Restrictions on Religion Are Tightening, Study Finds

Government restrictions on religion around the world were highest in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in the period before the Arab Spring uprisings, a new study has found, underscoring a factor that fueled hostilities in the region and led to the rise of political Islam after the revolts.

The study, by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, said that in 2010 government restrictions on religion were “high or very high” in most of the Arab Spring countries, where suppression of Islamist movements contributed to the uprisings and spurred subsequent incursions of Islamists into political power.

Over all, the study found a worldwide rise in religious restrictions. It measured two basic yardsticks: a government restrictions index, and a social hostilities index. Government restrictions include moves by authorities to ban faiths and conversions, and to limit preaching. Social hostilities encompass mob violence and “religion-related intimidation or abuse,” such as harassment over attire.

The study found 15 countries with very high levels of social hostilities in 2010, up from 10 in 2007, with the new additions being Egypt, Nigeria, the Palestinian territories, Russia and Yemen. It noted that “in Nigeria, violence between Christian and Muslim communities, including a series of deadly attacks, escalated throughout the period.”

Separately on Thursday, United Nations human rights investigators in Geneva said that more than 300 Christians had been arrested since mid-2010 in Iran, where, they said, churches operate in a “climate of fear.” Iran is given a score of “very high” on Pew’s Government Restrictions Index.

The Pew study found that restrictions also increased in Europe, like the Swiss ban on construction of minarets, and in the United States, noting a rising number of instances in which people were prevented from wearing clothing or beards, and problems in building places of worship.

Bin Laden’s personal letters reveal Muslims are part of the solution to securing the United States

On the heels of the one-year milestone of Osama bin Laden’s death, the U.S. government recently released a series of letters and messages bin Laden sent to colleagues and subordinates around the world. Among other things, the documents reveal bin Laden to have been a man who became increasingly isolated and irrelevant to Muslims due to his ceaseless bloodshed and the growing power of the Arab Spring protest movement.
Reading between the lines, the documents reveal something else from which all of us can benefit – the power of seeing Muslims as partners – rather than as obstacles – in combating violent extremism. The effects of this vision manifest themselves through the documents in at least two important ways, but the overarching point is this: It is time to underscore the vital, positive role American Muslims play in contributing to not just U.S. national security, but to the diverse religious and cultural fabric of our nation, of which we are so proud.
Learning from bin Laden’s documents can positively affect our messaging as our nation fights to push back on al Qaeda’s narrative. Bin Ladin understood that words impact perceptions, and therefore knew that his choice in language had the power to create realities for his benefit. Throughout his violent career, bin Ladin sought to push the narrative that the West was at war with Islam. When U.S. officials used religiously-laden terms such as “violent Islamist terrorism,” “Islamo-fascism,” and the like, they unknowingly played into this narrative and strengthened the impact of the terrorist’s message.

Clinton tells Muslims that GOP campaign rhetoric doesn’t reflect US policy

TUNIS, Tunisia — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton advised an audience in Tunisia on Saturday to “not pay attention” to the comments made by candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination, saying the often overheated rhetoric of the campaign doesn’t reflect U.S. policy.

Speaking at a town-hall style event in Tunisia, the North African nation that sparked the “Arab Spring” revolts, Clinton said the partisan remarks made during campaign events “certainly don’t reflect the United States, don’t reflect our foreign policy, don’t reflect who we are as a people.”

GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich said while campaigning that the apology was “astonishing” and that Obama “has gone so far at appeasing radical Islamists that he is failing in his duty as commander in chief.”

Dutch Members of European Parliament Refuse to Recognize Arab Spring Activists

15 December 2011

 

The members of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) with seats in the European parliament refused to acknowledge the five activists in the Arab Spring uprising who were awarded with the Sacharov prize for freedom of thought. The four members refused to applaud or stand for the winners, and the leader of the PVV delegation in Europe criticized the decision to award the prize “to an Arabic civil war”.

Occupy Wall Street Meets Tahrir Square

At the risk of being obvious, let us list the ways that Occupy Wall Street is not like Tahrir Square: no protesters have been killed, there have been no demands for the president to step down and no crowds swelling above six figures. The protesters are in far less danger, and seem to pose far less danger to the powerful, than in Egypt.

BUT it’s worth pausing for a moment on this point: Here in Lower Manhattan, and around the country, protesters have embraced a movement springing from the Arab world as a model of freedom, democracy and nonviolence.

“Are you ready for a Tahrir moment?” an initial call to action demanded. Now, newcomers to Zuccotti Park are given leaflets explicitly connecting the movements: “We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring occupation tactics to achieve our ends and we encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

Two blocks from ground zero — the same distance, though in a different direction, as the proposed Muslim community center and mosque that raised a ruckus last year — a subtle change in the Arab world’s image, wrought by the events of recent months, is on display.
In a place so sensitized, the big news, perhaps, is that the Tahrir references are taken almost for granted. A movement born in a Muslim country is seen neither as threatening nor as exotic but simply as universal.

“I think Tahrir is an Arabic word, but that doesn’t make it a particularly Arab or Muslim thing,” said Daniel Kurfirst, a musician, after Muslims held Friday prayers in the park for the first time last week.
Progressive Muslim activists, many of them born in New York, have been coming to the park from the beginning. They said they hoped the prayers, organized by the Muslim Leadership Council of New York, would get more Muslims interested in the movement.

But they face ambivalence from their parents’ generation, from immigrants like Mr. Sami, the falafel chef.
It’s good to see Americans recognize that poverty is a problem, he said. But while Tahrir could be summed up in a few words — “Mubarak, leave!” — he found Occupy’s diffuse causes “confusing.” His coworker, who did not want to give his name, said the protesters were “not serious.”

Arab Film Festival shares the sorts of stories that became news

The social conditions depicted in some of these movies lend perspective to the events of Arab Spring, organizers say.

Eight months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt continues to grapple with the revolution’s aftermath as it prepares for parliamentary elections next month. But at this year’s Arab Film Festival, which opens Friday at the Writers Guild of America theater in Beverly Hills, it will be pre-revolutionary Egypt that appears on the screen.

In “The Birds of the Nile,” a man from a small village moves to Cairo in search of a better life but runs up against the disintegrating structures of Egyptian society. Another Egyptian film, “The Ring Road,” tells the story of a man trying to save his daughter’s life while struggling against the country’s endemic corruption.

“Egyptian Maidens,” about two unmarried women, sheds light on the daily struggles and mounting frustrations of many Egyptians.
Other festival offerings from Tunisia, Jordan and Iraq reflect similar undercurrents of anger that erupted into mass protests that spread across the Arab world this year.