D.he persecution and oppression of people because of their religious affiliation “increased significantly” in the past year. This is the result of the annual study presented on Tuesday by the papal aid organization “Church in Need” on the worldwide situation of religious freedom.
The authors cite the intensification of persecution in authoritarian states and the expansion of transnational jihadist networks, but also discrimination as a result of the corona pandemic, as reasons. Christians are the most persecuted community, but Muslims and members of other religious communities are also persecuted and discriminated against.
States and terror groups are taking advantage of the corona pandemic
The authors of the 800-page study found serious violations of religious freedom in 62 of all 192 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia. 5.2 billion people live in them, which corresponds to 67 percent of the world’s population.
Attacks on religious freedom come from the governments of 43 authoritarian states such as the People’s Republic of China and Myanmar, which are home to 2.9 billion people; also by Islamist extremists who operate in 26 countries with 1.2 billion inhabitants, mostly in Africa and the Middle East.
In Africa, religiously motivated persecution is even “extreme” in twelve countries. In Africa in particular, terror groups are using the pandemic to recruit new members and to expand their transnational jihadist networks by joining forces with local armed militias. The crescent of jihadist violence now stretches from Mali to Mozambique, then across the Comoros in the Indian Ocean to the Philippines.
States are also using the pandemic to expand control over people and restrict the practice of religion more strongly. Websites on which church services were broadcast are blocked, and conspiracy theories specifically blame religious communities and ethnic groups as scapegoats for the pandemic. In countries like Pakistan, Islamic charities have excluded non-Muslims from aid deliveries.
The authors write that the control of religion is most effective in China. The Uyghurs are more affected than others by mass internments and being sent to re-education camps. They are surprised to find that so far only the United States and Canada have described the crackdown on the Uighurs as genocide, but not Muslim countries, which prefer cooperation with the Chinese state to condemnation of China.
“Polite Persecution” of Religions in the West
However, the report also contains positive examples in which religious communities support one another. In Cameroon, for example, Christians and Muslims have prayed together for an end to the pandemic; in Bangladesh, Islamic dignitaries have buried non-Muslim victims of the pandemic. The authors hope for new impulses for the interreligious dialogue from the encounters between Pope Francis and Islamic religious scholars.
Regarding religious freedom in the western world, the authors note that, as Pope Francis put it, “polite persecution” began there. Under the guise of modernity, new norms would label religious values as backward and force them into the mere private sphere. In addition, it is counterproductive that more and more countries are abolishing religious education and thus giving up an instrument with which radicalization tendencies can be curbed.
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