Religion Under Worldwide Attack, Pew Research Report Says

Religion is under attack in more countries as governments crack down on religion, and social hostilities grow, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.

“Among the world’s most populous countries, government restrictions or social hostilities substantially increased in eight countries – China, Egypt, France, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom – and did not substantially decrease in any,” the report said.

The report, carried out by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, looked at statistics and government data spanning from 2006 to 2009, and uses such criteria as government crackdowns on religion and social hostility, including religious-motivated bias, beatings, and murder, to determine which countries were the least tolerant to religion.

Government laws and social harassment against Christians were seen in 130 countries – 66 percent of the world’s countries – the Pew report said. Muslims experienced government and social harassment in slightly fewer countries, with incidents reported in 117 countries (59 percent). Many of those countries overlap with incidents against both religions happening in the same areas, suggesting the ongoing strife between the two religions.

The world’s most geographically concentrated religious groups – Hindus and Buddhists – also experienced discrimination in 27 and 16 countries, respectively.

The regions of the world where religious intolerance were highest are the Middle East and Europe. Although the Middle East is predominantly Muslim, the report said that Muslims were the most harassed religious group, with Christians and Jews also showing a heavy level of harassment.

In Europe, Muslims were also the most harassed religion, with intolerance being recorded in 80 percent of that region’s countries. Also like the Middle East, the predominant religion was also heavily persecuted against with 69 percent of European countries showing intolerance to Christians.

The countries with the biggest rise in harassment against religion are each from the respective regions with the biggest rises.

Egypt showed the biggest increase in both government crackdowns and social hostilities, with the report mentioning that this rise was independent of the recent revolution that country experienced this year. Strife between Muslims and Coptic Christians is an ongoing problem in Egypt, as well as the ability to express religion freely.

France came in second for the biggest rise in harassment, which took criticism for implementing anti-burqa laws last year. Bias against Muslims has also been on the rise.

A promising revelation in the report is that many countries that have suffered from intolerance before are showing improvements.

Despite UN warnings of a possible genocide in 2007 when Darfur refugees crossed into its borders to seek shelter, Chad showed the second highest decrease in social hostilities against religion. Lebanon, a country with large amounts of Christians and Jews whilst being in the Middle East, also showed great improvements, coming in fourth for highest decline in social hostilities.

Government crackdowns on religion also decreased in Greece and Nicaragua, two countries where previous governments showed intolerance toward religion, suggesting an increase in personal freedom in those countries.

The Pew report named Japan the most religiously tolerant of the world’s countries, with the fewest number of government crackdowns and social hostilities. Brazil also proved to be welcoming to religion, coming in a close second.

However, the Pew report suggests that areas where intolerance was already high are getting worse.

“In general, most of the countries that had substantial increases in government restrictions or social hostilities involving religion already had high or very high levels of restrictions or hostilities,” the report said.

“By contrast, nearly half of the countries that had substantial decreases in restrictions or hostilities already scored low. This suggests that there may be a gradual polarization taking place in which countries that are relatively high in religious restrictions are getting higher while those that are relatively low are getting lower.”

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