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.

Virginia man who tried to join terrorists gets 25 years

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A college dropout and Muslim convert who threatened the creators of the “South Park” cartoon series and then tried to join an al-Qaida-linked terror group in Somalia was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison.

Zachary A. Chesser, 21, of Bristow, Va., pleaded guilty last year to supporting the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia and posting online threats against the “South Park” creators for an episode that he perceived as insulting to the prophet Muhammad.

Chesser’s lawyer portrayed his client as a drifting teenager who latched on to activities and philosophies with a freakish intensity. Before Chesser converted to Islam, he participated in high school sports and later joined a Korean breakdancing team at his school. He spent years as a vegetarian and dabbled in Buddhism. He became so fascinated with Japanese anime that he spent four years studying Japanese and traveled to Japan on a school trip.

And, when he became infatuated during his senior year with a Muslim girl, he converted to Islam. He quickly drifted toward a radical, fundamentalist interpretation of the religion.

Rights group attacks Dutch immigration policy

Human Rights Watch has stated that a Dutch policy of forcing would-be immigrants to pass a language and culture test before seeking a visa, is discriminatory. The rights group said that the tests target families from developing nations such as Turkey and Morocco, because citizens from Japan, the United States, and other developed nations are exempt. “The overseas integration test is discriminatory because it explicitly applies only to relatives from predominantly non-Western countries,” said Human Rights Watch’s European director Holly Cartner.