— File Photo.
Anti-Islamic sentiments are on the rise in the West, says an official US report while urging Western governments to foster tolerance and stop anti-Muslim violence.
Based on a survey of almost 200 countries and territories, the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom also warns that “religious freedom is on the decline in many parts of the world” and calls the trend “worrying.”
US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook told a briefing in Washington this week that “anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination are evident in places as diverse as Europe and Asia.” Reminding officials in those countries to act now to curb this trend, she said: "We call on societies and governments to foster tolerance and hold perpetrators of violence accountable."
She was commenting on the State Department report which warned that “anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions were clearly on the rise--particularly in Europe and Asia” and so far Western governments had not been able to arrest this trend.
“Government restrictions, which often coincided with societal animosity, resulted in anti-Muslim actions that affected everyday life for numerous believers. The impact ranged from education, to employment, to personal safety within communities,” the report adds.
“Government restrictions on religious attire also remained an issue, as Muslim women faced increasing restrictions on head coverings in schools, in public sector employment, and in public spaces.”
In Belgium, the Constitutional Court ruled that the nation’s 2011 ban on face-covering attire, with no exception for religious garments, did not violate religious freedom.
In India, several educational institutions in Mangalore, Karnataka, reportedly banned Muslim girls from wearing headscarves. Since 2009, schools and colleges run by both Hindu and Christian administrations have prevented Muslim female students and teachers from covering their heads, citing a uniform dress code.
In contrast, in November, Turkey lifted a ban on female students wearing headscarves in schools that provided religious education.
The chapter on Pakistan notes that blasphemy laws in this country are sometimes abused to settle personal disputes and silence legitimate political discourse. Rimsha Masih, a mentally disabled Christian girl was jailed for over a month on blasphemy charges until domestic and international condemnation prompted her release. In another case, two Muslims were burned alive. Sporadic incidents of mob violence against members of the country’s Christian and Hindu minorities were also reported.
The report notes that in Pakistan, at least 17 people are awaiting execution for blasphemy and 20 others are serving life sentences. But the State Department also points that “to date the Pakistani government has never carried out an execution for blasphemy.”
In Pakistan, violent extremists also target Muslims who advocate tolerance and pluralism. In addition, there were scores of attacks on Sufi, Hindu, Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Christian gatherings and religious sites, resulting in numerous deaths and extensive damage. Some religious groups protested against public debate about potential amendments to the blasphemy laws or against alleged acts of blasphemy.
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. During the year, societal intolerance continued while there were increasing attacks against members of the Shia Muslim community. Human rights and religious freedom advocates and members of minorities reported self-censorship due to a climate of intolerance and fear.
Acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities by violent extremists exacerbated existing sectarian tensions. Violent extremists in some parts of the country demanded that all citizens follow their authoritarian interpretation of Islam and threatened brutal consequences if they did not abide by it.
According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, as of Dec. 31, 2010, 19,421 madrassahs had been registered in Pakistan. However, many civil society organizations and education experts disputed the number of madrassahs operating across the country. According to the Ittehad Tanzeem ul Madaris Pakistan (ITMP), a council consisting of the heads of the five major wafaqs, there are approximately 25,000-30,000 registered madrassahs.
There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including religious prisoners and detainees. The government generally enforced existing legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom, particularly on the Ahmadiyya community. Government policies did not afford equal protection to members of majority and minority religious groups, and due to discriminatory legislation, minorities often were afraid to profess freely their religious beliefs.
During the year, media and nongovernmental organizations reported on allegations of killings by authorities. For example, media reported that on March 30, Ahmadi schoolteacher Abdul Quddoos was tortured in police custody in Chenab Nagar, Punjab and later died in a local hospital due to injuries. Police reportedly detained him as the suspect in a murder but released him after allegedly torturing him. Ahmadiyya community leaders said that the real reason for the teacher’s arrest was to undermine the reputation of the local Ahmadiyya administration of Chenab Nagar.
Police reportedly tortured and abused persons in custody on religious charges. According to the local NGO Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement in October, guards at the Central Jail in Mianwali allegedly tortured Younis Masih, who has been imprisoned since his 2005 death sentence for blasphemy. Masih claimed that prison authorities beat him, deprived him of proper food and medical attention, and subsequently charged him with inciting a riot in the prison. Masih’s appeal of his death sentence remained pending at year’s end.
Abuses under the blasphemy and other discriminatory laws, such as those pertaining to the Ahmadiyya community, continued. The government did not take adequate measures to prevent these incidents or undertake reform measures to prevent the widespread abuse of the laws.