Turkey keeps religious restrictions, hostilities in check

August 10, 2011, Wednesday/ 10:48:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Turkey is one of the few countries where government-imposed religious restrictions and social hostilities involving religion have declined since mid-2008, while a striking 32 percent of the rest the world population faced an increase in both areas, according to the recently announced results of a three-year study, “Rising Restrictions on Religion,” conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The findings of the study, which focused on religious restrictions in 198 countries over a three-year period, showed that government restrictions and social hostilities with regards to people's religious beliefs have increased in many countries, decreasing substantially in only a few, amounting to a mere 1 percent of the global population. The study listed Turkey among the countries with “high level” government restrictions and social hostilities, ranking 19th in government restrictions and 24th in social hostilities stemming from religion, at the same time revealing that the country has nevertheless improved its performance in both areas by a small margin.

Egypt topped the chart of social hostilities involving religion and was listed with a “very high” level of hostilities, immediately followed by Iran and Saudi Arabia, while Costa Rica, Lebanon, Monaco and Denmark were among the countries that ranked the lowest in the same field. It was also noted that five of the top 10 countries with the strongest social hostilities based on religion were European, namely Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, highlighting an increase in that area for Europe between mid-2006 to mid-2009. The social hostilities recorded by the Pew Forum include any type of violence and intimidation that limited religious beliefs and practices.

In terms of government restrictions, Burma (Myanmar) and China topped the chart, while some of the other Asia-Pacific countries, such as Japan and Australia, ranked the lowest. Despite the decline, Turkey was again listed among the countries with “high restrictions.” The study noted that government restrictions tended to increase mostly in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, with 30 percent of the region's countries applying increased restrictions on religious liberties. Government restrictions were determined according to constitutions of countries, government policies, laws and incidents which limit religious groups or individuals in their beliefs or practices, as well as government favoritism to groups or individuals based on their religious beliefs.

One of the most important findings of the study was the fact that countries which already ranked very high in both government enforced religious restrictions and social religious hostilities experienced a further rise, while at the same time, those with the lowest ranks fell even lower, pointing to a widening gap between different parts of the world in their stance toward religions and tolerance for religious differences.

Another striking result of the study was the fact that religions with fewer followers were subjected to a higher degree of harassment, either governmental or social. Over the past three years, Christians were reportedly harassed in 130 countries, while Muslims faced harassment in 117 countries. Together, Christians and Muslims make up more than the half of world's population, the study acknowledged, but in comparison, Jews, who comprise less than 1 percent of the global population, were subject to harassment in 75 countries.

The overall results pointed to an increase in religion-related violence and abuse cases than a decrease. The number of countries where the government used some degree of force on groups or individuals based on their religion grew from 46 percent over a one-year period, ending in mid-2008, to the 51 percent in the period until mid-2009.

The Pew Research Center acknowledged in the report that it used databases from 18 reliable sources, including reports from the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and the US State Department. The database was created by recording concrete reports instead of commentaries or opinions about “government laws, policies and actions” that functioned to restrict religious liberties and about “incidents of religious violence as well as intolerance” by social groups in 198 counties of the world, according to the center's official website.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is one of the seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based fact tank which claims nonpartisanship and non-advocacy in the conduct of their studies.

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