Saturday, September 20, 2008

International Religious Freedom Report

Overlooking for a moment i) the hypocrasy of the US publishing any form of "freedom report", ii) the inherent and inevitable bias of such a report, the International Religious Freedom Report 2008 published yesterday is worth a skim.

Below are excerpts from the Executive Summary which I thought were particularly interesting and a few comments/questions from my end which I would appreciate our dear readers' insights or thoughts on.

A problematic long term endeavor of the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference] has been the advancement of the concept of "defamation of religions" into U.N. resolutions and reports. Originally phrased in 1999 as "defamation of Islam," the OIC broadened the title to encompass respect for all religions, but Islam remains the only specifically mentioned faith in the resolutions passed on this topic at the U.N. Human Rights Council and General Assembly. Despite a pretense of protecting religious practice and promoting tolerance, the flawed concept attempts to limit freedom of religion and restrict the rights of all individuals to disagree with or criticize religion, in particular Islam...The introduction of the defamation concept in effect seeks to export the blasphemy laws found in many OIC countries to the international level. While the United States discourages actions that are offensive to particular religious traditions, including Islam, the "defamation of religions" concept is inconsistent with the freedoms of religion and expression and the OIC's approach will weaken religious freedom protections, including protections for minority Muslim populations.

This brings us back to the dreaded cartoons controversy. I think the definition of "freedom of religion" is the key here; whether or not this freedom includes the freedom to defame other (or any) religion. I would argue no.

Some governments increased efforts to promote tolerance, dialogue, and an environment conducive to coexistence between religions during the reporting period. In October 2007 the Jordanian Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought led efforts which resulted in the issuing, on October 13, 2007, of an open letter calling for interfaith dialogue to be based on love of God and neighbor. The document, "A Common Word Between Us and You," was issued by 138 Muslim leaders, clerics, and scholars and addressed to Christians worldwide. The Institute collected signatures for the Common Word document representing all eight schools of Islamic thought. The document was finalized at a conference hosted by the Institute under the patronage of King Abdullah in September 2007. The conference brought together representatives from 40 Islamic and non-Islamic countries. On June 4-6, 2008, the Government of Saudi Arabia, along with the Muslim World League (MWL), organized an intrafaith conference in Mecca. The goal of the conference was to promote unity among various Islamic sects. Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as well as Saudi Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al al-Sheik attended. As a follow up, King Abdullah, along with King Juan Carlos I of Spain, hosted an interfaith conference in Madrid that included prominent religious figures from Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Old news but glad it got a mention.

...There was little evidence that regulations introduced in 2005 on religious affairs improved the situation of religious freedom; they defined only government-approved practices and faiths as normal or legitimate. Unregistered Protestant churches continued to report that their applications for registration were rejected without cause. "Underground" Catholic bishops also faced repression, in large part due to their loyalty to the Vatican, which the government accused of interfering in China's internal affairs. The Government of the XUAR continued to strictly control religious activity, limiting participation on the Hajj to tours sponsored by the Islamic Association of China. Foreign media reported that XUAR officials confiscated the passports of more than 2,000 Uighur Muslims to prevent unauthorized Hajj pilgrimages.

This merits its own post. The situation for Muslims in China has gotten much worse, to the extent where some are not allowed to even pray or fast (more here). There has to be something we can do about this besides pray for our brothers and sisters. Do anyone of the American Muslim organizations have contacts with the OIC?

...Members of religious groups that are not recognized by the Government continued to experience personal and collective hardship. There were some positive steps in support of religious freedom, including a court ruling on behalf of Baha'is that has allowed some to obtain civil documents, and a court ruling allowing 13 Christian-born converts to Islam to obtain identity documents indicating their conversion to Christianity. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the Government generally continued to worship without harassment and maintained links with co-religionists in other countries. Societal abuses and discrimination continued during the reporting period and were manifest in attacks on Christian minorities, including the kidnapping and torture of monks, death threats to a convert from Islam to Christianity, and harassment of religious leaders, as well as in the destruction of Christian symbols and property, and the burning and looting of a chapel.

...Government actions and rhetoric created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a religious groups, most notably for Baha'is, as well as Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community. Government-controlled media intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly the Baha'is. Reports of imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued during the reporting period. Baha'i groups often reported arbitrary arrests, expulsions from universities, and confiscation of property. The Iranian Government regards the Baha'i faith as a heretical Islamic group with a political orientation that is antagonistic to the country's Islamic revolution and continued to prohibit Baha'is from teaching and practicing their faith. (Baha'is view themselves not as Muslims, but as an independent religion with origins in the Shi'a Islamic tradition.) Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians legally recognized religious minorities, have reported imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs.
Too one-sided to quote...sorry.

Israel and Occupied Territories (huh?...not even Palestinian Occupied Territories...they got their own Olympics team for crying out loud!)
...While there is no constitution, government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion. Nevertheless, some increases in societal abuses and discrimination contributed to a slight decline in respect for religious freedom during the reporting period. Specifically, societal abuses and discrimination increased against some evangelical Christian groups as well as Messianic Jews (persons who identify as Jews but who believe Jesus was the Messiah). Relations among religious and ethnic groups--between Jews and non-Jews, Muslims and Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs, secular and religious Jews, and among the different streams of Judaism--often were strained during the reporting period. This was due primarily to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Government's unequal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews, including the Government's recognition of only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews...The construction of a separation barrier by the Government of Israel due to security concerns, particularly in and around East Jerusalem, severely limited access to holy sites and seriously impeded the work of religious organizations that provide education, healthcare, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians.

United States...?

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