Arab Spring Adds to Global Restrictions on Religion

pew restrictionsIVAt the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011, many world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, expressed hope that the political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa would lead to greater freedoms for the people of the region, including fewer restrictions on religious beliefs and practices. But a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the region’s already high overall level of restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – continued to increase in 2011.

 

Before the Arab Spring, government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion were higher in the Middle East and North Africa than in any other region of the world.1 Government restrictions in the region remained high in 2011, while social hostilities markedly increased. For instance, the number of countries in the region experiencing sectarian or communal violence between religious groups doubled from five to 10. (See sidebar on the Middle East-North Africa region.)

The Americas, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region all had increases in overall restrictions on religion in 2011. Government restrictions declined slightly in Europe, but social hostilities increased. Asia and the Pacific had the sharpest increase in government restrictions, though the level of social hostilities remained roughly the same. By contrast, social hostilities edged up in sub-Saharan Africa, but government restrictions stayed about the same. Both government restrictions and social hostilities increased slightly in the Americas.

The new study also finds that reports of harassment or intimidation of Muslims increased worldwide during 2011. Muslims were harassed by national, provincial or local governments or by individuals or groups in society in 101 countries, up from 90 countries the year before. Christians continued to be harassed in the largest number of countries (105), although this represented a decrease from the previous year (111 countries). Jews were harassed in 69 countries, about the same as the year before (68). (For details, see Number of Countries Where Religious Groups Were Harassed, by Year chart.)

The number of countries with overall increases in restrictions compared with the previous year outnumbered those with decreases. However, a larger share of countries (35%) had a decrease in at least one of the 20 types of government restrictions or 13 types of social hostilities measured by the study compared with the previous year (28%). Examples include a relaxation of registration requirements for religious groups in Austria; efforts to overturn a centuries-old law barring the British monarch from marrying a Catholic; and elimination of a requirement in Jordan that groups, including religious groups, obtain prior permission from the government before holding public meetings or demonstrations.6 (See sidebar on initiatives aimed at reducing religious restrictions.)

In the four countries with decreases of 1.0 to 1.9 points (Bangladesh, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the United States), some hostilities that occurred in the year ending in mid-2010 did not reoccur in 2011. In the United States, for instance, multiple religion-related terrorist attacks occurred in the year ending in mid-2010, but none occurred in 2011.15

Among countries with small changes on the Social Hostilities Index (less than 1.0 point), 69 had increases (35%) and 59 had decreases (30%).

Considering all changes in social hostilities from mid-2010 to the end of 2011, regardless of magnitude, 49% of countries had increases and 32% of countries had decreases. The level of increase in social hostilities during the latest year studied remained unchanged from the previous year (from mid-2009 to mid-2010).

RestrictionsIV-web

African nations and predominantly Muslim countries are among the least accepting of homosexuality

The world is divided over the acceptance of homosexuality, a survey released Tuesday (June 4) finds.

There is broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union, and much of Latin America, according to the Pew Research Center survey. The survey was conducted by telephone and face to face in 39 countries among 37,653 respondents from March 2 to May 1. The margin of error for the survey ranges from plus or minus 3.1 to plus or minus 7.7 percentage points.

Juliana Horowitz, the report’s lead author and a senior researcher at Pew, says, “I can’t think of any question we have asked where we have this sort of global polarization. In North America, Europe and several countries in Latin America, we have really high acceptance of homosexuality. In predominantly Muslim nations and in sub-Saharan Africa, we have equally widespread views on the other side.”

African nations and predominantly Muslim countries are among the least accepting of homosexuality. For example, about 98 percent of people in Nigeria say homosexuality should not be accepted. In Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia, 93 percent say homosexuality should be rejected.

The Religious Affiliation of U.S. Immigrants: Majority Christian, Rising Share of Other Faiths

Overview

Over the past 20 years, the United States has granted permanent residency status to an average of about 1 million immigrants each year. These new “green card” recipients qualify for residency in a wide variety of ways – as family members of current U.S. residents, recipients of employment visas, refugees and asylum seekers, or winners of a visa lottery – and they include people from nearly every country in the world. But their geographic origins gradually have been shifting. U.S. government statistics show that a smaller percentage come from Europe and the Americas than did so 20 years ago, and a growing share now come from Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa region.

With this geographic shift, it is likely that the religious makeup of legal immigrants also has been changing. The U.S. government, however, does not keep track of the religion of new permanent residents. As a result, the figures on religious affiliation in this report are estimates produced by combining government statistics on the birthplaces of new green card recipients over the period between 1992 and 2012 with the best available U.S. survey data on the religious self-identification of new immigrants from each major country of origin.

While Christians continue to make up a majority of legal immigrants to the U.S., the estimated share of new legal permanent residents who are Christian declined from 68% in 1992 to 61% in 2012. Over the same period, the estimated share of green card recipients who belong to religious minorities rose from approximately one-in-five (19%) to one-in-four (25%). This includes growing shares of Muslims (5% in 1992, 10% in 2012) and Hindus (3% in 1992, 7% in 2012). The share of Buddhists, however, is slightly smaller (7% in 1992, 6% in 2012), while the portion of legal immigrants who are religiously unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular) has remained relatively stable, at about 14% per year.1

Unauthorized immigrants, by contrast, come primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean, and the overwhelming majority of them – an estimated 83% – are Christian. That share is slightly higher than the percentage of Christians in the U.S. population as a whole (estimated at just under 80% of U.S. residents of all ages, as of 2010).2

These are among the key findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life examining recent trends in the geographic origins and religious affiliation of immigrants to the United States. (For information on religion among migrants not just in the U.S. but globally, see the Pew Research Center’s 2012 report “Faith on the Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants.”)

Muslim Immigrants

The estimated number of new Muslim immigrants varies from year to year but generally has been on the rise, going from roughly 50,000 in 1992 to 100,000 in 2012. Since 2008, the estimated number of Muslims becoming U.S. permanent residents has remained at or above the 100,000 level each year.

Between 1992 and 2012, a total of about 1.7 million Muslims entered the U.S. as legal permanent residents. That constitutes a large portion of the overall U.S. Muslim population (estimated at 2.75 million as of 2011).

In the early 1990s, the great majority of Muslim green card recipients came from Asia and the Pacific or the Middle East-North Africa region. The most common countries of origin among Muslim immigrants in 1992 included Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh. Those countries, as well as Iraq, also were among the most likely birthplaces of Muslim immigrants to the U.S. in 2012.

In recent years, a higher percentage of Muslim immigrants have been coming from sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 16% of Muslim immigrants to the U.S. in 2012 were born in countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia. In 1992, only about 5% of new Muslim immigrants came from sub-Saharan Africa.

Morocco detains hundreds of would-be migrants to Spain

Security forces arrested hundreds of would-be illegal migrants since the beginning of February, most attempting to reach Spain’s Canary Islands from Morocco and Algeria. Morocco’s government confirmed a total of 512 arrests of would be illegal migrants, largely from Algeria and sub-Saharan Africa, who sought to enter the country as a transitional stop in goals to reach Europe.