all doom and gloom.

So here is a list of the report’s most interesting findings:

1. 76% of people live in countries with high levels of religious persecution.

That is the majority of the world, which clearly means a lot more can be done to tackle the issue.

It also raises the question of whether we are in a period of relatively high religious persecution. Certainly globalisation and mass migration mean societies are much more diverse, meaning religious persecution has more opportunities to occur, but there are many historic examples of multireligious and multicultural towns and cities.

In the context of Pew’s research, they indicate that we are at an all time high for religious harassment and persecution in comparison with previous research.

2. Europe is the region with the biggest increase in restrictions on religious freedom, followed by MENA.

MENA (Middle-East North Africa) is perhaps notorious for its governmental repression, but it is surprising that Europe has increased its governmental level of religious restrictions. French forms of secularism as well as counter-terror laws aimed at Muslims are some of the contributing factors towards Europe’s increase in the rankings.

The failure of post-Arab Spring states also a likely factor behind MENA’s rise on restrictions in religious freedom.

3. Egypt has the highest level of government restrictions on religion.

Egypt’s government has always been notoriously repressive. In this instance, the repression is aimed at almost all but an extremely narrow government-sanctioned form of religion. It is one of the few places in the world where Christians and Muslims can at least be comfortable in enjoying equal amounts of religious discrimination.

There was a notable spike in persecution faced by Christian Coptics in Egypt with the burning of several churches during the counter-revolution against the Morsi government.

4. Muslims and Jews have experienced a six year high in religious harassment.

Since the Pew study was founded, the increase in religious persecution faced by Muslims has jumped from 72 countries in Dec 2012 to 109 in June 2014. Jews have also faced a similar peak, from 53 countries in June 2008 to 71 in June 2012.

This is the highest it has ever been.

5. Christians are the most persecuted religious groups.

But only just, Muslims face harassment in 109 countries, and Christians face harassment in 110.

6. China has moved into the “high” category for religious persecution.

China’s Cultural Revolution has consistently placed religion on the back foot. In recent years however, their persecution of Han Chinese Muslims (Henan province, Nov 2012) has led to a significant increase in their rating on the religious harassment index.

7. Iraq, pre-ISIS, was rated “high” on government restrictions.

Pew’s assessment of Iraq’s government rated it “high” on religious persecution. The Iraq government installed following the US-led invasion was often criticised as being highly sectarian and inflaming local tensions—an important part of the story that explains the self-styled Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS) rise in the area.

8. Muslims are more likely to face social harassment than any other group, and Christians more likely to face government harassment.

Muslims face social harassment in 88 countries (the highest of all groups) and Christians face government harassment in 79 countries (the highest of all groups).

Folk religions also face a large degree of social harassment, and Sikhs, Baha’is and Zoroastrians join Christians in facing significant government harassment.

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About Lucy Smith

Lucy Smith works as a campaigner against the arms trade and is currently studying for a Masters in International Relations in London.

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