The report identifies the emergence of a new phenomenon of “Islamist hyper-extremism” and “hyper-radicalization” that is “unprecedented in its violence expression.” It warns of extremist groups intent on creating a religious “mono-culture” that would eliminate “all forms of religious diversity.”
The report was released Nov. 15 by Aid to the Church in Need, an international charity of the Catholic Church that provides pastoral support and aid for persecuted Christians around the world. It issues a report on religious freedom every two years.
Since 2014, violent Islamist attacks have taken place in one in five countries, ranging from Sweden to Australia and including 17 African countries, according to the report. In parts of the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq, Islamic extremists threaten all types of religious diversity. Their actions have been a “key driver” in places like Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia in creating almost six million new refugees in 2015 as the world refugee total hit a record high of 65.3 million, the report noted.
This Islamic hyper-extremism impacts the West in the form of a huge influx of refugees which, according to the report, threatens “the socio-religious” fabric of affected countries. The West has seen a rise in right-wing populist groups and an increase in discrimination and violence against religious minorities, including an upsurge in anti-Semitism, said the report.
Canada has seen an uptick in incidents of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish intolerance, the report says. There were more than a dozen violent attacks on Muslims, many more verbal assaults, as well as vandalism at mosques. The B’nai B’rith Canada’s League for Human Rights also reported its highest level of reported attacks against Jews in 2014 — a 28-per-cent increase over the previous year. These included 19 cases of violence.
There is a “rise of intolerance towards almost every group, not just Muslims and Jews,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada. “Christians feel discomfort. They could also become the target.”
Lalonde said that while “we have to be watchful,” no religious group in Canada has reached a level of persecution. “We have to be careful to see what’s going on and watch the trend.”
Where governments were once the main instigators of religious intolerance through policies that legislated or turned a blind eye to persecution of religious minorities, persecution today is largely directed by non-state entities, mostly fundamentalists and militants. The report finds that non-state groups accounted for persecution in 12 of the 23 worst-offending countries.
During the Communist era, “it was clear the government was creating the problems and the persecution,” said Lalonde. Now religious groups, specifically extremist brands of ideological Islam, are “playing a key role in what’s going on in the Middle East.”
Their often-violent persecution targets all who disagree with their fundamentalist beliefs, including moderate Muslims, the report said. The extremists rely on cruel treatment of victims and “parading extreme violence,” often through social media, which is also used as a recruitment tool.
Lalonde said young Canadians have been persuaded to join extremist groups in Syria. The Internet and social media is playing a role in recruiting, she said, but also in fostering religious intolerance in general.
The report shows that over the past two years religious freedom deteriorated in 11 of the 23 already-worst-offending countries. It improved in just three countries — Bhutan, Egypt and Qatar — and showed no change in 38 countries previously identified as having significant religious freedom problems.