Countries with Very High Social Hostilities Involving Religion (scoring 7.2 or higher out of 10 on the Social Hostilities Index) in order: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Somalia, israel, Iraq, Palestinian territories, Syria, Russia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Yemen, Kenya, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar.
The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society. This 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 SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities.
The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012. A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. One example is abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country. Incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47% of countries in 2012, up from 38% in 2011 and 24% in the baseline year of the study.
Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring. There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the “high” category for the first time.
In Libya, for instance, two worshippers were killed in an attack on a Coptic Orthodox church in the city of Misrata in December 2012. In Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, monks attacked Muslim and Christian places of worship, including reportedly attacking a mosque in the town of Dambulla in April 2012 and forcibly occupying a Seventh-day Adventist church in the town of Deniyaya and converting it into a Buddhist temple in August 2012. And in Muslim-majority Egypt, attacks on Coptic Orthodox Christian churches and Christian-owned businesses were on the rise well before the acceleration in attacks that took place following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. For instance, in August 2012, in the village of Dahshur, a dispute between a Christian and a Muslim led to one death and more than a dozen injuries. Several Christian homes and businesses were destroyed and nearly all Christian families fled the village. In Vietnam, for instance, the managing council of the government-recognized Cao Dai religion, a syncretistic religious movement that originated in Vietnam in the 20th century, orchestrated an assault on followers of an unsanctioned Cao Dai group in September 2012, injuring six. The head of the Cao Dai managing council said the reason for the assault was that the followers of the unsanctioned group were not worshipping according to the dictates of the council. In addition to new instances of violence, efforts to enforce religious norms intensified in other countries. In India, members of a Hindu nationalist organization, Hindu Jagarana Vedike, enforced a morality code, including an attack on young men and women for allegedly drinking and dancing at a birthday party in the state of Karnataka in July. And in parts of Somalia under the control of the Islamic militant group al-Shabab, the group continued to ban cinemas, music, smoking, shaving beards and other behavior it views as “un-Islamic.” The group reportedly beheaded a 24-year-old man in Barawa in November 2012 after accusing him of converting to Christianity. Harassment of women over religious dress occurred in nearly a third of countries in 2012 (32%), up from a quarter in 2011 (25%) and less than one-in-ten (7%) as of mid-2007.
Mob violence related to religion occurred in a quarter of countries in 2012 (25%), up from 18% in 2011 and 12% as of mid-2007. In May 2012, for instance, a Muslim mob in Kenya attacked and killed two pastors who were visiting a Christian who had converted from Islam. Mob violence also escalated in Indonesia, as Muslim groups targeted houses of worship, religious schools and homes of other Muslims they deemed “unorthodox,” according to the U.S. Department of State. In August 2012, for instance, some 500 Sunni hard-liners attacked a Shia community in the city of Sampang, killing two people, burning dozens of homes and displacing hundreds of people.12 And in Nigeria, hundreds of Muslim youths attacked and burned Christian businesses and places of worship in November 2012 after a Christian was accused of blasphemy. Four Christians were killed. In China, a Han Chinese man accosted a Uighur Muslim girl in Henan province and lifted her veil in November 2012. In response, violent protests broke out as hundreds of Uighurs demonstrated against the incident.9 And in Moldova, two men attacked a Muslim woman in the capital city of Chisinau, calling her a “terrorist” and tearing her headscarf.
The share of countries experiencing sectarian violence rose last year, continuing a trend noted in the previous report in this series. Sectarian violence was reported in nearly one-fifth of the world’s countries in 2012 (18%), up from 15% in 2011 and 8% as of mid-2007. In China, for example, sectarian tensions escalated into violence in October 2012 when Tibetan Buddhist monks led an attack against Hui Muslims at a site where a new mosque was being built-in Gansu province.18 Ongoing sectarian violence also continued unabated in some countries in 2012. In Burma (Myanmar), for instance, communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists has resulted in hundreds of deaths and displaced more than 100,000 people from their homes. In Syria, the ongoing civil war has fallen partly along sectarian lines, leaving tens of thousands dead and displacing millions in recent years. And in Iraq, sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims continued, and attacks of some kind continued to occur on an almost daily basis.
Religion-related terrorist violence occurred in about a fifth of countries in 2012 (20%), roughly the same share as in 2011 (19%) but up markedly from 2007 (9%). In March 2012, a rabbi and three Jewish children were killed by an Islamist extremist at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. In the United States, an August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin left six worshippers dead and three others wounded. In some countries where there had previously been religion-related terrorist attacks, these attacks escalated. The widely covered 2013 al-Shabab attack on a Nairobi mall, for instance, was part of a steady increase in religion-related terrorism in Kenya. In July and November 2012, militants attacked churches near the Kenya-Somalia border with grenades and gunfire, leaving more than a dozen dead and more than 50 wounded.
In northern Mali, Islamist extremists implemented harsh penalties under sharia law, including executions, amputations and flogging. They also destroyed churches and banned baptisms and circumcisions. Hundreds of Christians fled to the southern part of the country during the year. In Afghanistan, violent protests broke out at Kabul University after Sunni Muslim students attempted to prevent Shia Muslim students from performing Ashura holiday rituals in November 2012, resulting in two deaths and several injuries.
Governments with High Restrictions on Religion in order: Egypt, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Maldives, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, Russia, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Azerbajan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Brunei, Morocco, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Vietnam.
The Government Restrictions Index (GRI) measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices. The GRI is comprised of 20 measures of restrictions, including efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups.
The countries with high or very high level of government restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same in the latest year studied. About three-in-ten countries in the world (29%) had a high or very high level of government restrictions in 2012, compared with 28% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007.
Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – the study finds that restrictions on religion are high or very high in 43% of countries, also a six-year high. Because some of these countries (like China) are very populous, more than 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion, up from 74% in 2011 and 68% as of mid-2007.
In April 2012 in Mauritania, for instance, the central government began enforcing a law that prevents unapproved religious groups from holding public meetings.
Public preaching by religious groups was restricted by governments in 38% of countries in 2012, up from 31% in 2011 and 28% as of mid-2007. In Tunisia, for instance, authorities made efforts to remove imams suspected of preaching what were seen as divisive theologies, including Salafism.
Governments used force against religious groups or individuals in nearly half (48%) of the world’s countries in 2012, arrested 12 anti-slavery activists and charged them with sacrilege and blasphemy, along with other civil charges, for publicly burning religious texts to denounce what the activists viewed as support for slavery in Islamic commentary and jurisprudence,” according to the U.S. Department of State.
Meanwhile, 97 countries (49%) had low levels of government restrictions in 2012, down from 100 (51%) in 2011.
Harassment of Specific Groups
Harassment and intimidation by governments or social groups take many forms, including physical assaults; arrests and detentions; desecration of holy sites; and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education and housing. Harassment and intimidation also include things such as verbal assaults on members of one religious group by other groups or individuals.
Harassment or intimidation of specific religious groups occurred in 166 countries in 2012, a six-year high. In 2012, government or social harassment of Muslims was reported in 109 countries; the previous high was 101 countries in the previous year of the study. Jews were harassed in 71 countries in 2012, slightly higher than the year before (69 countries, which was the previous high). Harassment of Christians continued to be reported in the largest number of countries (110), an increase from the previous year (105) but not a six-year high. There also was an increase in the number of countries in which Hindus, Buddhists and members of folk or traditional religions were harassed.
Overall, across the six years of this study, religious groups were harassed in a total of 185 countries at one time or another. Members of the world’s two largest religious groups – Christians and Muslims, who together comprise more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries, 151 and 135, respectively. Jews, who comprise less than 1% of the world’s population, experienced harassment in a total of 95 countries, while members of other world faiths were harassed in a total of 77 countries.
In 2012, some religious groups were more likely to be harassed by governments, while others were more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society. Jews, for instance, experienced social harassment in many more countries (66) than they faced government harassment (28). By contrast, members of other world faiths, such as Sikhs and Baha’is, were harassed by some level of government in more countries (35) than they were by groups or individuals in society.