THE United Kingdom has been bracketed with Russia, China, and Nigeria as countries with rising levels of religious intolerance, in a new study from the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
In Rising Restrictions on Religion, almost a third of the world’s 6.9 billion people are shown to live in countries where religious intolerance or hostility has grown. Countries that already had high levels of religious restriction are shown to be getting worse, while those with relatively low levels are becoming more tolerant, the study suggests.
The UK is among eight populous countries that show substantial increases in religious restriction, along with China, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, Egypt, and France. The study’s lead researcher, Brian Grim, cited a number of attacks on mosques; a series of anti-Semitic attacks, in part attributable to the conflict in Gaza; continuing sectarian violence in Northern Ireland; and Muslim protest against the deployment of British soldiers in Muslim-majority countries as factors that contributed to the UK’s shift into a higher category of intolerance.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme: “A lot of the tensions have been in the integration of the Muslim community within the UK. . .
“We are seeing some incidents where there have been pressures on women from Muslim communities to follow certain religious norms, and also society’s reaction to these different norms some Muslim groups follow.”
Twenty-five of the most populous countries comprise about 75 per cent of the global population. The study finds that restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose between mid-2006 and mid-2009 in 23 of 198 countries or territories, decreased in 12, and remained essentially unchanged in 163.
The number of countries in which governments used at least some measure of force against religious groups and individuals rose from 91 to 101 in the year 2008-09. The violence was wide-ranging, and included killing, physical abuse, imprisonment, detention, and displacement, as well as damage to and destruction of property.
Christians and Muslims, as the world’s largest religious groups, were harassed in the largest number of countries, but, in proportion to numbers, some smaller religious groups faced especially widespread harassment. Jews, though only one per cent of the population, were harassed in 75 countries.
Restrictions on religion were found to be particularly common in the 59 countries that prohibit blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation of religion. “While such laws are sometimes promoted as a way to protect religion, in practice they often serve to punish religious minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox or heretical,” the study reports.