Poverty, some argue, can only be effectively tackled by governments enforcing top-down, big-P Poverty reduction policies and programs. But a host of religious groups haven’t gotten the memo. Innovative faith-based initiatives worldwide are tackling poverty using bottom-up, small-p poverty alleviation approaches that empower individuals to be resourceful, resilient and self-reliant.
Indeed, a central aspect of religious freedom is that it gives faith groups license to innovate and contribute to the the wellbeing of individuals, communities and nations. But where religious freedom is curtailed, so are such innovations. For instance, reform-minded Saudi princess Basmah bint Saud argues, religion “should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings.”

In this new installment of an ongoing series on the connection between religious freedom and sustainable development, Brian Grim describes these small-p initiatives and concludes with a case study of how one faith group is directly targeting and reducing poverty in its congregations worldwide. Such faith-based activities directly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 – Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Read the full analysis and case study here.

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is publishing a new series of analysis and data on the connection between religious freedom and sustainable development.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) as follows: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

An oft used definition for Sustainable Development is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, 1987).

So, what might be the connection between these seemingly very different concepts? A recent research summary indicates that religious freedom contributes to sustainable development in a number of ways, including (1) fostering respect for differing faiths and beliefs, including people with no particular faith; (2) helping to reduce corruption by allowing faith-based ethics to be voiced; (3) engendering peace by defusing religious tensions thereby reducing religion-related violence and conflict; (4) encouraging broader freedoms; (5) developing the economy as religious groups play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries; (6) overcoming the over-regulation associated with such things as coercive blasphemy laws; and (7) multiplying trust among employees whose faith and beliefs are respected.

Read the full article.

Interview with Gina A. Zurlo*

Q: Gina, you’ve had a central role in pulling together the just-released Brill Yearbook of International Religious Demography.** What do you see as the most important trend in religion that policy makers should be aware of?

A: I think the most important trend in global religion is the massive exodus of Christians from the Middle East. This is an issue that needs more attention from policy makers all over the world. In 1910 Christians were 13.6% of the region’s population, but by 2010 were only 4.2%. By 2025 the authors expect them to be only 3.6% - nearly a fourfold decline. Their diminishing presence is especially troubling when viewed in light of centuries of relative demographic stability; from 1500 to 1900, Christianity held steady at 15% of the Middle East’s population. The urgent question is one asked even by the New York Times: Is this the End of Christianity in the Middle East
Q: The yearbook has an interesting article on global religious diversity. What’s the world’s most religiously diverse country? And how does the U.S. fare?

A: The Yearbook actually has two articles on global religious diversity, which highlights how important it is. The world’s most religiously diverse country in Singapore, home to Buddhists, Christians, the unaffiliated, Muslims, other religions, Hindus, folk religionists, and Jews. Overall, the entire Asia-Pacific region is by far the most diverse.

People often say that the United States is the “most religiously diverse” country, but it simply isn’t so. True religious diversity means a country has high percentages of lots of different religions, but that isn’t quite the situation in the USA. Nearly 80% of the USA is still Christian, with much smaller populations of agnostics, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims. Many countries in Asia are far more diverse than the United States.

Q: Are there any religious demographic trends that people might find surprising?

A: People in the West might find it surprising that religion is actually on the rise around the world, not on the decline. Americans, Canadians, and Europeans often think that the rest of the world is like their countries, where relatively few people attend weekly religious services and religion is mostly relegated to one’s private practice. In reality, most people in the world are highly religious, of all kinds—Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on—and many local and national leaders around the world do not separate their faith from their work or business.

Q: Are there any religious demographic trends that people might find worrying?

A: Some people might be worried about what they perceive to be a rise of atheism and agnosticism, as this is certainly something that’s been in the news a lot recently. Around 13% of the world is non-religious, but this has been a declining percentage since 1970. Yet, it is growing in Europe and North America. Most of the world’s non-religious live in Asia, however, particularly China and North Korea.

Q: Reflecting on all that’s in this year’s volume, how would you rate the importance of interfaith understanding and freedom of religion or belief?

A: Interfaith understanding and freedom of belief are simply critical in today’s world, and their importance cannot be understated. With Christians from the Middle East in diaspora all over the world; Muslim immigration to traditionally-Christian countries; and a continued rise of interreligious marriages, the world can’t afford to ignore religious realities.

Q: Religion extremism is often in the news. Does the yearbook have any information that might be useful to policy makers or researchers working on countering violent extremism?

A: One area that has seen a lot of religious extremism recently is Nigeria, which is nearly evenly split between Christians in the South and Muslims in the North (and is home to the world’s third largest tribal religionist population). This reality coupled with a close connection between religion and politics makes for a terrible risk of religious violence. In addition, the Yearbook shows that four of the ten countries with the largest Muslim populations in 2014 were in Africa, signifying a shift of the religion toward that continent. Researchers working on countering violent extremism would do well to focus on interreligious dialogue efforts particularly in sub-Saharan Africa as the religion continues to grow there and clash with Christianity.

Q: What is your personal favorite among the various reports and articles in this year’s volume? 

A: I find the article on historical Hasidism absolutely fascinating. There is a debate among historians how large Hasidism was in the 19th century, and I think Marcin Wodzinski does a fabulous job outlining his argument, which utilizes creative low-scale local data. It’s an exciting area of research with significant implications for the Jewish community even today, and its an area where there is still a lot more research to be done.

Gina A. Zurlo is a PhD candidate at Boston University, Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a Research Associate at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. Her research focuses on international religious demography and the history of sociology of religion, in particular the application of quantitative methods to religious adherence. She is the co-editor of the World Christian Database (Brill) and also a data contributor to the World Religion Database (Brill). 

** The Yearbook of International Religious Demography presents an annual snapshot of the state of religious statistics around the world. Every year large amounts of data are collected through censuses, surveys, polls, religious communities, scholars, and a host of other sources. These data are collated and analyzed by research centers and scholars around the world. Large amounts of data appear in analyzed form in the World Religion Database (Brill), aiming at a researcher’s audience. The Yearbook presents data in sets of tables and scholarly articles spanning social science, demography, history, and geography. Each issue offers findings, sources, methods, and implications surrounding international religious demography. Each year an assessment is made of new data made available since the previous issue of the yearbook.

The 2015 issue highlights both global and local realities in religious adherence, from the demographics of the world's atheists to the emigration of Christians from the Middle East. Other case studies include inter-religious marriage patterns in Austria, Muslim immigration to Australia, and methodological challenges in counting Hasidic Jews.

Edited by Brian J. Grim (Georgetown and Boston University), Todd M. Johnson (Boston University & Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Vegard Skirbekk (Columbia University), Gina A. Zurlo, (Boston University).

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Are Muslim countries receptive to religious freedom? The short answer is "yes, some are," according to an analysis by Notre Dame scholar Daniel Philpott, in a recent Washington Post article.
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Philpott argues that comparative political science can offer helpful perspective on one of the most challenging issues of our time - the rise of ISIS and the ongoing rhetoric of groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, whose name itself means Western education is forbidden. 

Philpott states that "an aggregate, satellite view does indeed show a dearth of religious freedom in [Muslim-majority countries]." Indeed, based on research by Brian Grim and Roger Finke, Muslim-majority countries clearly have considerably lower levels of religious freedom than the rest of the world and Christian-majority countries. In “The Price of Religious Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century,” Grim and Finke show that 78 percent of Muslim-majority countries have high levels of government restrictions on religious freedom, compared with 43 percent of all other countries and 10 percent of Christian-majority countries. 

Philpott asks whether these aggregate scores prove that Islam is indeed generally inhospitable to religious freedom, then? His answer is "No. Zooming in from a satellite view to a more fine-grained view reveals far greater diversity." He notes that: 
  • Twelve out of 47 Muslim-majority states (about a quarter) fall into the category of “low restrictions on religious freedom,” meaning that they are essentially religiously free. Philpott argues that these include Kosovo, Djibouti, Albania, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone – most of them noticeably outside the Arab world. 
  • In tracing the roots of why these are toward the freer end of the scale, Philpott notes that "for some, the roots of freedom may lie in a particular form of Islamic theology or culture that embodies tolerance. In others, freedom may have arisen through a modus vivendi between Islam and other religions at some point in the country’s history. All of these cases, though, show that Muslim populations can, under certain circumstances, prove hospitable to religious freedom." 
  • Among the other 35 Muslim-majority states, which have moderate, high or very high levels of restriction, there are significantly different patterns of repression, which yield different conclusions about Islam. 
  • “Islamist” regimes are present in 21 of these countries, including, according to Philpott, Saudi Arabia the other Gulf Cooperation Council members, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Malaysia [arguably for strict versions of Islamic law applied to the Muslim population], Indonesia [not nationally, but in Ache] and Nigeria [in the north, especially under Boko Haram] 
  • “Secular repressive” are present in the other 14 of these countries (including, according to Philpott, Uzbekistan, pre-Arab Spring Egypt, pre-AKP Turkey, Algeria and pre-revolutionary Tunisia. 
  • Philpott notes that the Iranian Revolution may serve as inspiration for Islamist states, while the French Revolution may be a model for the secular-repressive pattern, in which the power of government is used to manage religion. 
  • According to Philpott, the standard bearer of restrictive secular regimes is the Republic of Turkey, founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1924, and after World War II, many Arab states followed this model as well. 

Daniel Philpott is Professor of Political Science and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and Director on Administrative Leave at The Center for Civil and Human Rights. His research focuses on religion and global politics and on reconciliation in politics. He has pursued an activist dimension of his work in reconciliation in Kashmir and the Great Lakes region of Africa. He is the author of “Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation” (Oxford University Press, 2012). He also publishes a regular blog, Arc of the Universe, devoted to resurfacing justice – examining the day’s headlines from the deep commitments of ethical traditions.

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On July 16, Lord Alton of Liverpool moved that the House of Lords takes note of worldwide violations of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the case for greater priority to be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.
This is an extract; the full debate can be read here and watched here. 

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who take part in today’s debate. We have a speakers list of great distinction, underlining the importance of this subject. It is also a debate that will see the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who has given such distinguished service to your Lordships’ House. The backdrop to all our speeches is Article 18, one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It insists:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

The declaration’s stated objective was to realise, “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

However, with the passage of time, the declaration has acquired a normative character within general international law. Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. In her words: “Religious freedom cannot just mean Protestant freedom; it must be freedom of all religious people”, and she rejoiced in having friends from all faiths and all races.

Article 18 emerged from the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the defining depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; and, notwithstanding violence associated with religion, it emerged from ideology, nation and race. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives.

The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. Seventy years later, all over the world, from North Korea to Syria, Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach, evident in new concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, beheadings and the mass displacement of millions of people. Not surprisingly, the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the title of its influential report, described Article 18 as “an orphaned right”. A Pew Research Center study begun a decade ago found that of the 185 nations studied, religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.

Today’s debate, then, is a moment to encourage Governments to reclaim their patrimony of Article 18; to argue that it be given greater political and diplomatic priority; to insist on the importance of religious literacy as a competence; to discuss the crossover between freedom of religion and belief and a nation’s prosperity and stability; and to reflect on the suffering of those denied this foundational freedom. (This is an extract; the full debate can be read here and watched here.) 

America is famous worldwide for having established through the 1791 first amendment to its Constitution the protection of religious freedom as the "first freedom" of the new nation. The new 2015 edition of an annual survey conducted since 1997 again finds that most Americans are unable to name more than one or two of the five freedoms in the First Amendment — religion, speech, press, assembly and petition — and that one-third cannot name any of the five.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." - First Amendment

A separate survey released this month finds that nearly half of the U.S. public believes that Christians — who make up 72% of the adult U.S. population — are now facing as much discrimination as other groups in the country. Details on both surveys follow.
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Do Americans Know What the First Amendment Includes?  

The State of the First Amendment survey, conducted by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, tests Americans’ knowledge of their core freedoms and samples their opinions on First Amendment issues of the day.

When asked to name the five specific freedoms in the First Amendment, 57% of Americans name freedom of speech, followed by 19% who say the freedom of religion, 10% mention the freedom of the press, 10% mention the right to assemble, and 2% name the right to petition. Thirty-three percent of Americans cannot name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Over the past year, those naming freedom of speech decreased from 68 to 57%, freedom of religion decreased from 29 to 19%, and freedom of the press declined from 14 to 10%.

Despite the lack of knowledge, in 2015, the survey found a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who believe that the First Amendment does not go far enough in the rights it guarantees. Last year, 38% stated that the First Amendment goes too far and 57% said it does not go too far. In the current survey, only 19% say the First Amendment goes too far while 75% say it does not. The 2013 survey saw a spike in the percentage who said the First Amendment goes too far, perhaps a response to the perceived safety threat from the Boston Marathon bombings, according to the researchers. As that event is now in the more distant past, public support for the First Amendment has returned to more “normal” levels. Interestingly, the study also noted a similar dive in public opinion after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The nationwide sampling was done by telephone between May 14 and 23, and reached 1,002 adults age 18 or older.

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Americans Divided on Discrimination Against Christians

Americans are divided over whether Christians—who make up 72% of the adult population—are now facing as much discrimination as other groups, according to a new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. 

Nearly half (49%) of the public say that discrimination against Christians has become as big of a problem as discrimination against other groups, while approximately as many (47%) disagree.

According to the researchers, there are notable differences among Americans by religious affiliation. Seven in ten (70%) white evangelical Protestants agree that discrimination against Christians has become as bad as discrimination against other groups. A majority (55%) of non-white Protestants also agree that discrimination against Christians has become as problematic as other types of discrimination, while white mainline Protestants (46% agree vs. 50% disagree) and Catholics (50% agree vs. 47% disagree) are divided. Nearly six in ten (59%) religiously unaffiliated Americans do not think that discrimination against Christians is comparable to that against other groups.

The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was was nationwide survey of 1,007 adults was conducted from June 10 to June 14, 2015. The survey measures public views on patriotism, the role that protest plays in improving our country, what makes someone “truly American,” America’s moral standing, discrimination against Christians in the U.S. and immigration. Other findings include:
  • More than six in ten (62 percent) Americans believe that God has granted the country a special role in human history. Additionally, 63 percent of U.S. adults say there has never been a time when they were not proud to be an American. At the same time, only 43 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. sets a good moral example for the world, while 53 percent disagree.
  • Most Americans do not believe the U.S. is a Christian nation. Only about one-third (35 percent) say that the U.S. is a Christian nation today, while 14 percent say that the U.S. has never been a Christian nation. Nearly half (45 percent) of the public believes that it once was a Christian nation but is not anymore. However, among Americans who believe the U.S. is no longer a Christian nation, most (61 percent) say this change is a bad thing.

The future of religion, religious freedom and the world economy all converge in China, according to Brian Grim (葛百彦教授), in a new Q&A with Joey Marshall of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society (CRCS). In the interview, Grim also shares about some of his experiences living and working in China during the 1980s.
1) Can you tell us about your recent research on religious freedom and diversity in China?  
My research looks at the very positive role that the religions of Chinese people play in creating a workforce ready for success. This includes Confucian ethics, but it goes beyond just that. It includes such things as the Chinese Protestant Work Ethic, and the powerful set of Catholic Social Teachings. These contribute to the moral, ethical and motivational characteristics needed for societies to be harmonious and prosperous. Also, there is another important factor making these contributions possible - religious freedom. 

Although religious freedom is still developing in China, there has been a dramatic increase in religious freedom since the time of the Cultural Revolution on the 1960s and 1970s, when all faiths were outlawed and suppressed. One other interesting by-product of China’s gradual move to religious freedom is increased religious diversity, which is an added source of innovation for economic growth not only in China, but also in Asia more generally.

2) Why is religious freedom good for business in general and for China in particular?  
Research shows that religious freedom leads to peace and social harmony. When governments restrict religious freedom and put extra burdens on religion that other groups in society do not have, this can create disharmony and grievances that can erupt into violence and rebellion. None of that is good for business. 

So, for China’s long term economic growth, ensuring religious freedom and harmony is essential. In addition, the freedom to have faith is an important part of a successful economy. Research shows, for instance, that religious freedom is an ally in the fight against corruption because it allows the ethics of faith to add moral controls that reduce corruption and increase trust. 

Overall, research shows that religious freedom is good for business because it fosters respect, reduces corruption, engenders peace, develops the economy, overcomes over-regulation, and multiplies trust.

3) Is religion really that strong in China? 
China is a lot more religious than you might think. Yes, China certainly has more religiously unaffiliated people than any other country, and it is led by a party officially committed to atheism. But what is less well know is that China is home to the world’s second largest religious population after India, according to the latest demographic estimates by Pew Research. 

This represents a religious bull market when compared to the years of the Cultural Revolution when religion was completely outlawed, believers brutalized, and all religious institutions boarded up. 

Today, China has the world’s largest Buddhist population, largest folk religionist population, largest Taoist population, seventh largest Christian population, and seventeenth largest Muslim population—ranking between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in size. This also makes China one of the world’s most religiously diverse nations, something research shows to be associated with economic growth.  

But the projected growth of Christianity is of particular note. A study by Purdue University’s Fenggang Yang (cited recently in the Economist) finds that China’s Christian population may become the world’s largest by 2030.

4) What is your outlook on the future of religious freedom in China? 
The Chinese government restricts religious freedoms in an effort to maintain order, protect the citizenry, and reduce potential violence. For instance, in China increased restrictions on Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims in Xinjiang are justified as an effort for preserving social order. Xinjiang is an especially sensitive case not only due to violence in the region, but also because the violence has spread. For instance, in March 2014, attackers dressed in black killed more than two dozen people and injured up to 100 at a train station in south China. In response to the separatist movement, the Chinese government has also tightened restrictions on religion in the region. 

Chinese authorities argue that such restrictions on religion are needed to maintain security, promote social harmony, and keep religious hostilities in check. However, the data suggest that rather than reducing religious hostilities, added restrictions on religion may add to the grievances. The bitter irony is that denying religious freedoms has resulted in less order and more violence. In particular, religious violence rises as government restrictions on religion increase (see The Price of Freedom Denied, Grim & Finke, 2011). The case for religious freedom in China is twofold: it can help bring peace and harmony as well as economic growth.

5) Could you share some fun facts about yourself? For instance, what is your Chinese name? Also, what were some of your experiences living in China? 
My Chinese name is 葛百彦 (Ge Bai-yan, or “very learned”). Of course, I got that name from my Chinese teacher in 1979, many years before I received a Ph.D., so I suppose my teacher hoped that I’d become learned – I certainly wasn’t as a sophomore in college. I’ve had the chance to live in China at some very interesting times. In 1982 my wife and I taught at Hua Qiao (Overseas Chinese) University in Quanzhou, Fujian. We were among the first Americans to live and work in China after the end of the Cultural Revolution. In those days, no one had a private car, and just to have an electric fan was considered a luxury. 

Our first daughter was born there (Ge Tian-en), making her the first American born in China after the Cultural Revolution, so we’ve been told. We also lived in Urumqi, Xinjiang, from 1985-88, and again in 1993. Interestingly, Deng Xiao-ping personally signed approval for an exchange project we were working on in Xinjiang. We got word of that on 8/8/88 – which we saw as a very good omen.

Also see:

Last week, deadly ISIS-inspired attacks occurred in France, Tunisia and Kuwait, claiming dozens of lives and adding further to already high social hostilities involving religion in the countries.

Recent Pew Research reports have documented worrying trends of increasing religious hostilities involving religion, with religion-related terrorism being a potential trigger in governments imposing greater restrictions on religion or belief more generally. Specifically, Pew found that countries where religion-related terror occurs have, on average, more than double the level of government restrictions on religious freedom as countries where no terror has occurred. 
Ironically, research - as in The Price of Freedom Denied - has shown that this cycle of violence leading to general restrictions may have the effect of both lowering religious freedom and increasing violence rather than decreasing it because it may limit the activities of peaceful faith solutions while adding additional grievances by stigmatizing religion.

Terror Rising
According to a statistical annex prepared by the University of Maryland for the recently released annual report on terrorism by the U.S. State Department and cited during the report's release (though not included in the report), "the number of terrorist attacks in 2014 increased 35 percent, and total fatalities increased 81 percent compared to 2013, largely due to activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria."

During the special briefing at the release by Tina S. Kaidanow, Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, stated that "more than 60 percent of all attacks took place in five countries: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria. And 78 percent of all fatalities due to terrorist attacks also took place in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. The increase in total fatalities was in part a result of certain attacks that were exceptionally lethal. In 2014 there were 20 attacks that killed more than a hundred people, compared to only two such attacks in 2013."

Note, while the State Department cited these statistics compiled by the University of Maryland, they are not a U.S. State Department product and the lack full context found in the larger report. Kaidanow noted in particular that aggregate totals or numbers of attacks are not really a particularly useful metric for measuring the aims of the extremist groups or of our progress in preventing or countering those activities.

State Department Report & 2014 Trends

Comments below are from a special briefing by Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tina S. Kaidanow, Washington, DC June 19, 2015

"Despite significant blows to al-Qaida’s leadership, weak or failed governance continued to provide an enabling environment for the emergence of extremist radicalism and violence, notably in Yemen, in Syria, Libya, Nigeria, and Iraq. We’re deeply concerned about the continued evolution of the Islamic State of the Iraq in the Levant, ISIL; the emergence of self-proclaimed ISIL affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and elsewhere; and tens of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters who are exacerbating the violence in the Middle East, imposing a continued threat to their own home countries.

The ongoing civil war in Syria has been a spur to many of the worldwide terrorism events that we have witnessed. Since the report covers only calendar year 2014, it notes that the overall flow of foreign terrorist fighter travel to Syria was estimated at more than 16,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 90 countries as of late December, which is a number that exceeds any similar flow of foreign terrorist fighters traveling to other countries in the last 20 years.

Many of the foreign terrorist fighters joined ISIL, which has seized contiguous territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Iraqi forces and the Counter-ISIL Coalition have dealt significant blows to ISIL, but it continues to control substantial territory.

As with many other terrorist groups worldwide, ISIL has brutally repressed the communities under its control and used ruthless methods of violence such as beheadings and crucifixions. Uniquely, however, it demonstrates a particular skill in employing new media tools to display its brutality both as a means to shock and to terrorize, but equally to propagandize and to attract new recruits.

Boko Haram shares with ISIL a penchant for the use of these brutal tactics, which include stonings, indiscriminate mass casualty attacks, and systematic oppression of women and girls, including enslavement, torture, and rape.

Though AQ central leadership has indeed been weakened, the organization continues to serve as a focal point of inspiration for a worldwide network of affiliated groups, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, a longstanding threat to Yemen, the region, and the United States; al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM; al-Nusrah Front; and al-Shabaab in East Africa.

We saw a rise in lone offender attacks, including in Ottawa and Quebec in October and Sydney in December of 2014. In many cases, it was difficult to assess whether these attacks were directed or inspired by ISIL or AQ and its affiliates. These attacks may presage a new area in which centralized leadership of a terrorist organization matters less, group identity is more fluid, and violent extremist narratives focus on a wider range of alleged grievances and enemies.

Enhanced border security measures among Western states since 9/11 have increased the difficulty for known or suspected terrorists to travel internationally. Therefore, groups like AQ and ISIL encourage lone actors residing in the West to carry out attacks on their behalf.

ISIL and AQ affiliates, including al-Nusrah Front, continue to use kidnapping for ransom operations, profits from the sales of looted antiquities, and other criminal activities to raise funds for operational purposes. Much of ISIL’s funding, unlike the resources utilized by AQ and AQ-type organizations, do not come from external donations, but was internally gathered in Iraq and Syria. ISIL earned up to several million dollars per month through its various extortion networks, in criminal activity in the territory where it operated, including through oil smuggling. Some progress was made in 2014 in constraining ISIL’s ability to earn money from the sale of smuggled oil as a result of the anti-ISIL coalition airstrikes that were conducted on ISIL-operated oil refineries. But the oil trade was not fully eradicated.

ISIL and AQ were not the only serious threats that confronted the United States and its allies. Iran continued to sponsor terrorist groups around the world, principally through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, the IRGC-QF – Quds. These groups included Lebanese Hizballah, several Iraqi Shia militant groups, Hamas, and the Palestine-Islamic Jihad. Addressing this evolving set of terrorist threats and the need to undertake efforts that span the range from security to rule of law to efficacy of governance and pushing back on terrorist messaging in order to effectively combat the growth of these emerging violent extremist groups requires an expanded approach to our counterterrorism engagement."

The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance (EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT) presented its first Annual Report on the 'State of Freedom of Religion or Belief' at an event hosted by the Intergroup in collaboration with United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 
Speakers included the Chairs of the EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT and USCIRF as well as the Director of Human Rights at the European External Action Service (EEAS). Below is the executive summary followed by a link to the report.

The right to freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in many global and regional rights instruments as well as, to varying degrees, in the constitutions or basic laws of most countries. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) defines FoRB as follows: 

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”  

FoRB offers equal protection to people of all faiths and beliefs. States are bound by international and human rights law to uphold Article 18 of the UDHR and also of the ICCPR if they have signed and ratified it. A fundamental characteristic of both is the principle of non-discrimination. The principle of non-discrimination emphasises the fact that individuals are entitled to full enjoyment of human rights irrespective of their religion or belief. There the state has a primary responsibility to respect, protect and promote rights of all individuals. Although international and human rights law is primarily concerned with the responsibility a state has to its citizens, the state also has a duty to make sure that non-state actors are prosecuted for crimes they commit. 

It is clear, however, that this right is increasingly under attack through the actions of states, non-state actors or both. Pew Forum concludes in a report published in February 2015 that no less than three quarters of the world’s population lives in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, with this proportion trending upwards. Open Doors (OD) which publishes annual rankings of countries found that among religious group worldwide Christians are persecuted the most. The organisation also documented evidence of year-on-year increasing discrimination and persecution. The Freedom of Thought report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) found that "non-religious people are being targeted by hate campaigns around the world" and suggests an increase in violence. 

More worrying concerns are that some countries continue to deny the universality of FoRB. In fact, in recent years an increasing number of countries seem to identify with one specific religion or belief, in spite of inclusive language enshrined in their legislation. This trend is particularly visible in parts of Asia, Africa and Easter (non-EU) Europe. A second concern is the rise of non-state actors such as Islamic extremist groups with territorial ambitions such as Boko Haram and ISIL/Da'esh. Some of these groups have boldly used the void left by retreating central government in failed states or are indeed now among the main reasons why some states, or parts of states, "fail". 

In this context of general deterioration, it took the European Union quite long to come up with its Guidelines on the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief (EU Guidelines on FoRB). However, the Guidelines are a significant milestone and show awareness within the EU that: 
  1. FoRB is an important right that deserves protection besides for example labour rights, women's rights or media freedom; 
  2. FoRB violations are increasing in many regions of the world, including sometimes as part of campaigns to intimidate or drive out certain faith or belief groups; 
  3. The promotion and protection of FoRB is an important foreign policy objective and its correlates with other human rights as the well-functioning of a democracy and the rule of law. 
The Guidelines acknowledge that the “free exercise [of FoRB] directly contributes to democracy, development, rule of law, peace and stability.” However the ongoing implementation of the Guidelines and the hesitant deployment of other policy tools make for an interesting dynamic, which this report will comment on.

Read the full report here

Also, read an article based on the report: Religious Violence is Bad for Business – A Case India’s Modi Might Make in Bangladesh

by Brian J. Grim (葛百彦教授).

The New York Times reports that new Chinese security laws elevate the party and stifle dissent in a new tougher line that Mao would approve of. The new law, released in draft form this month, says security must be maintained “to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” 
Of course, the devil's in the details. But given a rash of recent government actions to impose its supremacy over culture, in particular, religion, China's economic success is under threat. 

This conclusion is based on a new study which I authored, The Modern Chinese Secret Sustainable Economic Growth: Religious Freedom & Diversity

The study's findings - published in this summer's edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs - will be surprising to the half of China’s population for whom religion is not a significant part of life. To the other half, they will make some sense, but still may be surprising. The reason is twofold. First, those who do not practice religion often tend to have their closest personal and social connections with people like themselves. Accordingly, people who do not encounter religion on a day-to-day basis may consider it to be an insignificant factor. Second, even those practicing a faith may not be aware of the connections between faith, freedom, and business because there has been very little research looking at the connections. 

New research, however, finds close and logical connections between faith, freedom, and business., which I review in the article. First, I look specifically at the unrecognized role the religions of Chinese people play in creating a workforce ready for success. This includes the role of a relative, but incomplete, rise in religious freedom since the time of the Cultural Revolution on the 1960s and 1970s, when all faiths were outlawed and suppressed. It also includes a surprising finding from recent research that Chinese Christianity may be a special source of economic growth. 

Second, I examine how the freedom to have faith is an unrecognized power to the economy, including an ally in the fight against corruption. Next, I look at a by-product of China’s gradual move to religious freedom—religious diversity— and how this is an added source of innovation for economic growth not only in China, but also in Asia more generally. Indeed, China is one of the world’s most religious and religiously diverse countries, and Asia is the world’s most religiously diverse region. 

I then take up the most sensitive question of whether China should further deregulate religious freedom—including in light of recent violence in the western province of Xinjiang—and what that means for sustaining China’s economic growth. Throughout the article, I stress that the issues faced by China are not exclusive to it but are part of a growing global set of issues faced by all nations.

I conclude with the observation: "Perhaps just as China has radically deregulated its economy with successful outcomes, further deregulation of religion may be one way to help keep China's economic miracle alive."

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