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Report notes rise in religiously motivated violence

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Aid to the Church in Need’s biennial report on religious freedom calls religiously motivated violence an emerging trend in religious persecution.

During the Communist era, “it was clear the government was creating the problems and the persecution,” said Marie-Claude Lalonde, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada. Now religious groups, specifically extremist brands of ideological Islam, are “playing a key role in what’s going on in the Middle East.”

“The period under review has seen the emergence of a new phenomenon of religiously motivated violence which can be described as Islamist hyper-extremism, a process of hyper radicalization unprecedented in its violent expression,” says the report.

This extremism is marked by: “an extremist creed and a radical system of law and government; systematic efforts to drive out all who disagree, including moderate Muslims; “cruel treatment of victims”; the use of social media to recruit new members and intimidate “by parading extreme violence”; and global impact through affiliate groups and networks.

“This new phenomenon has had a toxic impact regarding religious liberty around the world,” the report says, noting violent Islamist attacks have taken place in one in five countries since 2014, ranging from Sweden to Australia, and including 17 African countries.

The report shows that from June 2014 to June 2016 religious freedom declined in 11 of the 23 worst-offending countries; remained stable in 55 per cent of the 38 countries with significant religious freedom problems; and improved in eight per cent — in Bhutan, Egypt and Qatar.

Lalonde pointed out that even in Canada, the Internet and social media have led to young Canadians deciding to go fight for extremist groups in Syria. The Internet is playing a role in recruiting and is “a good platform for intolerance” against Muslims, without distinguishing between extremists and “everyday Muslims,” she said. “There’s no filter. People say whatever they want. You see this in all spheres, in terms of intolerances for religious groups. It’s worrying.”

The report warns the aims of the hyper-extremist groups is the creation of a religious “monoculture” that would eliminate “all forms of religious diversity.”

Lalonde said extremism in the Middle East is leading to a rapid decline in the number of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in the region. The report shows similar pressure in parts of the Asian sub-continent and Africa.

This extremism is driving the “explosion” of refugees worldwide to a high of 65.3 million in 2015, according to UN figures, the report says.

“In the West, this hyper-extremism is at risk of destabilizing the socio-religious fabric, with countries sporadically targeted by fanatics and under pressure to receive unprecedented numbers of refugees, mostly of a different faith to the indigenous communities,” the report says. It warns of the “ripple effect” of a rise of right-wing and populist groups; discrimination against minorities and government restrictions on free movement.

Opening our arms to refugees and migrants, as Pope Francis calls for, “should come first,” Lalonde said. “They are our brothers and sisters.”

Canada has also 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. B’nai B’rith Canada’s League for Human Rights also reported its highest level 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,” Lalonde said. “Christians feel discomfort. They could also become the target.”

Aid to the Church in Need also raised concerns about the potential threat to conscience rights and religious freedom by Canada’s new euthanasia law.

“Some doctors are worried they will not be able to object to doing it,” Lalonde said. “This is a concern.”

The report also noted the previous federal ban on the niqab or face veil during citizenship ceremonies, as well as provincial government discussions concerning the wearing of religious attire in public institutions.

Lalonde said while “we have to be watchful,” no religious group in Canada has reached a level of persecution, she said. “We have to be careful to see what’s going on and watch the trend.”

“And if there is something going on, I would call it a discomfort, but things could change,” she said. Aid to the Church in Need is also has been monitoring a range of court cases related to religious freedom in Canada.

The report can be viewed online at

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