A distressing map of religious freedom around the world

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report highlighting those it calls the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. Among them are many Asian and Middle Eastern governments, although some Western European countries are also included.

 

The report from the bipartisan advisory body divides violators into three categories. Fifteen “tier 1″ nations, marked red on the above map, have committed “particularly severe” violations that are “systemic, ongoing and egregious.” That includes all the countries you’d expect, as well as a few worsening problem areas, such as Egypt and Nigeria. The “tier 2″ countries are said to be “on the threshold” of meeting tier 1 status and include states that might have serious problems but, often, are at least making an effort to address them. A small third category of nations under “monitoring” for violations includes, among other states, some in Western Europe.

 

The report isn’t just about documenting abuses: The tier 1 countries can be officially designated as “countries of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department, at which point the president is legally required to follow up with some sort of action, recommended by the report. It might suggest, for example, engaging with Burmese civil society groups to promote tolerance or working with Pakistani lawmakers to improve legislation.

 

The report also discusses a trend in Japan it calls “kidnapping and forced religious de-conversion.”

 

Some readers, particularly those from countries highlighted in the map above, may wonder why the report includes nothing on the United States, which has seen some local and state-level movements to expel or suppress mosques or other forms of public worship by Muslims. And it’s a fair question. Alas, the commission exists to make recommendations to the U.S. State Department, which of course does not have oversight over the United States. Still, fairly or not, U.S. representatives who seek to promote religious freedom abroad risk having their advice deflected because some Tennessee officials tried to block construction of a mosque. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that religious freedom is an ongoing process as well as a state of being.

Ahmadi Muslim leader pushes plight in Congress

WASHINGTON — The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is persecuted around the world, but it has plenty of friends on Capitol Hill.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined more than 20 House colleagues and at least one senator Wednesday (June 27) at a reception to mark the first visit of the Ahmadiyya’s spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, to Congress.

The Ahmadiyya have faced severe repression, Pelosi said, “but you refused to turn to bitterness or vengeance.”

“The message we carry is ‘if you are being hurt, do not respond with hurt,’” said Ahsanullah Zafar, president of the Ahmadiyya community in the U.S.

Katrina Lantos Swett, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, asked the audience to stand up for the Ahmadiyya.

“The message of the Ahmadiyya community is a positive call for world harmony and liberty,” Swett said. “We who believe in peace and freedom dare not be silent.”

Federal lawsuit charges religious freedom commission with discriminating against Muslims

Some Washington figures prominently connected with promoting religious freedom overseas are accused in a federal lawsuit of discriminating against Muslims.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court accuses members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom of reneging on hiring a Muslim lawyer in 2009 once they learned of her faith and her work advocating for Muslim-Americans.

It quotes staff as encouraging Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, during her short period working at the commission, to call in sick on the days that particular commissioners were in the office, to “downplay her religious affiliation” and to emphasize that she is a “mainstream and ‘moderate’ Muslim” who doesn’t cover her hair.

The lawsuit, which follows an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that Ghori-Ahmad filed in 2010, lays blame on several longtime commissioners, including Nina Shea, an attorney and writer who focuses on religious freedom crises abroad, particularly the plight of Christian minorities. The suit quotes Shea as writing that “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like ‘hiring an IRA activist to research the UK twenty years ago.’”

The allegations in the suit are the most explicit in a years-long series of allegations that commission leaders are biased against Muslims, specifically people associated with groups critical of U.S. foreign policy and who work for groups that fight anti-Muslim discrimination. Questions about the Ghori-Ahmad EEOC complaint — which commission lawyers had argued the body was exempt from — and how the commission uses its resources led some lawmakers last year to almost let USCIRF close for lack of reauthorization.

Opposition grows to religious freedom nominee

More than 1,800 people have signed a petition asking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to “reconsider” his appointment of Zuhdi Jasser, a prominent critic of U.S. Muslims, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

“How can an individual who supports the curbing of Muslim civil and religious liberties at home be trusted as a ‘commissioner’ to review and analyze violations of religious freedoms abroad?” the petition writers ask in their appeal.

Jasser, a physician in Phoenix, Ariz., and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, has angered many Muslim Americans for his work with groups they say demonize Muslims, and for supporting policies that they say infringe on their civil liberties.

Jasser narrated “The Third Jihad,” a documentary widely considered to be Islamophobic, and sits on the board of The Clarion Fund, which funded the film, and has received funding from organizations with anti-Islamic sentiments. He has also defended the New York City Police Department against attacks that it spied on Muslims, and testified on Capitol Hill on the problem of Muslim “extremism” in the U.S.

The petition is sponsored by www.Islamophobiatoday.com.

Imam Talal Eid – The World is His Mosque: Quincy resident’s star is rising around the globe ahead of Vietnam visit

By Lane Lambert QUINCY – There he was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at a lavish reception marking the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence. Britain’s Prince Andrew was seated to his right, Australia’s ambassador to his left, and Brunei’s foreign minister across the table. ”And they were asking me about Muslims in America,” said Imam Talal Eid, recalling the event a month later. The 56-year-old Lebanon native and Quincy resident is fielding such questions more often than ever these days, in farther-flung places. Four months after he became the first Muslim cleric appointed to the high-profile U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he is traveling the globe acting as something of a U.S. ambassador to the Islamic world.