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Religious restrictions and hostilities experienced by Muslims

Religious restrictions and hostilities experienced by Muslims

Categories: Latest News

Thursday March 05 2015

The Pew Research Center released its annual report on trends in religious restrictions and hostilities last week. The report is based on two different indices. The Government Restrictions Index which measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices, and the Social Hostilities Index which measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society.

The GRI comprises 20 measures of restrictions, including efforts by government to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversion, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups. The SHI consists of 13 measures of social hostilities and includes religion-related armed conflict or terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons or other religion related intimidation or abuse.

The summary results in the report shows “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 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. “

“The overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – were high or very high in 39% of countries.”

“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%). In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high.”

The report exposes harassment faced by Muslims from government or social groups, in half of the countries (99 of the 198 countries) included in the study. Western European nations, such as France and Germany, came high in both government restrictions and social hostilities indices. Muslims experienced harassment in 32 of the 45 European countries, or 71%, compared to 34% of countries in the rest of the world. These alarming findings correlate with the increased popularity of far-right groups across Europe who regularly use anti-Muslim rhetoric to incite Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice.

Detailed incidents were used in the report in parallel to the data, such as the brutal murder of Pakistani Muslim Shehzad Luqman, in Greece. Two men suspected of being members of Greece’s neo-Nazi political party, Golden Dawn, were convicted of stabbing Luqman to death. While this attack was particularly violent, it was not an isolated incident as the murder of Mohammed Saleem Khan in Birmingham in 2013 attests. In Ireland, several mosques and Islamic cultural centres received aggressive letters, one of which stated: “Muslims have no right to be in Ireland. The Irish people are not happy with your presence in our country, which belongs to the true Irish people.”

In 42% of countries in Europe, individuals were attacked or displaced from their homes or places of worship in acts of revenge for religious activities considered threatening to the majority faith. For example, in Poland, arsonists set fire to the door of a mosque in Gdansk in October 2013 and some believe it was in retaliation to the halal slaughter of a lamb by the country’s chief mufti, Tomasz Miskiewicz.

The report reveals that the same percentage of countries (42%) saw women harassed over religious dress– a higher percentage than in the rest of the world (22% of countries). The horrific attack of a pregnant Muslim woman, resulting in a miscarriage, in June 2013 in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil was cited. The banning of the Islamic veil has swept across European governments affecting the climate of hostility experienced by Muslim women with a rise in the number of incidents of women being harassed over religious dress across the region.

The Pew report covers the case of the French Muslim woman who appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against the French veil ban on grounds of it violating her human rights, The ECHR rejected her appeal upholding the ban and citing legal arguments advanced by the Belgian Constitutional Court in 2013.

The face veil (niqab) has been banned in Belgium, north-eastern regions of Spain (including Barcelona) and several towns in Italy. Plans to impose a ban in the Netherlands were only halted due to the centre-right coalition government collapsing and being replaced by its left-wing rivals. The earlier proposed ban reflected the influence of the anti-Islamist Geert Wilders and his Freedom party which was at that time the third largest in parliament. In Denmark in 2008, the government announced it would bar judges from wearing headscarves and similar religious or political symbols – including crucifixes and turbans – in courtrooms. In the UK, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said that full veils are a symbol of an “increasingly divided Britain,” that they “oppress” women, and are a potential security risk. UKIP adopted a policy on banning the niqab and burqa in 2010 but has since dropped it.

According to the Pew report, in almost two-thirds of the European countries organised groups used force or intimidation in an effort to “dominate public life with their perspective on religion.” This type of social hostility was much more widespread in Europe, reported in 67% of countries in the region, than in the rest of the world (38%). In some cases, attempts to shift public attitudes on religion involved online intimidation of minority religious groups through social media, including posting anti-Muslim rhetoric. This is regularly seen in the UK on the websites of extremist groups such as Britain First and the English Defence League.

The increase in popularity of right-wing parties and far-right groups in Europe is a cause for concern with many groups capitalising on the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year. In Germany the Pegida movement is growing, it consists of “disillusioned citizens, neo-Nazis and football hooligans” who are against Muslims immigrating to Germany and have been backed by the anti-immigration party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). “This bloodbath proves that those who laughed at or ignored the fears of so many people about a looming danger of Islamism were wrong,” said Alexander Gauland, a regional leader of AfD. After the Paris attacks in January 2015, the leader of the far-right Front National in France, Marine Le Pen, said: “We must be in a position to respond to the war that has been declared by Islamist fundamentalism.”

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom party is to face trial for inciting racial hatred after calling for the “de-Islamisation” of the west, saying “we have to close our borders, reinstate border controls, get rid of political correctness, introduce administrative detention and stop immigration from Islamic countries.”


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