The Rise of Religious Nationalism - in the Most Populous Countries, Such as China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia, Religious Persecution Is Increasing

By Marshall, Paul | The World and I, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The Rise of Religious Nationalism - in the Most Populous Countries, Such as China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia, Religious Persecution Is Increasing


Marshall, Paul, The World and I


In India, a 52-year-old Christian preacher was kidnapped, beheaded, and dismembered by unknown assailants--one of hundreds of recent religiously motivated attacks on Christians in India. Priests have been murdered, nuns raped, and leprosy workers burned alive. India's Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists also suffer attacks from radical Hindu groups for their religion.

In Sudan, the radical Islamic government continues its deliberate bombing campaign on schools, hospitals, and relief centers in its war on the predominantly Christian and animist south. The government refuses to stop its imposition of sharia law on the entire country. It tortures, enslaves, and deliberately starves all those who do not submit to its form of Islam. This war, which the world ignores, has claimed two million lives in the last 13 years, many more than in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya combined.

This list could go through more than 50 countries where people suffer violence for their religion, with 50 more practicing pervasive discrimination.

The Western world has tried to ignore this fact. At the end of 1997, the former executive editor of the New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal, confessed, "Early this year I realized that in decades of reporting, writing or assigning stories on human rights, I rarely touched on one of the most important. Political human rights, legal, civil and press rights, emphatically often; but the right to worship where and how God or conscience leads, almost never." While Rosenthal has changed dramatically on this score, the pattern he describes is still widespread.

The importance of religion

One reason that religious persecution has been neglected is that religion itself has been neglected as a factor in human affairs. The essential point here is not whether one is personally religious. As an empirical fact, throughout the world, religion is a key element of politics.

Chronic armed conflict is concentrated on the margins of the traditional religions. The Middle East, the southern Sahara, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and South Asia are where Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism intersect. They are also the sites of most wars in the last 50 years.

The point is not why people fight, but where they fight. There are few cases where religion is an isolated factor: it is usually intertwined with ethnic, political, territorial, and economic concerns. Since religion is the most profound shaper of human culture, people at these boundaries have different histories and views of human life, and they are more likely to oppose one another. Regardless of the varied reasons for conflict, these areas are where conflict is apt to occur. They are religious fault zones and hence sites of political instability.

The Chinese and other authoritarian governments take religion very seriously; that's why they repress it. In 1992, the Chinese press noted that "the church played an important role in the change" in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and warned "if China does not want such a scene to be repeated in its land, it must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger." The Far East Economic Review, in a 1997 cover story entitled "God Is Back," reported one Beijing official as saying, "If God had the face of a seventy-year-old man, we wouldn't care if he was back. But he has the face of millions of twenty-year- olds, so we are worried."

The range of religious persecution

Christians and animists in Sudan, Baha'is in Iran, Ahmadiyas in Pakistan, Buddhists in Tibet, and Falun Gong in China are now perhaps the most intensely persecuted groups, while Christians incur the widest persecution. But each and every religious group in the world suffers because of its beliefs.

Whether large, such as Christianity, Islam, Hindu, or Buddhism, or small, such as Bahaism, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Judaism, all are persecuted to some degree. …

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