Religion-related terrorists are active in more than one-in-three countries (37%) today, more than any time since 2006, according to Pew Research
With recent "Lone Wolf" attacks in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., the terror is coming closer to home. 

Common to the lone wolf scenario is a lack of social integration, including meaningful work and self-reliance. A new initiative from the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is attempting to address this (more below). 

U.S. (New York)

On Oct. 23, 2014, a self-radicalized Muslim convert, Zale H. Thompson, attacked a group of New York police officers with a hatchet, leaving one critically injured. Officials are calling it a terrorist attack. Thompson converted to Islam two years ago. 

John Miller, NYPD’s deputy counterterrorism chief, told reporters that Thompson was self-directed in his actions with no affiliations to any particular group. 

Thompson was unemployed, and police say his parents described him as a depressed recluse spending his time online. His recent Internet activity shows that he searched for beheadings, al Qaeda, ISIS and al Shabaab, indicating that Thompson had been planning an attack for some time.


On Oct. 22, 2014, a gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (originally Michael Joseph Hall), went on a shooting spree in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. The gunmen killed a reservist guard in front of the National War Memorial, and then proceed to the Parliament Hill. Because of the shootings, all government employees were not allowed to enter or leave their buildings throughout the interprovincial National Capital Region. Following the attack there has been some opposing reports regarding potential ISIS inspired attacks in Canada.

Preceding this shooting, Martin Couture-Rouleau – a French-Canadian who converted to Islam in 2013 – deliberately struck two Canadian soldiers with his car on Oct. 20, 2014 killing one. It is believed that Couture-Rouleau’s attack was an act of terrorism tied to Canada’s involvement in the conflict in the Middle East. Both Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau had documented psychological problems and were heavy drug users. And, there is some speculation that an association is being forced to push through new anti-terrorism legislation in the country.

While there is debate whether the two killers actually had ties to or were in fact motivated by terrorist leanings, there are documented cases of attempted terrorist attacks in Canada or Canadians traveling to the Middle East to join militant groups. Fen Osler Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, points to some recurring characteristics common to Canadian Islamists. 

Compared to their counterparts in other Western countries, they are more likely to be socially marginalized, often unemployed, and act alone. Many are converts. Overall, Mr. Hampson notes however that, "In Canada, Muslims are much better integrated in society and they are much more upwardly mobile for the most part," and, "They've adopted the identity of being Canadian and being tolerant."

ISIS & the U.K.

Threat expert, Will Geddes of security and counter terrorism firm International Corporate Protection, warned that an Islamic State terror attack on soldiers in their barracks in Britain is not a matter of if, but when. 

Geddes conservatively estimates three attacks, with the possibility of more. ISIS terrorist cells have reportedly been discovered, carrying out surveillance on for barracks across the country. Four British men have been charged with allegedly carrying out “hostile reconnaissance” of a police station and army barracks in west London.

Mr. Geddes warns that the second threat is a high likelihood of a “loan wolf” terror attack. Unlike the large concerted attacks carried out by Al Qaeda, the threat from ISIS “is a much more low-level, under the radar, visceral type of terrorism, often involving just one or two lone wolves operating alone.” 

A lone wolf may be one of two types of Islamic extremist, those who wanted to join ISS in Syria but were unable to, like Ottawa gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, whose passport had been confiscated by authorities, and those who had been to the Middle East but returned to make with plans to attack in Britain. Mr. Geddes stresses that such an attack is especially dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of a person acting alone. 

Self-Reliance Life Skills: An Antidote?

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is working with leading interfaith groups, business schools and educational institutions to develop a "Self-Reliance Curriculum."

Obtaining self-reliance life skills is a pressing need among many vulnerable communities who are susceptible to radicalization, such as Muslims in the UK. For instance, the killing on the afternoon of 22 May 2013 of a British Army soldier, Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, has reopened the debate about those who carry out acts of violence in the name of Islamist fundamentalism. Experts give their opinions on how society and the authorities should react to this incident and what could be done to combat radicalization in the UK. The debate continues as the Birmingham City Council is investigating 25 schools about claims of takeovers by Islamist extremists.

The project will make available to interfaith training teams* a curriculum of self-reliance that could be taught to members of vulnerable communities by interfaith teams beginning in the UK and then taken globally. 

The curriculum would promote self-reliance as a way of life and help people make a conscious, active effort to provide for their own needs and those of their families. The program would follow the six themes for a balanced life: 
  1. education
  2. health
  3. employment
  4. family home production and stewardship
  5. family finances
  6. spiritual strength

* Interfaith training teams will be composed of volunteers from local business as well as faith communities - having both is a unique and an essential component of the program in that involving people with real business know-how together with people of diverse faiths and beliefs helps give real alternatives to radical narratives that grow under conditions of isolation and desperation.  

A Pakistani court has upheld the death penalty against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, accused of blasphemy. She is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. 
PictureAsia Bibi
Pakistani nationals have killed at least 60 people following blasphemy allegations since 1990. There have been over 327 blasphemy cases filed in Pakistan, after amendments were made to the blasphemy law in the 1970’s and 80’s (see chart below). 

Prior to this there were only 7 cases filed between 1851-1947. Currently here are at least 17 people convicted of blasphemy on death row, and an additional 19 serving life sentences. Accusations of blasphemy are filed against both Muslim and non-Muslims, and while the rate of against non-Muslims is higher when measured against the religious minorities representation in Pakistan, more overall accusations are made against Muslims.

Also see: More than one-in-five countries worldwide (22%) penalize blasphemy or apostasy; some face death
PictureClick for Source
Jan Wetzel from Amnesty International notes "While purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, Pakistan's blasphemy laws have in fact fostered a climate of religiously motivated violence, and are used indiscriminately against both Muslims and non-Muslims." Further, "They violate the basic human rights of freedom of religion and thought. These laws are often used to make unfounded malicious accusations to settle personal scores in land and business disputes [and] are also arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary."

A Pakistani court has upheld the death penalty against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, accused of blasphemy. She is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Two Muslim women brought the allegation against Bibi after they objected to her sharing water with them, because she was a different faith. The charges were brought against her in 2010. Two prominent politicians, the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, a Muslim, and the Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a catholic, were killed after supporting Bibi in 2011. The governor was killed by his own bodyguard; who was then showered with rose petals by supporters at his murder trial. 

In Pakistan, a blasphemy conviction carries a maximum penalty of death, and yet has an almost non-existent standard of proof. There is no punishment for false allegations of blasphemy, and an accuser may even refuse to tell the court exactly what the blasphemous comment was, so as not to blaspheme themselves. It is enough simply to accuse someone of blasphemy for them to either receive punishment through the judicial system, however more often punishment is meted out by members of the public. Pakistan’s anti blasphemy law also does not account for the accused’s mental state. For instance, currently British citizen, Mohammed Asghar, a paranoid schizophrenic, is awaiting a death sentence in Pakistan. Asghar’s tenant accused him of blasphemy after they had a disagreement.

Confounding any attempt to mediate the affect of the law, are incidents such as the recent killing of Rashid Rehman, a dedicated human rights attorney. Rehman was killed after taking on the case of Junaid Hafeez, a university professor accused of blasphemy by a group of students in 2013. Attorneys in Pakistan have expressed frustration with how Pakistan’s legal system is responding once a blasphemy case gains traction in the public sphere. An attorney for Asghar notes, "There are two kinds of judges in this blasphemy field. [There are] those who genuinely have their hands tied behind their backs, because there is a threat to their lives. But there's a fair amount of lawyers, prosecutors and judges who are making a name for themselves by … sentencing blasphemy convicts." 

Brian Grim's New Blog at the World Economic Forum
An event being translated into more languages than does the United Nations is bringing together scholars, government officials, and religious and civic leaders from 40 countries. 
PictureSen. Hatch with Brazilian Delegation and Grim
The 21st annual International Law and Religion Symposium is underway (5-7 October 2014) at Brigham Young University Law School in Provo, Utah. This year 80 invited delegates, from 40 countries, will address the theme "Varieties of Secularism, Religion, and the Law." 

This year’s delegates come from Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.

Weekly Number author, Brian Grim, will discuss findings from a new Pew Research Center religious diversity study - based on methodology he developed - that finds that about one-in-three people live in countries with high religious diversity. (Also see Chapter 3 in Grim's co-authored book, The World's Religions in Figures.) 

separate analysis by the Weekly Number finds that the 12 countries identified in the study as having very high religious diversity each outpaced the world's economic growth between 2008 and 2012.

Among the 12 countries (5%) with very high religiously diversity, all are located outside of Europe and North America. Six are in Asia-Pacific (Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Hong Kong); five are in sub-Saharan Africa (Togo, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Benin and Mozambique); and one is in Latin America and the Caribbean (Suriname). 

Between 2008 and 2012, the world's average growth in gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.7%. By contrast, each of the 12 countries with very high religious diversity had higher average growth, and most by substantial margins. 

One girl recounts how she and her friend were given to a IS man 40 years their senior as a “gift.” They were lucky to escape, but only after being starved and beaten.
PictureSecret Video of IS street, Syria
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are not so lucky, and remain captives of IS with reports of rape and sexual abuse of detained women and children.

The group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has carried out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq, according to a recent report by Amnesty International. According to the report, ethnic and religious minorities – Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Yezidis, Kakai and Sabean Mandaeans – are under threat of death if they do not convert to Islam. There have been allegations that many of the women and girls who have been abducted by IS fighters, notably girls in their teens and early 20s, have been subjected to rape or sexual abuse, forced to marry fighters, or sold into sexual slavery.

At the same time, a handful of women from the West are reported to have freely moved to IS-controlled areas (see secret video of an IS-controlled street). Their stories add to the claims of legitimacy by the IS leaders. On the video, one French woman caught on video talking to her mother in France, explains, “I don’t want to come back, Mama, because I’m happy here. Everything you see on TV is fake, I swear to you, it’s not true. Do you understand? They exaggerate everything on TV.”

New Analysis

A new analysis of data by the Weekly Number shows that the denial of religious freedom contributes to gender inequality throughout the world. Extremist ideologies such as IS represent the complete loss of religious freedom, and when respect for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices disappears, gender inequality is often a result.

Gender Inequality Higher When Restrictions on Religious Freedom Are Higher

Among 4 Largest Countries in Each World Region

Click to enlarge

Among 25 Countries with Highest Restrictions

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Religious minorities are especially vulnerable when the right to freedom of religion or belief, as recognized by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, is not protected. IS justifies its rampant disregard for life by citing ideological superiority. Hiding behind this claim, IS justifies ethnic cleansing by killing Yazidi men and boys, and calling the women and girls “pagans,” selling them into slavery if they refuse to convert.

Any solutions will need to address issues such as religious freedom, because religious freedom is not only tied to gender equality but also to more stable economies. Religious intolerance affects women’s ability to engage in and contribute to the economy. 

IS demonstrates the extreme instability that accompanies absolute religious intolerance. An already destabilized region is made even more so, leaving ancient minority faiths displaced and on the verge of being wiped out. 

PRESS RELEASE: The coupling of religious freedom & business provides solutions to the world's pressing socio-economic problems. Weekly Number author and Religious Freedom & Business Foundation President Brian Grim is discussing these solutions at major events across the world:
  • Istanbul, Helsinki, London, Bristol, Oxford, Milan, Dubai, Brisbane, Sydney
  • Washington, Boston, Provo, Miami
Stay up to date with the Foundation's Blog & Newsletter.

Religious hostilities are sweeping the globe, despite efforts by governments, religious groups and non-governmental organizations to hold them back.
According to the Pew Research Center, religious hostilities reached a six-year high in 2012, with a third (33%) of countries in the high category, up from 20% just six years earlier. 

The Islamic world is disproportionately affected. More than one-in-two (57%) Muslim-majority countries have high religious hostilities, more than double that of other countries (25%), as shown in the chart to the left. 

Although religious hostilities affect countries throughout the world experience, Muslim-majority countries consistently have higher levels of a range of religious hostilities than other countries and by wide margins. For instance, Muslim-majority countries are more than three times more likely than other countries to have religion-related war, terror or sectarian violence, as shown in the chart below.

These religious hostilities disrupt markets, trade and development in numerous parts of the Islamic World. This leads the talented young as well as risk-averse investors to look elsewhere for opportunity, compounding socio-economic conditions that contribute to the hostilities. 

By contrast, research indicates that economic competitiveness is stronger in countries where religious freedom is respected by governments and societies. 

Causes & Solutions
The typical government response to religious hostilities is to tighten restrictions on religion. But, contrary to common perceptions, a solid body of empirical and historical research shows that piling on additional restrictions does not ensure peace and stability, but rather can fuel additional grievances. Indeed, research shows that the price of denying religious freedoms is far higher than protecting them. 

Specifically, as social hostilities involving religion rise, government restrictions on religion rise, leading to more violence, setting up a religious violence cycle that become difficult to break, with direct adverse effects on business, foreign investment and world economies. Two examples help demonstrate how religious restrictions and hostilities are bad for business: 

(1) Blasphemy LawsPakistan’s speech-restricting blasphemy laws often sow discord rather than the purported aim of promoting peace, as two high ranking government officials were recently assassinated for merely questioning the laws. These laws also have a direct negative impact on businesses. There are “recorded instances of business or personal rivals accusing each other of blasphemy to extract revenge for a past grievance. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan have not only been used in cases where individuals have been accused of specific blasphemies, they have also been used to ban websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia because of content that would be considered sacrilegious” (Tarin and Uddin 2013, p. 19). 

(2) Egypt: Religious Violence Cycle & the Economy. The religious violence cycle is playing out today in Egypt in the back-and-forth social and political struggle between the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the coalition opposing them. Of course, this struggle directly impacts the important tourist industry, but it also drives away foreign investment. And this has adverse effects on foreign economies

To end the cycle of religious violence and its negative impact, observers of post-Mubarak Egypt concluded that all factions in society – including Islamists – must feel that their voices are heard and that “special attention should be paid to the economy …” (Shaikh and Ghanem 2013, p. 2). 

Also, as the role of women is debated within Islam and between Muslims in Egypt and countries ranging from Morocco and Iraq to Pakistan and Indonesia, religious restrictions on women also impact economic outcomes as the future health of economies is related to the economic opportunities afforded women. Furthermore, not only do religious restrictions have adverse effects on the economy, but a poor economy can reinforce religious intolerance, adding to the religious violence cycle. And perhaps most telling, as Egypt’s religion-related tensions have grown, Egypt’s young entrepreneurs desire to move outside the country rather put their hopes in their home.
–   “In God we trust, all others bring data.” - W. Edwards Deming
–   “We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.” - Rutherford D. Roger
In the following paragraphs, I’ll apply these two provocative quotes, both from the preface of The Elements of Statistical Learning, to freedom of religion or belief with Deming’s goal for statistical data squarely in view: providing “a rational basis for action.”

Growing Religion. The past decade has seen the largest social science effort to collect and analyze data on international religious demography resulting in a series of scholarly publications, including the World Religion Database (Brill), The World’s Religions in Figures (Wiley-Blackwell), The Global Religious Landscape (Pew Research) and, the just-released, Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill).

This body of research points to one thing – religion is growing and will continue to grow globally, with about 9-in-10 people projected to be affiliated with religion in 2030 compared with 8-in-10 in 1970, as shown in the chart. This growth is projected to occur despite trends toward disaffiliation in the global north, where population growth is stagnating. By contrast, populations are growing in the more religious global south.

Growing Restrictions on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In recent years, Pew Research has measured restrictions on religious freedom based on methods I developed with my Penn State colleague, Roger Finke. The results of these studies show that there has been a dramatic rise in the level of religious restrictions and hostilities. For instance, in 2007, fewer than 30% of countries had high restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, but by 2012, this figure increased to 43%. And because several of these countries are very populous, 76% of the world’s people – that’s 5.3 billion people – live with high government restrictions on religion and/or high social hostilities involving religion.

These data are clear – they point to a global religious freedom crisis that will become even more acute as the world becomes more religious and as global mobility mixes people and their beliefs at an unprecedented rate.

The data on religious freedom provide more than just information – they provide knowledge. Specifically, analysis of the data reveal two very important empirical relationships:

–   The combined effects of government and social restrictions on religious freedom lead to violent religious persecution and conflict.
–   The respect of freedom of religion or belief leads to peace and prosperity.

These relationships were first expounded in The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution & Conflict in the 20th Century (Cambridge University Press, 2011). The book convincingly demonstrated the restriction of freedom of religion or belief most directly leads to religious violence and persecution, not other factors such as Huntington’s civilization divides.

Peace and stability are particularly important for business because where stability exists, there are more opportunities to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets.

A recent study, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business? A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis,” further investigated the relationship of religious freedom and business, and found religious freedom to be one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, looking at 173 countries in 2011 and controlling for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences.

As the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, freedom of religion or belief may be an unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth, according to this new study. The study examines and finds a positive relationship between religious freedom and ten of the twelve pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

The new study observes that religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Perhaps most significant for future economic growth, the study notes that young entrepreneurs are pushed to take their talents elsewhere due to the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities – the very places where entrepreneurship is needed to bring economic possibilities to growing and restless populations.

Acting on Data and Knowledge

Based on these trends and empirical relationships, it is therefore in the interest of policy makers throughout the world to respect and protect freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), because FoRB promotes peace and stability, respects diversity, guards the rights of minorities and women, and creates environments where economic competitiveness flourishes and sustainable development is possible. It is also in the interests of businesses to protect religious freedom within their companies and communities. Indeed, businesses are at the crossroads of culture, creativity and commerce, and therefore can and should be among the most FoRB-Friendly institutions on earth. 

Less than half of all workers report that their companies have the following key policies related to religious freedom and diversity: 1) flexible work hours to permit religious observance or prayer (44%); 2) materials explaining the company's policy on religious discrimination (42%); 3) a policy to allow employees to "swap holidays" (21%); and 4) programs to teach employees about religious diversity (14%).
These findings are from a recent Tanenbaum survey, "What American Workers Really Think about Religion."

The survey notes that when it comes to addressing religion in the workplace, different religious groups have different needs for accommodation. For instance, a non-Christian may care more about the right to display a religious object or the right to pray during the day, while a Christian will be more concerned about attending service on Sunday. 

The survey found that the most commonly experienced or witnessed forms of religious non-accommodation are being required to work on Sabbath observances or religious holidays (24%) and attending company-sponsored events that did not include kosher, halal or vegetarian options (13%). 

Nearly half of non-Christian workers (49%) report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accommodation at work. White evangelical workers (48%) are equally as likely to report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accommodation at work. And two-in-five (40%) atheists also report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accommodation.

Tanenbaum’s 2013 Survey of American Workers and Religion was conducted by Public Religion Research LLC among a random sample of 2,024 American adults (age 18 and up) who are currently employed in a part-time or full-time position and who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel. Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between March 19 and April 1, 2013. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2.8 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

Tanenbaum is a secular, non-sectarian nonprofit that promotes mutual respect with practical programs that bridge religious difference and combat prejudice in schools, workplaces, health care settings and areas of armed conflict.

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This week, a groundbreaking new religious freedom & business resource highlights four ways that businesses are supporting interfaith understanding and peace today. The findings will be introduced during the 2014 Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) held in Bali, Indonesia, August 29-30. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the report at a side event organized by the Indonesia Global Compact Network. (See Brian Grim's remarks at the event.)
"BUSINESS: A Powerful Force for Supporting Interfaith Understanding and Peace" is co-published by the UN Global Compact Business for Peace platform and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. It discusses a variety of case studies from around the world that demonstrate the different ways businesses are making an impact. These include: 

1) Using Marketing Expertise to Bridge Borders: Companies are making positive contributions to peace in society by mobilizing advertising campaigns that bring people of various faiths and backgrounds together, as seen in the case study, "Coke Serves Up Understanding Across Borders." 

2) Incentivizing Innovation: Because cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation is an essential part of daily work for multinational companies, one company for instance, the BMW Group, incentivizes other organizations to create innovative approaches to interfaith understanding through an award organized in collaboration with the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Organizations that have won this award include a tour company in the Middle East, which offers new paths to build bridges and bring cultures together, as seen in Promoting Understanding Through Tourism in the Holy Lands. Another recognized intercultural innovator uses job placements agencies to help contribute to the religious diversity of workforces, as seen in Helping Muslim Youth in the Philippines.
3) Incubating and Catalyzing Social Entrepreneurship: Business can also provide common ground where religious differences give way to shared concern and enterprise. The case study "Opportunity and Entrepreneurship in Nigeria" describes an approach modeled by a peace-building organization showing how supporting companies and new entrepreneurs in conflict-affected areas can reduce extremism. In Brazil, where religious freedom is generally well respected, the Petrobras company supports a business incubation for Afro-Brazilians, showing how company support for new small enterprises can have a significant impact in developing and empowering marginalized communities. 

4) Supporting Workforce Diversity: When businesses are sensitive to the religious and cultural issues around them, they can not only increase employee morale and productivity, but also address unmet difficult social needs, as seen in Indonesia,  where businesses open their doors to faith, such as prayer rooms for various faiths, and actions including helping interfaith couples have easier access to marriage. 

Indeed, interfaith understanding – and its contribution to peace – is in the interest of business.
  • Recent research shows that economic growth and global competitiveness are stronger when social hostilities involving religion are low and Government respect for, and protection of, the universally recognized human right of freedom is high. 
  • Interfaith understanding also strengthens business by reducing corruption and encouraging broader freedoms while also increasing trust and fostering respect. Research shows that laws and practices stifling religion are related to higher levels of corruption. Similarly, religious freedom highly correlates with the presence of other freedoms and a range of social and economic goods, such as better health care and higher incomes for women. 
  • Positively engaging around the issue of interfaith understanding also helps business to advance trust and respect with consumers, employees and possible partner organizations, which can give companies a competitive advantage as sustainability and ethics come to the forefront of corporate engagement with society. 
  • With the shared vision of a more sustainable and inclusive global economy that delivers lasting benefits to people, communities and markets, it is clear that companies can make significant contributions to advancing interfaith understanding and peace through both core business and outreach activities. The examples in this publication offer an important step forward in providing companies with guidance on why and how they can make practical contributions in this area – in ways benefitting both their business and the societies where they operate. 
Commenting on the report, Georg Kell, Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact, observes, "Given its role in building economies, mobilizing people around a shared purpose and pioneering cross-cultural management styles, business has an important stake in promoting intercultural and interreligious understanding. Successfully managing diversity and fostering tolerance and understanding – among employees, consumers and other stakeholders – is increasingly essential for long-term business success." 

And Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, noted that “Business is at the crossroads of culture, commerce and creativity. This means businesses have the resources to make the world more peaceful as well as the incentive to do so. Indeed, as these case studies show, business is good for interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace.” 

Through this new collaborative publication, the UN Global Compact’s Business for Peace platform and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation seek to raise awareness among business, Governments and other stakeholders of the ways in which business can and are contributing to interfaith understanding and peace. 

The Christian share of Iraq's population is nearly four times smaller today than it was when former dictator Saddam Hussein assumed power in the 1970s. While the decline in the Iraqi Christian population has occurred over time, the recent decades of war and the current attempt of the Islamic State* to wrest control of traditional Iraqi Christian homelands is making the country inhospitable to any religious diversity.
The Islamic State recently took over Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq. The fall of the city comes after the Islamic State had taken over Mosul, issuing an ultimatum that non-Muslims convert to Islam, pay a fine, or face death by the sword. Many of the Christians in Mosul had previously fled to Qaraqosh. 

The World Religion Database estimates that the Christian share of people living in the territory of present-day Iraq dropped from 6.4% in 1900 to 3.8% in 1970 and to about 1% today. 

Prior to the current wave of hostilities, the World Religion Database estimated that Christians would make up less than a half percent of Iraq's population by 2050. Given the severity of the ongoing Islamic State attacks, that statistic may be unrealistically high.

Christians are not the only religious minority facing the brutality of the Islamic State. World attention is focused on the plight of the Yazidis, one of Iraq's oldest minority faiths whose belief system is a combination of elements from Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam.

The Islamic State has killed over 500 Yazidis, while 30,000 were besieged in the Sinjar mountains with no food or water, prompting some international responses. The Islamic State has also taken hostage Yazidi women and children, with witnesses claiming the women are being sold or forced into marriage.

Islamic State The advances of the Islamic State – formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) – in the past months have been shocking. Iraqi government is yet to make any significant gains in its counter-attack. For more on the Islamic State, see the Religion & Geopolitics project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Exacerbating the situation in Iraq is an issue that surpassed religious conflict as a major public concern in 2012 - the economy.

A Pew Research survey conducted in 2012 (before the Islamic State gained ground) found that the large majority of Iraq's population (74%) considered unemployment to be a "very large problem" for the country. By contrast, fewer than half of the population (46%) considered conflict between religious groups to be a very large problem.

Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum and founder of the Arab Stabilisation Plan, and Erik Berglof, chief economist for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, argue that the dramatic events now unfolding in Iraq show the need for a coordinated economic plan to offer hope and enhance stability. In particular, they note that the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the Middle East has the world's highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and it is rising.

This, however, does not mean that social hostilities involving religion are irrelevant. Rather, it highlights the dangers of a system where religion and religious identities become rallying points for other grievances. As the Shia-dominated Iraqi government favors other Shia Muslims -- long the underclass under Saddam Hussein -- this sets up new animosities that are easily grafted onto other issues, such as unemployment, inequality and unmet expectations. 

Although not the immediate solution to the current crisis, research shows that protecting religious freedom and the rights of all groups to contribute as equal members of society leads to peace, more inclusive societies and economic competitiveness. Any long term solution to the escalating Iraq crisis that ignores the religious context will miss one of the key elements that gives resiliency to societies and economies - religious freedom.

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Research from the Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill, 2014)* shows religious adherents of all faiths are globally on the rise. Continued growth of religious populations appears likely, as they are younger on average than the world’s religiously unaffiliated population.