The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s new report recommends that eight more countries be designated as Countries of Particular Concern, all but one of which are Muslim-majority populations. The panel repeatedly identified interpretations of sharia as a source for the increasing violations of religious freedom.
The panel suggested designations for Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
Of these, Pakistan warranted the most concern. The panel said the state of religious freedom “hit an all-time low” last year. In April 2013, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan even said the country is “on the verge” of becoming an undemocratic society where violence is mainstream.
The report suggested the retention of eight countries previously labeled as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
The panel’s comments on Iran correspond with a United Nations report that found that Christian persecution is at unprecedented levels, even though the new President is supposedly a “moderate.” The Commission states that Sufis, Sunnis and Shiites opposed to the regime are also being victimized.
“[Rouhani] has not delivered on his campaign promises of strengthening civil liberties for religious minorities,” the Commission report states.
One of the most important conclusions in the report is that Saudi Arabia is still promoting radical Islam and religious intolerance in the school system. The Saudi government may be confronting the Muslim Brotherhood, but that has not stopped it from indoctrinating students with a Brotherhood-type worldview.
The panel reviewed high school textbooks currently in use to test the Saudis’ claim that it had cleansed teaching materials of extremism. On the contrary, they found justifications for killing apostates and polytheists, generic hatred and the depiction of Jews and Christians as enemies of Muslims.
Saudi Arabia escaped punishment for its long record of religious oppression because it was granted an indefinite waiver by the State Department in 2006 after it was labeled a Country of Particular Concern two years earlier.
The panel also shared the horrifying story of an Ethiopian teenager who as raped by three men in Sudan. Shockingly, the victim was convicted for “indecent actions” and fined and sentenced to a one-month prison sentence that was suspended.
The three attackers were convicted, as well—but not for rape. They were convicted for adultery and given 100 lashes. A fourth man who videotaped the rape and posted it online got 40 lashes.
Another 10 countries qualified for a “Tier 2” list: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey.
One of the most discouraging trends is in Indonesia and Malaysia, supposedly “moderate” Muslim countries. Some of the strongest progressive forces in the Muslim world come from Indonesia. Unfortunately, the report states that religious oppression is on the rise in these two countries.
Indonesia is being “marred by sectarian violence, terrorist attacks, the growth of extremist groups, and rising intolerance towards religious minorities and ‘heterodox’ groups.” People are being punished for “deviant” behavior. Sharia has been instituted in Indonesia’s Aceh Province, complete with blasphemy laws, morality police and radical fatwas that, for example, declare Sufi Islam to be heresy.
In Malaysia, apostasy is being treated as a capital offense, Sharia courts are increasingly powerful and extremism is being taught by government officials. In March 2013, an official sermon from the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department preached, “Muslims must understand Jews are the main enemy of Muslims.” Another one in November condemned the “despicable nature” of Jews.
Eight more countries or areas had violations of religious freedom severe enough to warrant special acknowledgement: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and Western Europe.
That’s a total of 34 countries or areas with severe repression of religious freedom. Of these, 21 have Muslim-majority populations or, in the case of India, a huge Muslim minority.
The most common denominator is oppressive sharia doctrines that command hostility towards minorities, apostates and political and religious opponents. This radical Islamic ideology intensifies pre-existing sectarian tensions in places like Syria. When radical Islam and sectarianism are combined, the result is bloody war with no end in sight.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which includes Muslim activist Zuhdi Jasser as a Vice Chairman, is a breath of fresh air in how it handles the issue. It repeatedly acknowledges the sharia source of religious oppression. For example, it even mentions that the Saudis justify their puritanical rule by citing an interpretation of a hadith. The rest of the U.S. government is afraid to state these obvious facts.
While Sharia is the biggest contributing factor to the increasing attacks on religious liberty, almost every perpetrator of Islamist oppression towards non-Muslim minorities (including Christians) also oppresses other Muslims. Here are just a few examples from the report:
Egypt experienced an “unprecedented level of violence” towards Christians last year, the report says. While 40% of the defendants in blasphemy cases were Christian, Sunni critics of the Muslim Brotherhood were similarly victimized. Shiites, Bahai and Jews all faced religious oppression last year.
In Nigeria, attacks by the Boko Haram terrorist group against Christians are getting significant media attention at the moment. However, the group also attacked mosques last year and killed 50 Muslims.
In Sudan, hundreds of Christian and Muslim women have been flogged for indecent dress. What qualifies as “indecent” is left up in the air. It’s up to the police officer to decide.
Radical Islam is a threat to the religious freedom of both non-Muslims and Muslims and this joint suffering will not end until this ideology is identified and confronted.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.