Religious extremism on the
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations says there is a significant rise in
religious extremism and intolerance throughout the world. "No religion is
free from extremism," declares Abdelfattah Amor, the UN's Special
Rapporteur n Religious Intolerance.
In a 23-page report to the General Assembly, Amor points out that religious
intolerance should be viewed in the larger context of the economic, social and
political conditions that foster it.
"At the national and international levels, unjust economic, social and
political systems which really constitute violations of economic, social,
cultural, civil and political rights, contribute to the birth and/or nurturing
of extremism," he says.
His report provides examples of overt and covert discrimination against
Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Scientology, Seventh Day Adventists and
Amor says that religious minorities, particularly Muslims, have been the butt
of prejudice and stereotyping. Islam continues to be associated with religious
extremism and terrorism - particularly in the media in the United States,
Germany and Australia.
While acknowledging the danger represented by the extremism of groups claiming
allegiance to Islam, the study points out that "it is important to
distinguish between such extremists using Islam for political purposes, who are
in fact in the minority, and the majority of Muslims practising Islam in
accordance with the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination."
The report notes the persistence of various types and degrees of Islamic
extremism - particularly in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Niger and
"However, it is evident that this phenomenon has spread to other
religions, as seen by the rise of Hindu extremism directed against Christian
and Muslim communities and, potentially against religious minorities in India,
and even in Nepal."
The Muslim extremism, which broke out in Indonesia also, in some cases, has led
to violent counter-attacks by Christian extremists. Judaism may also be
subjected to distortion in Israel by Jewish extremists, according to the study.
Extremism, says the Special Rapporteur, may therefore be inter-religious
(directed against religious communities of different faiths); intra-religious
(within the same religion and, in particular, between different sects); or even
both at once.
"The most striking example is that of the Taliban (in Afghanistan), who,
in the name of religion are persecuting not only non-Muslim minorities, but
also Muslims: both Afghan Muslim minorities (for example the Shias) and the
Muslim majority subject to the Taliban's diktat," Amor says.
The most common victims of religious extremism are minorities (as in
Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Israel, Niger and Pakistan) and women (as in the
case of Afghanistan).
"Women are the prime target of the evil known as religious
extremism," the study adds. Traditions attributable to religion are very
often an obstacle to the implementation of legislation that treats women more
Most of the discrimination against women is derived from the requirement that
women receive the authorization of men to obtain a passport or to travel abroad
(as in Gabon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen).
In Saudi Arabia, for example, such freedom of movement appears to be
restricted, even non-existent, since a woman going abroad to study has to be
accompanied by a family member. Moreover, Saudi women are prohibited from
driving motor vehicles while access to buses and public facilities is subject
According to Amor's report, even national legislation in some countries favour
men against women, as in divorce proceedings (in Bangladesh, Brunei,), custody
of children (Brunei) and in testimony, where the evidence of one man is
equivalent to that of two women (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).
In Kuwait, a Muslim woman would not be allowed to marry a non- Muslim.
Lastly, legislation may also require that women be dressed in a certain way.
"The most manifest and insidious case in which women are totally deprived
of their rights results from legislation which recognises the transmission of
citizenship to children only through the male line," Amor says.
Despite some limited progress in matters of freedom of religion and belief,
especially since the end of the Cold War 10 years ago, the Special Rapporteur
says that, not only do manifestations of intolerance and discrimination based
on religion and belief persist but religious extremism also is on the rise.
Addressing delegates last month, the Special Rapporteur said that "a
strategy of prevention" is urgently needed to curb religious
intolerance.-Dawn/Inter Press Service.