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Pew Report Details the Sorry State of Religious Tolerance in the World

more from Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sunday, March, 1st, 2015, 8:05 am

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I have been following all the CPAC nuttiness, and was listening to Echosmith’s song “Cool Kids” the other day, thinking, thanks to people like those gathered at CPAC, that this is a problem of minority groups everywhere, wishing they could be like the cool kids and “fit in.”

I sometimes like to imagine we live in a world where it doesn’t matter what any of us believe, if we have religion or not. But I know such a world does not exist. Pew’s new study, it’s sixth annual Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities, released in February, makes that point abundantly clear. (Though just released, it looks at and compares data from 2012 and 2013.)

The report measures these restrictions and hostilities through “The Government Restrictions Index,” (GRI) which “measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices,” and “The Social Hostilities Index,” (SHI) which “measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society.”

(In case you are wondering, Pew’s FAQ page explains that the data is more than a year old for a very simple reason: “Most of the source reports come out a few months after the year they cover because it takes time to collect and analyze the information; our coding and analysis also takes time.” For those interested in Pew’s methodology, see Appendix A of the 2015 report.)

If the news is not as fresh as it might be, it is still unpleasant:

The new study finds that the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religion dropped from 33% in 2012 to 27% in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. These types of hostilities run the gamut from vandalism of religious property and desecration of sacred texts to violent assaults resulting in deaths and injuries.

This is welcome news. However,

By contrast, the share of countries with high or very high government restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same from 2012 to 2013. The share of countries in this category was 27% in 2013, compared with 29% in 2012. Government restrictions on religion include efforts to control religious groups and individuals in a variety of ways, ranging from registration requirements to discriminatory policies and outright bans on certain faiths.

This is less welcome news. Pew tells us that “restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39% of countries” including China and India (we just saw how U.S. atheist blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death with machetes in Bangladesh). The result is that “5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013.”

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This is really a rather horrifying statistic, to think that percentage of the world’s population has such severely limited religious freedom (or, rather, Republican-style religious freedom).

Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, the highest overall levels of restrictions were found in Burma (Myanmar), Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices.

Russia is not a surprise, given who is running the place today. It’s not okay to be gay, but it’s okay to invade other countries. Sounds a lot like the U.S. in some ways.

And here is a statistic for the Religious Right and the GOP, which imagines only Christians are the targets of persecution and harassment:

As in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52%), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50%).

There are plentiful examples of Muslims being harassed in our own country, one of the most recent being Thursday’s Muslim Capitol Day celebration in Austin, Texas, where a Muslim singing the National Anthem was shouted down by Texas bigots from the Patriot Defensive Foundation, Inc., shouting “No Sharia!,” “Islam is a lie!” and “Go home!” One of the classier signs present read, “I serve a risen savior, Jesus Christ. Muhammad is dead.”

Not if you don’t serve your risen savior’s teachings, you don’t. He told you to turn the other cheek and to not cast the first stone.

The Pew report also addresses rising anti-Semitism, certainly a troubling sign of the times, though the report points out that “Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments.”

Whereas the number of countries where Muslims and Christians were harassed fell between 2012 and 2013,

There was a notable increase in the number of countries in which Jews and adherents of folk religions were harassed. Jews, who make up 0.2% of the world’s population, were harassed in 77 countries (up from 71 countries in 2012), and adherents of folk religions were harassed in 34 countries (up from 26 in 2012).

Folk religions here includes African traditional religions (no longer welcome on its own continent by Christians or Muslims), Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. This, by the way, is the definition of Paganism (religion of the place) and is still referred to as Paganism by Religious Right demagogues even if the people targeted do not think of themselves that way. Remember, Paganism is an invention of monotheism’s introduction of the true/false distinction.

Finally, an issue we see often discussed, women’s dress. Pew reports that, “Women were harassed over religious dress in about four-in-ten countries in Europe (19 of 45, or 42%) – a higher percentage than in the rest of the world (22% of countries) and about the same share as in the Middle East-North Africa region (where it occurred in eight of 20 countries, or 40%).”

It is ironic that wearing too many clothes (in the West) can be as offensive as wearing too few (in the Middle East). Westerners tend to think of themselves as more enlightened, but if we are so enlightened, why does Muslim headwear bother us so much?

The World Bulletin reported last year that, a Muslim graduate student with a degree in political science, attended the Republican Party convention as a reporter and was ridicules and called “Islamist” by delegates because she was wearing a hijab, or headscarf.

Headscarves have even reached the Supreme Court in what the International Business Times calls “the unbearable whiteness of Abercrombie and Fitch.”

“I wish that I could be like the cool kids,” sings Echosmith. In a 2006 Salon interview, Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries admitted that his brand is “exclusionary” and for “cool kids.” He could easily be the leader of the world religion, talking this way, a Religious Right figure or a spokesman for ISIL.

Echosmith and Jeffries seem to have very different ideas about what makes you cool, however. Echosmith lead singer Sydney Sierota says, “Cool to me is being who you want to be and how you see yourself.” For Jeffries, and sadly, for many of the world’s religions, “cool” instead seems to be in the eyes of the beholder.

I think the world would be a better place if we were all like Sierota and less like Jeffries. If we were, next year’s PEW report might have better news for us.

Pew Report Details the Sorry State of Religious Tolerance in the World was written by Hrafnkell Haraldsson for PoliticusUSA.
© PoliticusUSA, Sun, Mar 1st, 2015 — All Rights Reserved

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