A woman holding a rosary prays Oct. 1 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Beijing. CNS photo/Isaac Brekken, EPA

'Religiously illiterate West' fuels rise in religious persecution

  • November 30, 2018

OTTAWA – The West is turning a blind eye as rabid nationalism poses a growing threat to religious freedom in countries such as India, Russia and China, says a new report from Aid to the Church in Need.

“Aggressive nationalism, hostile to religious minorities, has worsened to the degree that the phenomenon can be called ultra-nationalism,” according to the ACN’s Religious Freedom Report 2018 released Nov. 22. “Violent and systematic intimidation of religious minority groups has led to them being branded as disloyal aliens and threatening to the state.

“There is increasing evidence of a curtain of indifference behind which vulnerable faith communities suffer, their plight ignored by a religiously illiterate West.”

Aid to the Church in Need, a charity of the Holy See, has published 14 religious freedom reports over the years. This one concluded that, when it comes to defending religious minorities, “the West is failing to convert words of concern into action.” It also reported an alarming increase in religious-based violence against women.

“It’s always getting worse,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, director of ACN Canada. “I have been with ACN for 18 years and I’ve never seen the situation getting better.”

Lalonde says the silence of the West is not new.

“For years, I have been telling people if you say nothing you are an accomplice. If you say nothing you help the problem to spread. In the West, I think we are champions of that.” 

The report notes that religious liberty, while valued in the West, seems to have “lost ground to other rights.” It cites the advance of race, gender and sexuality rights, “which are arguably perceived as hindered by religion.”

The study notes religion remains a “crucial, and often pre-eminent driving force” for the majority of the people of the world. “The West ignores this at its peril.”

Lalonde said an alarming development is the rise of violence against women, especially sexual abuse, as a form of religious persecution. This phenomenon had already been seen in war, but is now used to persecute minorities.  

Young women are being kidnapped in countries such as Egypt and Pakistan and forced to marry Muslims, Lalonde said. The Islamic State also forced women into sex slavery. Sexual violence is also taking place in parts of Africa and the Middle East, she said, though religious freedom has improved in Syria and Iraq with the collapse of the Islamic State.

The report covers the period from June 2016 to June 2018. Its look at religious persecution globally shows that in 18 of the 38 countries already flagged for religious-freedom problems, the violations have worsened.  

While the report focuses on persecution of religious minorities of all stripes, Lalonde pointed out some 75 per cent of those experiencing persecution are Christian. The number of Christians experiencing persecution in the world has risen to 237 million.

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