"Pretending to be Muslim, hiding in a box and using the blood of a shooting victim were among the ways that potential victims escaped death" at the mall, according to the New York Times.
The Pew Research Center observes that, rather than being an isolated event, the terrorist attack is part of Kenya’s sharp rise in religious hostilities.
And a continent away, a terror attack on a church in northwestern Pakistan killed nearly 80 people on Sunday. The New York Times reports that is is part of a recent wave of attacks on religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims. For instance, In March, a mob in the eastern city of Lahore burned two churches and more than 100 houses. Sunni extremists and sometimes the Pakistani Taliban are behind the attacks. Pakistani Christians are also often accused of blasphemy under the country's strict blasphemy laws.
There have been some reports that the Nairobi mall militants are from several different countries. Kenya and Somalia are two of 51 countries where religion-related terrorist groups engaged in cross-border attacks or drew on international connections for support between 2009 and 2011, according to a related Pew Research analysis.
The U.S. State Department considers al-Shabab, which controls portions of Somalia, to be a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda and says that al-Shabab has targeted non-Muslims and those who have converted from Islam to other religions. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, al-Shabab is “fighting for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia.”
The number of people killed in religion-related terrorist attacks in Kenya has dramatically increased in recent years. According to reports analyzed by the Pew Research Center as part of our ongoing global study of religious restrictions and hostilities, more than 300 people were killed, injured or displaced as a result of religion-related terrorist attacks in Kenya in 2012, more than twice as many as in 2011 and more than a five-fold increase from 2010.
In general, social hostilities involving religion, defined by Pew Research as concrete acts of religious violence ranging from hate crimes to religion-related terrorism and war, are much higher in Kenya than in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. In 2012, Kenya had nearly four times the level of social hostilities (8.3 on a scale of 10) as the median level among the 48 countries in the region (2.1). The Pew Research Social Hostilities Index takes into account the level and intensity of hostilities, including sectarian violence, religion-related mob violence and so-called honor killings, where the perpetrators are motivated by religion.
In a March Pew Research survey, roughly half of Kenyans (55%) said Islamic extremist groups pose a major threat to their country.
Pakistan: World's Highest Levels of Religious Hostilities
A recent Pew Research study finds that Pakistan had the highest level of social hostilities in the world across the five years of the study. Indeed, Pakistan was the first country to score 10 out of 10 points on either of the restrictions indexes, signifying the presence of all 13 types of hostilities measured by the study. Not only was each of the 13 types of social hostilities involving religion present in Pakistan in 2011, but each was present at the highest level measured by the index. This includes religion-related war and terrorism, mob violence and sectarian conflict, hostility over religious conversion, harassment of women for violating religious dress codes, and all six types of malicious acts and crimes inspired by religious bias: harassment and intimidation; displacement from homes; destruction of religious property; abductions; physical abuse; and killings.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws are often used as justification for social aggression. For instance, in Pakistan, the government makes blasphemy - remarks or actions considered to be critical of God - punishable by imprisonment or death. On the social side, assassins killed two prominent Pakistani politicians – Shahbaz Bhatti (at the time the only Catholic government minister) and Salman Taseer (the governor of Punjab and a Muslim) – when they spoke out against the blasphemy law.
Indeed, Muslims are also often prosecuted under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. For instance, Pakistani police are investigating Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, on blasphemy charges.If convicted, she could be sentenced to death.
And on March 18, the New York Times reported that mobs burned down a Pakistani Christian village near Lahore, also related to allegations of blasphemy. Lahore is also the site of a 2010 massacre of Pakistani Ahmadiyyas, who are considered apostates by Pakistani law.
See my TEDx Talk for a discussion of global patterns of social hostilities involving religion.
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