PEW: Global Rise of government restrictions and social hostilities against Muslims

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SHAFAQNA – In many countries around the world, the government imposed restrictions and hostilities on religious activities and limited freedom of religion that tend to target Muslims. In recent years, Restrictions on Muslims rose by governments or by private actors in most of countries that have had laws or policies that ban Muslim from life religious.

Restrictions on religion around the world continued to climb in 2016, according to Pew Research Center’s ninth annual study of global restrictions on religion. This marks the second year in a row of increases in the overall level of restrictions imposed either by governments or by private actors (groups and individuals) in the 198 countries examined in the study.

The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions – that is, laws, policies and actions by officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices – rose from 25% in 2015 to 28% in 2016. This is the largest percentage of countries to have high or very high levels of government restrictions since 2013, and falls just below the 10-year peak of 29% in 2012.

Like government restrictions, social hostilities also peaked in 2012, particularly in the Middle East-North Africa region, which was still feeling the effects of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

In total in 2016, 83 countries (42%) had high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – up from 80 (40%) in 2015 and 58 (29%) in 2007.

In many countries, restrictions on religion resulted from actions taken by government officials, social groups or individuals espousing nationalist positions.

In the Netherlands, for instance, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party announced an election platform in 2016 that called for the “de-Islamization” of the country, including barring asylum seekers from Islamic countries, prohibiting Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public, closing all mosques and banning the Quran. In another case, the Czech group Block against Islam (which opposes allowing Muslim refugees into the country and calls for restrictions on the Muslim community) organized about 20 anti-Islam rallies around the country during the year.

In Europe, about a third of European countries (33%) had nationalist parties that made political statements against religious minorities, an increase from 20% of countries in 2015. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, promised to continue the ban on religious clothing and symbols in public places specifically to “fight the advance of political Islam.

In the Asia-Pacific region, nationalist political parties targeting religious groups were found in a smaller share of countries (12%), including Burma (Myanmar), India and New Zealand.

Overall, Muslims were the most common target of harassment by nationalist political parties or officials in 2016, typically in the form of derogatory statements or adverse policies. This was the case in Denmark, where the Danish People’s Party (DPP) backed a measure passed by the city council in Randers that made “traditional” meals – including pork products – mandatory in public institutions, including schools. Martin Henriksen, a spokesperson for the DPP, said the bill would preserve Danish culture and that the party was “fighting against Islamic rules and misguided considerations dictating what Danish children should eat.” The bill was opposed by members of the Muslim community because they saw it as stigmatizing; Muslims traditionally do not eat pork.

In the United States, Muslims were the targets of derogatory rhetoric and proposed discrimination. In July, Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump criticized the parents of a Muslim soldier who was killed in Iraq, saying the soldier’s mother was not “allowed” to speak at the Democratic National Convention, despite being on stage with her husband, implying that this was a result of her religion.

Later in the year, President-elect Trump appeared to stand by plans for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the United States and a proposed requirement that U.S. Muslims register in a database.

And, in Sweden, representatives of the Sweden Democrats Party made anti-Muslim remarks on multiple occasions during the year.

Nationalist ideologies were not limited to governments. The number of countries where nongovernmental nationalist organizations (as opposed to governmental actors, such as officeholders or political parties with a role in government) targeted religious groups also increased in 2016.

The majority of social groups displaying this kind of nationalist or anti-immigrant and anti-minority activity – 25 out of the 32 – were in European countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland and Hungary. A few additional countries with these types of groups were in the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka, India and Australia.

In Australia, for example, nationalist groups and local residents opposed the building of a mosque in southeast Melbourne; eventually a local council denied approval for its construction. Additionally, in May and July 2016, police made arrests in Melbourne after violence broke out between religious freedom advocates and opponents of Islam at competing protests.

In European countries, Muslims were targeted most frequently. Muslims were the focus of nationalist groups in 20 of the 25 European countries where these types of groups were active. Following the terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016, for example, the Spanish nationalist group Madrid Social Home hung signs near a major mosque in Madrid reading “Today Brussels, tomorrow Madrid?” and posted “Mosques out of Europe” on Twitter.

Some branches of a German far-right nationalist party have called for a ban on the construction and operation of mosques.

Nationalist organizations in society at large were also not a new phenomenon in most of the countries where they were active in 2016, but some spread their operations to new locales during the year. For instance, Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West established an Irish branch in 2016 – a move that was met with protests by groups describing themselves as opposing racism and supporting immigrants. and a Finland-based group called Soldiers of Odin spread in 2016 to multiple cities in Finland and some neighboring countries, including Estonia, organizing marches against “Islamist intruders” and vowing to set up volunteer street patrols to counter crime by migrants.

The Middle East-North Africa region continued to have the highest median level of government restrictions on religion in 2016, although the Americas had the sharpest increase in its median score, rising from 1.7 in 2015 to 2.2 in 2016. The rise in the Americas’ median score was partly due to incidents in which worship or proselytizing were restricted.

Meanwhile, Europe and the Americas were the only regions to experience increases in median levels of social hostilities involving religion, with Europe seeing the sharpest increase. The Middle East-North Africa region continued to experience a decline in its median score, although it remained the region with the highest levels of social hostilities.

It is important to note, however, that these restrictions and hostilities do not necessarily affect the religious groups and citizens of these countries equally.

The analysis also finds that among the world’s 25 most populous countries, Egypt, Russia, India, Indonesia and Turkey had the highest overall levels of government restrictions and social hostilities in 2016. China had the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index, while India had the highest score on the Social Hostilities Index.

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