Three negative Developments endangering Freedom of Religion and Belief

I would like to name three negative developments, which are increasingly limiting religious freedom around the globe and even in Europe.

1. Fundamentalism

In what is undisputedly the first place – especially when it comes to humans killed because of the religion or belief they belong to – one finds fundamentalism (often also called religious extremism), in particular violent fundamentalist movements in Islam, Hinduism (above all in India), and in Buddhism (above all in Sri Lanka). The term fun-damentalism no longer means a certain conservative view of the Holy Scriptures and the vague meaning which is used and propagated in many areas of the media. The well-established term fundamentalism found in academic sociology of religion does not refer to any movement that makes a truth claim. In that case, there would almost only be fun-damentalists in the world outside the West, and even a person with a clear atheistic belief would be a fundamentalist. Instead, fundamentalism means wanting “to push through a truth claim by force” and in particular has been coined since 1979, when Aya-tollah Khomeini forced his claim to truth upon all people and has forced that claim to the present day.

An individual who holds something to be absolutely right or wrong is not dangerous due to that fact. It only becomes a problem for the society when he developed the idea that he may force others to believe the same thing and do the same thing, and that the entire society has to function the way he considers to be right. And it is this sort of fundamentalism which has appeared in various world religions and which is responsible for the great number of religious martyrs and for the victims representing religions and non-religious world-views.

The main culprits are predominantly not governments or people groups. Rather, it is above all violent, fundamentalist movements, which in most cases fight against the gov-ernments of their countries of origin.

In addition to its direct influence, fundamentalism has set an additional devastating development into motion. This is due to the fact that, precisely in heavily populated countries such as India, Indonesia, and Nigeria, in which the great world religions used to live together reasonably well in peace, fundamentalism stirs up unrest and fuels violence, as in the case of Hinduism in India or has often been the case with Islam in Indonesia. If relevant state authorities do not uncompromisingly move against it, a small minority within the religion – the number of such supporters of fundamentalism mostly ranges between 1 % and 5 % – can destabilize entire countries and can replace what has been a peaceful relationship among many millions of people with tension.

2. Religious Nationalism

Through globalization and the shifting of masses of people around the world, there are more and more countries where it is very difficult to maintain a sense of nationalism on common ancestry, common history, common language, or similar things. There are more and more countries and parties, which, in order to salvage nationalism or in order to gather the population behind them, have reached for the ‘religion’ card. A Turk is a Muslim, an inhabitant of Sri Lanka is Buddhist, an Indian is Hindu, and of late a Hungarian is best a Christian.

Religious Nationalism is not the fundamentalist variation that directly advocates violence. However, religious nationalism nevertheless is growing around the world, and belonging to a country is again often determined according to the majority religion. Re-ligious nationalism is also a great danger in the ‘Arabellion’ occurring in Arab countries. The diverse Arab societies do not actually coalesce anything into one anymore. They are completely disjointed. That is why the following call is not unheard: “The only future that is possible for the country is one that is under the religious flag.” In the process, however, all religious minorities and non-Muslims are ostracized or become second class citizens.


3. Limitations on religious freedom due to obligatory registration

The third global development to mention is the limitation on religious freedom due to obligatory registration. We have experienced an increasing problem in many coun-tries around the world due to the fact that there are increasingly complex registration processes to deal with. It is above all the small religious communities which are under perpetual suspicion of being remotely controlled from outside the country, of conduct-ing money laundering, or of being a danger to the internal peace of the country. In part, laws have been passed which apply to everyone, and that leads to a growing of religious communities around the world suddenly landing in the realm of illegality. The conse-quences are frequently that they are not allowed to own or lease buildings, that they are not able to offer theological training, that they have difficulty entering certain professions, are not able to work for the state, cannot study, and the like. Fortunately, the last and the present Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief for the United Nations have made the topic of registration a focal point for his activities.

Director of International Institute for Religious Freedom- Associate Secretary General for Theological Concerns of World Evangelical Alliance. President of International Society for Human Rights.