Rising Restrictions on Religion - One-third of the world’s population experiences an increase
Social Hostilities Involving Religion
The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups that restrict religious beliefs and practices. The 10-point index is based on 13 questions used by the Pew Forum to gauge the level of hostilities both between and within religious groups, including mob or sectarian violence, crimes motivated by religious bias, physical conflict over conversions, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation and violence, including terrorism and war. (For more information on the index, see the Methodology. The questions are shown in the Summary of Results. Details on how all 198 countries and territories scored on each question are available online, in the Results by Country.)
The Pew Forum categorizes the levels of social hostilities by percentile. Countries with scores in the top 5% are categorized as “very high.” The next highest 15% of scores are categorized as “high,” and the following 20% are categorized as “moderate.” The bottom 60% of scores are categorized as “low.” (For a complete list of countries in each category, see the Social Hostilities Index table.)
Situation as of Mid-2009
Overall, the study finds that during the period from mid-2007 to mid-2009 social hostilities involving religion were high or very high in 40 countries, about one-in-five worldwide. The 10 countries that had very high hostilities as of mid-2009 were Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Israel and Egypt. Social hostilities were in the moderate range in 43 countries. A much larger number of countries – 115 – had low levels of social hostilities.12 But because many of the countries with high or very high social hostilities (including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria) are very populous, nearly half of the world’s population (48%) was living with high or very high social hostilities involving religion in the period ending in mid-2009.
As with the index of government restrictions, the mathematical presentation of scores for individual countries on the Social Hostilities Index needs to be kept in context. The Pew Forum has chosen not to attach numerical rankings from No. 1 to No. 198 both because there are many tie scores and because the differences between the scores of countries that are close together on the index may not be very important.
Overall Changes in Social Hostilities Involving Religion
Comparing the Pew Forum’s index scores for the baseline period (mid-2006 to mid-2008) with the scores for the latest period (mid-2007 to mid-2009), the study finds that social hostilities involving religion rose substantially in 10 countries and decreased substantially in five. The level of social hostilities stayed roughly the same in most (183) countries. (As noted earlier in the report, the study refers to a change in a country’s score as “substantial” only if it is at least 1.5 standard deviations above or below the mean amount of change among all 198 countries or territories. The change also had to be in the same direction over the two periods studied, meaning that it had to rise or fall both in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008 and in the period from mid-2007 to mid-2009. For more details, see the Methodology.)
In general, most of the increases in social hostilities occurred in countries that had moderate levels of social hostilities to begin with, while most of the decreases were in countries that initially had high scores. This is a different pattern than the one observed for government restrictions on religion, where most of the increases occurred among countries that already had very high or high restrictions and most of the decreases were among countries that started with low restrictions. Among the 40 countries that started out in the moderate range, social hostilities increased substantially in six and decreased substantially in one. Among the 30 countries that started out in the high category, hostilities decreased substantially in four and increased substantially in two. There were no substantial changes in index scores among the countries that already had very high social hostilities. Among the 117 countries that had low levels of social hostilities as of mid-2008, there were substantial increases in just two: China and Sweden.
Looking at all 198 countries and territories, the average score on the Social Hostilities Index rose from about 2.0 for the period ending in mid-2008 to about 2.1 for the period ending in mid-2009. Among the 5% of countries that started with very high hostilities, the average score on the index rose from 7.8 to 8.0. The average score for countries in the high category went from 4.6 to 4.7. Among the 20% of countries that had moderate hostilities to begin with, the average index score declined from 2.5 as of mid-2008 to 2.4 as of mid-2009. There was no change in the average index score among the 60% of countries that initially had low scores on the Social Hostilities Index.
Changes in Some Key Types of Social Hostilities
Crimes, malicious acts or violence motivated by religious hatred or bias were reported in 142 countries (72%) in the period from mid-2007 to mid-2009, about the same as in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008. (See Summary of Results, SHI Q. 1.) The most common types of hostilities were harassment and intimidation (reported in 132 countries in the period ending in mid-2009); property damage (reported in 85 countries); and physical assaults (reported in 77 countries). At least one of these types of malicious acts, for example, was reported in 39 of the 45 European countries, where many of the victims were members of religious minorities, notably Jews and Muslims.13 In some European countries, crimes or malicious acts motivated by religious bias appeared to increase relative to other types of hate crimes. In the Netherlands, for instance, attacks on Muslims and Islamic institutions increased by about 25% from 2006 to 2007 (from 62 to 82) while the overall number of racist and right-wing extremist acts in the country decreased slightly over the same period.14
During the latest reporting period, there was an uptick in the number of countries that experienced mob violence related to religion. Religion-related mob violence occurred in 52 countries in the period ending in mid-2009, compared with 38 countries in the period ending in mid-2008. (See Summary of Results, SHI Q. 2.) In the Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste, for instance, a group of Catholics attacked a newly built Protestant church in the Aileu District on Nov. 20, 2008, and demanded that the Protestant missionaries operating the church leave. Although no one was injured, the attack represented an escalation of tensions, since no documented incidents of religion-related mob violence were reported in the country from mid-2006 to mid-2008.
In sub-Saharan Africa, accusations of witchcraft triggered several incidents of mob violence. The belief that some people are able to call on demons or other supernatural forces to harm others is common in parts of the region.15 In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, a fight broke out at a soccer match in the city of Butembo in September 2008 over allegations that some players were using witchcraft to fix the game. The violence spread to the stands, and 11 people died as the spectators stampeded. In the Central African Republic, where witchcraft is a criminal offense, members of a rebel group known as the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic reportedly were involved in a number of attacks on people suspected of practicing witchcraft. For example, the group allegedly tortured a man near Kaga Bondoro in June 2009 after the man was accused of bewitching his nephew. The group also was implicated in an incident that occurred in the same month in the village of Ngoumourou, where a woman was tied to a tree and then beaten for allegedly practicing witchcraft.
The number of countries in which individuals or groups used violence or the threat of violence, including so-called honor killings, to try to enforce religious norms remained about the same. Such hostilities occurred in 47 countries – about one-in-four – in the period ending in mid-2009, compared with 50 countries in the period ending in mid-2008. (See Summary of Results, SHI Q. 9.) In Germany, for example, a Hamburg District Court on Feb. 13, 2009, found a German-Afghan man guilty of killing his sister in 2008 because he was angry over her perceived “Western” lifestyle, including how she dressed.
Religion-related terrorist groups were active in 74 countries around the world in the period ending in mid-2009, up from 63 countries in the period ending in mid-2008. (See Summary of Results, SHI Q. 4.) In half of the 74 countries, the groups carried out acts of violence. In the other half, their activities were limited to recruitment and fundraising. Some of the apparent increase in religion-related terrorism could reflect the use of new source material that provided greater detail on terrorist activities than the sources used in the 2009 baseline report.16 (For more details, see the Methodology.) Nevertheless, terrorist violence resulting in injuries or deaths is known to have increased in some countries. (For the purposes of this report, religion-related terrorist violence is defined as politically motivated acts against noncombatants by sub-national groups or clandestine agents with a religious justification or intent.) For instance, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a militant Muslim separatist group based in China’s Xinjiang Province, carried out a series of bombings across China in 2008, including in the eastern city of Shanghai, the southern city of Guangzhou and the south-central city of Kunming. Just days before the 2008 Olympics, 16 police officers were killed and a number of others were injured in a grenade attack and assault by ETIM in the far western city of Kashgar (also known as Kashi). There were no confirmed attacks in China by ETIM prior to 2008.
Countries with Substantial Increases in Social Hostilities
Over the three-year period covered in this study, social hostilities involving religion rose substantially in 10 of the 198 countries or territories. (See the Executive Summary for a definition of substantial change.)
Two of the countries with substantial increases – Nigeria and Russia – had high levels of social hostilities to begin with. As of mid-2009, Nigeria had very high levels of hostilities, while Russia remained in the high category. Six of the 10 countries that had substantial increases in religion-related social hostilities began with moderate levels of hostilities. By mid-2009, five of the six countries had high levels of social hostilities: Bulgaria, Denmark, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. (Mongolia remained in the moderate category.) The two countries that began with low levels of social hostilities – China and Sweden – had moderate levels by mid-2009. (See the Social Hostilities Index table.)
In Nigeria, hostilities between Christians and Muslims were on the rise well before the April 2011 presidential election that saw Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South, defeat Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the North. In November 2008, for instance, at least 300 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured during three days of religious rioting in the city of Jos. A number of churches and mosques were destroyed and at least 10,000 people were temporarily displaced from their homes as a result of the violence. On Feb. 20, 2009, violence erupted in the town of Bauchi after Muslim worshippers parked their cars outside a nearby Christian church. Nearly a dozen people died and at least 100 were injured. The rioters also burned about 200 properties, including six churches and three mosques.
In Russia, more than 1,100 casualties resulted from religion-related terrorist attacks during the two-year period ending in mid-2009. This was more than double the number of casualties recorded in the previous reporting period. (This includes people who were killed, wounded, displaced, kidnapped or had their property destroyed in religion-related terrorist attacks.)
While not all militant separatist groups operating in Russia are religiously motivated, some apparently are, including a relatively new group known as the Caucasus Emirate. Founded in 2007 by a veteran of the first and second Chechen wars, Doku Umarov, the group reportedly has consolidated the efforts of previously disparate militant groups throughout the Caucasus region and has carried out a number of large-scale violent attacks.17 On June 22, 2009, for example, a female suicide bomber linked to the group drove into a motorcade carrying the president of the Republic of Ingushetia. The attack, which occurred in the Ingush city of Nazran, killed three people and wounded the president and four others.
Among the other countries that had substantial increases in social hostilities during the period studied were Denmark and the United Kingdom. In February 2008, for example, riots broke out in Muslim neighborhoods in Copenhagen and other Danish cities after the country’s major newspapers republished a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad by Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. The papers reprinted the cartoon – which had prompted riots around the world when it first was published in 2005 – to protest a recently disclosed plot by three Muslims to assassinate Westergaard.18 During the period studied, tensions also were reported between Denmark’s Muslim and Jewish communities. In January 2009, for example, a man of Palestinian descent shot and injured two Israeli Jews, allegedly in response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009.
Tensions created by the conflict in Gaza also were linked to an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom during the first half of 2009. The Community Security Trust (CST), an organization that has monitored anti-Semitism in the U.K. since 1984, said there were 628 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.K. in the first six months of 2009, an “unprecedented rise” from the first half of 2008, when 277 incidents were reported. Moreover, the monthly totals for both January 2009 (288 incidents) and February 2009 (114 incidents) exceeded the previous monthly high of 105 incidents recorded by CST in October 2000.19 More than half of the anti-Semitic incidents recorded by CST in January 2009 included some reference to the fighting in Gaza.
During the period covered in this study, Muslims in the U.K. also were victims of abuse and other types of social hostilities. On Nov. 29, 2008, for example, soccer fans in Newcastle reportedly shouted anti-Muslim slurs at a member of an opposing team. On May 5, 2009, a suspected arson fire gutted an Islamic center in Bedfordshire. On May 10, 2009, authorities at a Nottinghamshire jail discovered an undetonated bomb that had been placed in a Muslim worship area.
As noted earlier, two of the countries with substantial increases in social hostilities involving religion – China and Sweden – previously had low levels of social hostilities. As of mid-2009, both countries had moved into the moderate category. The increase in hostilities in Sweden was due in part to a rise in tensions between the general population and the country’s growing Muslim minority.20 In December 2008, for example, Muslim youths in a suburb of Malmo, Sweden’s third most populous city, clashed with police over a three-week period. The violence was triggered by a city official’s decision not to renew the lease on a property that had been used for many years as an Islamic cultural center and also housed a mosque. The State Department, citing a June 2009 report by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, noted that hate crimes against Muslims increased by about a third from 2007 to 2008, from 206 to 272 cases. In August 2008, for instance, a mosque was set ablaze on the day it was set to open in the small northern town of Strömsund. There also were several instances in which Muslim women reportedly faced discrimination for wearing religious head coverings. Sweden also experienced an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. In March 2009, the mayor of Malmo decided not to let the public attend a Davis Cup tennis match between Sweden and Israel because of security concerns.
Countries with Substantial Decreases in Social Hostilities
Social hostilities involving religion decreased substantially in five countries from mid-2006 to mid-2009: Chad, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia and Tanzania. Four of the five countries – all except Tanzania – had high levels of social hostilities to begin with. Tanzania started out with moderate levels of social hostilities.
Social hostilities in Lebanon had spiked during the summer of 2006, when Israeli and Hezbollah forces waged war in Lebanon, Northern Israel and the Golan Heights.21 Tensions among religious groups in Lebanon remained high after the fighting ended – particularly between the government of then Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (a Sunni Muslim) and the opposition led by Hezbollah (a Shia Muslim group) – but tensions in recent years were not as high as they had been immediately following the war. In the most recent period examined, there also were fewer acts of violence linked to Christian-Muslim rivalries in the country. Nevertheless, Lebanon continued to have high levels of social hostilities in the period ending in mid-2009.
Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim nation in Central-Western Asia, also continued to have high social hostilities in the period ending in mid-2009. But there were fewer attacks on Christian converts and churches than in the past. There had been a series of such attacks in 2006 and 2007, including a July 2006 incident in which a Baptist preacher in Osh Oblast was attacked by a mob of 80 Muslims. The attackers physically assaulted the preacher and burned his Bibles and other religious materials. In a second incident, in November 2006, a mob threw Molotov cocktails at the pastor’s church, but the staff was able to extinguish the flames, and the fire caused little damage to the structure.
The African nation of Chad was the only country that went from having high social hostilities as of mid-2008 to having low social hostilities as of mid-2009. There had been a number of Muslim-Christian clashes in 2006 and 2007, but there were far fewer incidents in 2008 and the first part of 2009. Also, there were no incidents of violence in any of the years covered in this study on the scale of the 2004 Muslim-Christian riot in the southern town of Bebedja that left about a dozen people dead and nearly two dozen wounded. The riot continued to be a source of tension in the country for many years.
In the West African nation of Liberia, which had moderate social hostilities as of mid-2009, there were fewer reports of societal abuses or discrimination due to religion in the period from mid-2007 to mid-2009 than there had been in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008. In the later period, for instance, there were no incidents like the one that occurred in 2006 in the north-central county of Nimba, where 37 suspected witches and witchdoctors were held captive for two months with the blessing of local chiefs and subjected to beatings and torture.
During the most recent reporting period, there were fewer reported incidents of violence toward people alleged to be practicing witchcraft in Tanzania. Although there continued to be some tensions between Muslims and Christians, there was a decline in public altercations between the two religious groups. Tanzania had low levels of social hostilities as of mid-2009.
Social Hostilities Involving Religion by Region
When it comes to social hostilities involving religion, there are major differences among the five regions of the world – Asia-Pacific, Middle East-North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Americas. On average, social hostilities are highest in the Middle East-North Africa. The median score on the Social Hostilities Index for the 20 countries in the region was 4.4 (in the high range) both in the period ending in mid-2008 and in the period ending in mid-2009. More than half of the countries in the Middle East-North Africa (11 of 20 countries, or 55%) had high or very high social hostilities as of mid-2009. No country in the region had a substantial increase in social hostilities over the periods studied, and one country – Lebanon – had a substantial decrease in hostilities.
The Asia-Pacific region had the second highest level of social hostilities as of mid-2009. Overall, the region’s median score on the Social Hostilities Index increased from 1.7 as of mid-2008 to 1.9 as of mid-2009. Slightly more of the region’s 51 countries had high or very high social hostilities as of mid-2009 (27%) than in the period ending in mid-2008 (25%). Fewer countries in the region had low hostilities as of mid-2009 (49%, compared with 53% as of mid-2008). Hostilities substantially increased in four countries: Vietnam, Thailand, China and Mongolia. They substantially decreased in one country: Kyrgyzstan.
Five of the 10 countries in the world with very high social hostilities as of mid-2009 were in the Asia-Pacific region: Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Ten of the 30 countries with high social hostilities also were in Asia-Pacific, including populous countries such as Iran, Turkey, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand. These numbers are disproportionately high given that Asia-Pacific accounts for about a quarter of the 198 countries and territories included in the study.
Europe’s median score on the Social Hostilities Index was higher in mid-2009 (1.9) than it was in mid-2008 (1.7). Europe’s 2009 median score also was higher than sub-Saharan Africa’s. Five of the 10 countries in the world with substantial increases in social hostilities were in Europe: Russia, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Sweden. No country in Europe had a substantial decrease in social hostilities during the period studied.
Five of the seven European countries with high social hostilities as of mid-2009 were in the East: Russia, Serbia, Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria. The other European countries with high social hostilities were Denmark and the United Kingdom.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s median level of social hostilities in mid-2009 was the next-to-lowest of the world’s five major regions. Overall, the region’s median score on the Social Hostilities Index dropped from 1.3 in the period ending in mid-2008 to 1.2 in the period ending in mid-2009. Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas were the only regions to have an overall decline. Social hostilities substantially decreased in three countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Liberia, Chad and Tanzania. They increased substantially in only one: Nigeria, the region’s most populous country. Nigeria and Somalia both had very high social hostilities as of mid-2009.
Of the five regions, the Americas had the lowest median score on the Social Hostilities Index. The region’s median score dropped from 0.6 as of mid-2008 to 0.5 as of mid-2009. About 90% of the countries in the Americas (32 of 35 countries) had low social hostilities as of mid-2009. Two countries in the region (Columbia and the United States) were in the moderate category, while one country (Mexico) had high social hostilities. No country’s level of hostilities changed substantially over the period examined. Mexico, which had the highest level of hostilities in the Americas across the periods studied, had a slight but not substantial drop in its score.
In the United States, social hostilities involving religion remained at a moderate level during the period studied. According to FBI crime reports, the U.S. had more than 1,300 hate crimes involving religious bias in all of 2009.22 Most of these crimes involved anti-Jewish violence (931 of the 1,303 crimes, or about 71%). About 8% of the crimes (107 of the 1,303) were motivated by anti-Islamic bias. (Most of the recent controversies over the construction of mosques and Islamic centers in New York City and other communities across the country took place after the period covered in this report.23)
12 Because the Pew Forum categorized the levels of social hostilities by percentile, the variance in the number of countries at each level from one period to another is not a meaningful one. The differences reflect how many tie scores there are at different break points. Without the tie scores, the number of countries in each category would be the same from period to period, (e.g., the top 20% of scores would equal 40 countries, the bottom 60% of scores would equal 119 countries, etc.). (return to text)
14 See University of Leiden and the Anne Frank Foundation, Monitor Racisme & Extremisme, edited by Jaap van Donselaar and Peter R. Rodrigues, pages 27 and 35. (The report is in Dutch.) (return to text)
15 For background on African traditional religions, see the Pew Forum’s April 2010 report Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa. (return to text)
16 In coding terrorist activities during the period from mid-2008 to mid-2009, the Pew Forum’s coders used the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS), a publicly available database maintained by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, a U.S. government organization that is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The WITS database provides greater detail than the State Department’s International Religious Freedom reports and the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism, which were the primary sources used to code terrorist activities in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008. All three sources were used to code incidents from mid-2007 to mid-2009. (return to text)
17 See “The Caucasus Emirate” by Scott Stewart and Ben West, STRATFOR, April 15, 2010. When Umarov founded the Caucasus Emirate in 2007, he reportedly called for the formation of an Islamic entity in the region and the adoption of Sharia law. (return to text)
18 The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten first published Westergaard’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad on Sept. 30, 2005.Another attempt was made on his life on Jan. 1, 2010, after the period covered in this study. (return to text)
19 Community Security Trust, Anti-Semitic Incidents Report 2009, 2010. The Trust reported that there were a total of 924 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.K. in 2009, the highest annual total since it began reporting anti-Semitic incidents in 1984, and 55% higher than the previous record of 598 incidents in 2006. (return to text)
21 The war began on July 12, 2006, when Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel and ambushed an Israeli patrol. It lasted until a U.N.-brokered cease fire went into effect on Aug. 14, 2006. (return to text)
22 See Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Hate Crime Statistics Program, Table 1: Incidents, Offenses, Victims, and Unknown Offenders by Bias Motivation, 2009. (return to text)
23 See the Pew Forum’s Sept. 24, 2010, analysis “Controversies Over Mosques and Islamic Centers Across the U.S..” (return to text)