Islamist 'hyper-extremism' threatens religious freedom

Aid to the Church in Need report claims persecution worsened in 11 of the world's 23 most repressive states
Islamist 'hyper-extremism' threatens religious freedom

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan (left), president of the Philippine bishops' conference, at a Mass to launch the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report in Manila on Nov. 15. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Islamist "hyper-extremism" is threatening religious freedom around the world, especially in countries in the West, Middle East, and Africa, said a report released by a Vatican foundation that provides aid to people in conflict areas.

The Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report, released by Aid to the Church in Need, said "religiously motivated violence" has given rise to attacks in one in five countries around the world in the past two years.

The report, which was released simultaneously in the Vatican and in the Philippines on Nov. 15, said that a "key objective of Islamist hyper-extremism is to trigger the complete elimination of religious communities."

Out of 196 countries covered, 38 manifested "unmistakable evidence of significant religious freedom violations."

The study showed that religious freedom worsened in 11 of the 23 most repressive states, which were categorized as "persecution countries" that included Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and Pakistan in Asia.

At least seven countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Syria — were described as "extremely bad."

The report described the threat of extremism as "a death cult with a genocidal intent." Their attacks included "mass-killing, rape, extreme torture, such as burning people alive, crucifixions, and throwing people off tall buildings."  

The report said that hyper-extremism "is clearly well developed" and there was proof of a "spread of militant ideology" in countries with extremist movements like Bangladesh, Nigeria, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Pakistan. 


World refugee crisis

The upsurge of extremist violence helped create the sudden increase in the number of refugees, according to the report. 

"Hyper-extremism has been a main driver in the fundamental destabilization of the socio religious fabric of entire continents, absorbing — or under pressure to absorb — millions of people," it said.

By the end of 2015, the United Nations estimated at least 65.3 million refugees were displaced across the globe, the highest on record. 

"There were many people who were fleeing specifically because of religious persecution," the report said.

"People fled because of violence, breakdown of government, and acute poverty of which religious extremism has been cause, symptom or consequence, or all three simultaneously," said the report.

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Hyper-extremism has led "regimes with dictatorial tendencies" to impose tighter controls on religious freedom, affecting not only Muslims but also people of other faiths.

The report said that in China, where more than 2,000 churches and crosses have been demolished, the policy of "sinicization" has led to the detention of great numbers of religious leaders. 

North Korea tops the global list of religious liberty violators with a "complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion."


Signs of hope

The report, however, said that despite the rise of faith-based intolerance, global religious leaders have initiated opportunities for dialogue and understanding. 

In May, Pope Francis met with Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand Imam of Sunni Islam. The "historic encounter," which lasted 30 minutes, came at a time of increased extremist attacks on Christians.

In a conference in Morocco in January, Muslim scholars from more than 120 countries urged Muslims states "to protect non-Muslim minorities from persecution."

The Aid to the Church in Need report said there was an "increased awareness" of the threat to religious minorities as reflected in the tendency to speak up and act on behalf of persecuted individuals and communities.

The report said that a "ray of hope" that should be acknowledged is "the willingness of some Islamic leaders to mount a coordinated response to this toxic creed."  

Father Martin Berta, international ecclesiastical assistant of the Aid to the Church in Need, told journalists in Manila that "helping persecuted and suffering Christians is a top priority" for the foundation.

He said the report aimed to "urge regimes to uphold religious freedom and the right to human life." 

"It is high time to end religious violence and learn to embrace one another regardless of faith, race and culture," said the priest.

Aid to the Church in Need is a Catholic organization, founded in 1947 for war refugees. It has been recognized as a papal foundation since 2011 and is dedicated to the service of persecuted Christians around the world. 

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