Freedom of religion is a basic human right that plays a significant role in bringing peace and justice to the world. The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on UN.org states that “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…”
Many governments allow these basic freedoms, but there are still countries like China that restrict certain beliefs and instill a good amount of fear on the citizens. However, the fact that an individual is able to practice religion “freely” without the interference of officials does not denote true freedom because of religious intolerance that exists apart from the government.
Religious intolerance can stem from family units or a subculture that has a set belief system, thwarting the freedom of an individual’s rights. For instance, a family member who converted from Islam to Christianity might receive harsh religious persecution, threats and attacks from within the family circle and community. This can lead to methods of forced conversion that cause psychological distress and harm.
According to a latest report from the Pew Research Center, religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa.
Countries considered the most intolerant on religions included Burma, Eritrea, Iran, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam as reported by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)—an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, dedicated to defend the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.
Other examples of religious intolerance around the world include Indonesia, with an overwhelming Muslim majority. Among them, a minority group called the Ahmadiyah Muslims face regular religious persecution and attack from the Muslims, which consider the Ahmadiyah ways heretical.
Similarly, the Yazidis in Iraq are being persecuted and exiled by way of abduction and massacres as a forced “mass conversion” campaign, which has been carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS).
In South Korea, Christians make up a large part of the country’s religious population. However, recently many college and post-college aged students who have left their own denominations in favor of a growing minority Christian group have been involuntary and sometimes secretly led to receive forced “conversion education” sessions.
In India, Christian and Muslim minorities fear violence as Hindu nationalist groups push for conversions into Hinduism.
According to a study done on Religious Intolerance, Laith Abu Ghalyoun reports that “often times, a more prolific religion will target a minority religion in the same area, or controlling governments allow only a few religious, one mandatory religion, or ban religion entirely.”
More now than ever, religious intolerance has become a global issue because of the ubiquity of online media and social media that make it more difficult to control those who abuse the right of free speech. And because posts can be anonymous, anything good or bad can be exposed and shared to the whole world in the span of a few seconds, with no one to blame. But whether anonymous or not, the speed of online posting can cause permanent damage to the victims involved. Case in point are the recurring cyberbullying attacks that led to several suicides, including the well known case of Tyler Clementi who was humiliated to death.
In a recent Ted Talk called “The Price of Shame,” social activist Monica Lewinsky calls herself “Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously” and articulately points out that the “culture of humiliation,” in which online shame equals dollar signs needs to end.
Whether the topic is related to religious intolerance or publicly shaming and exposing one’s faults on the internet, we all know that information or misinformation used to repeatedly harm or harass an individual or group in a deliberate manner and bringing hatred in another person’s mind infringes on the human right to think freely and live without fear. However, you as a reader can choose to react and respond in a way that does not feed into this culture and repeat its cycle.
In the end, we see that the common denominator of religious conflicts occur due to misunderstandings, misinterpretations and a lack of love and compassion, which are the very two core values of true religion, and the path to a more peaceful society.