1 July 2010
Religious intolerance has now joined racism in many parts of the world as the leading cause of the persecution of minorities, a new global report from Minority Rights Group International reveals.
State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 reports that the rise of religious nationalism, the economic marginalization of religious minorities and the abuse of counter-terrorism laws have all led to a growing pattern of persecution against religious minorities globally.
On every continent, religious minorities are facing attack, detention, torture and the repression of their fundamental freedoms. “Religious intolerance is the new racism,” says Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority Rights Group International. “Many communities that have faced racial discrimination for decades are now being targeted because of their religion.”
According to the report the targeting of minorities on religious grounds is now increasingly becoming a trend in most of Western Europe and in North America while in parts of Asia and Africa religion is fast overtaking race or ethnicity as the key factor driving discrimination and violent attacks against communities. In many states, from the United Kingdom to Ethiopia to Bangladesh, poverty is increasingly correlated with religion.
Minorities, particularly Muslims, across the USA and Europe, have been targets of increased state controls as well as nationalist campaigns by right-wing groups. In Switzerland, following a campaign by the ultra-conservative Swiss People’s Party, a majority of participating voters backed a referendum, which proposed a ban on the building of new minarets in mosques.
The report also finds that nearly a decade after 9/11, religious minorities across the world face increased attacks, persecution and a clampdown on their freedoms due to stringent counter-terrorism measures.
In Iraq and Pakistan, both countries at the forefront of the ‘war on terror’, attacks against religious minorities have escalated in recent years.
In Iraq, religious groups such as the Christians, Mandaeans, Baha’i and Yezidis, have become targets of violence, including murder, abduction, rape and looting of properties, since the 2003 US-led invasion.
In Pakistan, partly as a backlash and response to the US and Pakistani military operations, the Taliban have targeted Christians for attack, through killings, torture, forcible conversions and burning of churches and Bibles, the report says.
In the last decade there has also been an increase in religious profiling as part of counter-terrorism measures introduced by governments. In most cases the targets have been men believed to be Muslim or originating from a Muslim state.
In the aftermath of the Christmas Day 2009 attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit, by a Nigerian Muslim, the US authorities targeted citizens of 14 countries – 13 of them predominantly Muslim – for special scrutiny at airports. In January 2009, thousands of people protested in Uttar Pradesh, India, accusing police of arresting young Muslim boys on terrorism charges with minimal evidence.
Many religious communities also face difficulties such as lack of citizenship or being unable to adhere to their customs and practices and build places of worship due to national religious registration laws. In Egypt, the government requires all identification papers to list religious affiliation, but restricts the choice to the three officially-recognized religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The Baha’i are thus unable to obtain identification papers because they refuse to lie about their religious affiliation and are deprived of access to employment, education, medical and financial services.
Since 2001, a number of countries, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, have either introduced or amended their religious registration laws.
‘Although these laws are sometimes presented as responses to security threats or as a means of maintaining public order, they are increasingly being used by states to monitor and control religious communities,’ says Mark Lattimer.
The following is a list of some specific cases of issues affecting religious minorities regionally and nationally. Interviewees and their contact details are listed below each case:
Rise of far right in Europe fuels spread of intolerance towards religious minorities
A rise in right-wing radicalism is fuelling the spread of xenophobia and extremist attitudes towards religious minorities in Europe. The report details a sharp rise in Islamophobia in Europe in 2009.
In May, ultra right-wing groups held an ‘anti-Islam’ rally to oppose the building of a large new mosque in Cologne, Germany. When the authorities in Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen approved the country’s first purpose-built mosque, the extreme-right Danish People’s Party launched an anti-mosque campaign in September. Following a campaign by the ultra-conservative Swiss People’s Party, most of Switzerland’s cantons and a majority of participating voters backed a referendum in November, which proposed a ban on the building of new minarets in mosques. The report also notes an increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents against the Jewish community in Europe. The chapter also points to the global financial crisis contribution to the rise.