The other five types of social hostilities involving religion each increased twofold during the same time period. These include: abuse of religious minorities, violent enforcement of religious norms, mob violence related to religion, religion-related terrorist violence, and sectarian conflict.
The new Pew Research Center study finds that harassment of women over religious dress occurred in nearly a third of countries in 2012 (32%), up from a quarter in 2011 (25%) and less than one-in-ten (7%) as of mid-2007.
In China, for instance, a Han Chinese man accosted a Uighur Muslim girl in Henan province and lifted her veil in November 2012. In response, violent protests broke out as hundreds of Uighurs demonstrated against the incident. And in Moldova, two men attacked a Muslim woman in the capital city of Chisinau, calling her a “terrorist” and tearing her headscarf.
A recent increase in school bullying in the New York City school is reported to include students pulling off Muslim headscarves. And recently in Niagara, NY, several 16-year-old girls are facing charges for assaulting a 17-year-old Muslim girl wearing as headscarf leaving a mosque.
Sometimes such harassment coincides with legislative attempts to limit religious dress. In Quebec, Canada, the Parti Quebecois government proposed a ban on religious clothing for public employees including at schools, hospitals and courthouses. The "Charter of Values,” if adopted, would prohibit public servants from wearing hijabs, kippas, turbans or large crucifixes. The proposal has reportedly triggered aggression against Muslim women wearing such headscarves.
The notable increase in social hostilities involving religion documented by Pew Research is attributable to a variety of factors, including widespread abuse of religious minorities for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith. Incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47% of countries in 2012, up from 38% in 2011 and 24% in the baseline year of the study. In Libya, for instance, two worshippers were killed in an attack on a Coptic Orthodox church in the city of Misrata in December 2012. This was the “first attack [in Libya] specifically targeting a church since the 2011 revolution,” according to the U.S. Department of State.
In some countries, violence toward religious minorities intensified from the levels reported in previous years. In Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, for example, monks attacked Muslim and Christian places of worship, including reportedly attacking a mosque in the town of Dambulla in April 2012 and forcibly occupying a Seventh-day Adventist church in the town of Deniyaya and converting it into a Buddhist temple in August 2012. And in Muslim-majority Egypt, attacks on Coptic Orthodox Christian churches and Christian-owned businesses were on the rise well before the acceleration in attacks that took place following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 (which falls outside the date range studied in this analysis). For instance, in August 2012, in the village of Dahshur, a dispute between a Christian and a Muslim led to one death and more than a dozen injuries. Several Christian homes and businesses were destroyed and nearly all Christian families fled the village.
The Pew Research study finds that the share of countries where violence, or the threat of violence, was used to compel people to adhere to religious norms also increased in 2012. Such actions occurred in 39% of countries, up from 33% in 2011 and 18% as of mid-2007. In Vietnam, for instance, the managing council of the government-recognized Cao Dai religion, a syncretistic religious movement that originated in Vietnam in the 20th century, orchestrated an assault on followers of an unsanctioned Cao Dai group in September 2012, injuring six. The head of the Cao Dai managing council said the reason for the assault was that the followers of the unsanctioned group were not worshipping according to the dictates of the council.
In addition to new instances of violence, efforts to enforce religious norms intensified in other countries. In India, members of a Hindu nationalist organization, Hindu Jagarana Vedike, enforced a morality code, including an attack on young men and women for allegedly drinking and dancing at a birthday party in the state of Karnataka in July.
And in parts of Somalia under the control of the Islamic militant group al-Shabab, the group continued to ban cinemas, music, smoking, shaving beards and other behavior it views as “un-Islamic.” The group reportedly beheaded a 24-year-old man in Barawa in November 2012 after accusing him of converting to Christianity.
Mob violence related to religion occurred in a quarter of countries in 2012 (25%), up from 18% in 2011 and 12% as of mid-2007, according to the study. In May 2012, for instance, a Muslim mob in Kenya attacked and killed two pastors who were visiting a Christian who had converted from Islam.
Mob violence also escalated in Indonesia, as Muslim groups targeted houses of worship, religious schools and homes of other Muslims they deemed “unorthodox,” according to the U.S. Department of State. In August 2012, for instance, some 500 Sunni hard-liners attacked a Shia community in the city of Sampang, killing two people, burning dozens of homes and displacing hundreds of people.
And in Nigeria, hundreds of Muslim youths attacked and burned Christian businesses and places of worship in November 2012 after a Christian was accused of blasphemy. Four Christians were killed.
Religion-related terrorist violence occurred in about a fifth of countries in 2012 (20%), roughly the same share as in 2011 (19%) but up markedly from 2007 (9%), the study's baseline year.
Incidents include the March 2012 killing of a rabbi and three Jewish children by an Islamist extremist at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.
In the United States, an August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin left six worshippers dead and three others wounded.
In some countries where there had previously been religion-related terrorist attacks, these attacks escalated. The widely covered 2013 al-Shabab attack on a Nairobi mall (which falls outside the date range studied in this analysis), for instance, was part of a steady increase in religion-related terrorism in Kenya. In July and November 2012, militants attacked churches near the Kenya-Somalia border with grenades and gunfire, leaving more than a dozen dead and more than 50 wounded.
The new study finds that the share of countries experiencing sectarian violence rose last year, continuing a trend noted in the previous report in this Pew Research series. Sectarian violence was reported in nearly one-fifth of the world’s countries in 2012 (18%), up from 15% in 2011 and 8% as of mid-2007.
In China, for example, sectarian tensions escalated into violence in October 2012 when Tibetan Buddhist monks led an attack against Hui Muslims at a site where a new mosque was being built in Gansu province.
Ongoing sectarian violence also continued unabated in some countries in 2012. In Burma (Myanmar), for instance, communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists has resulted in hundreds of deaths and displaced more than 100,000 people from their homes.
In Syria, the ongoing civil war has fallen partly along sectarian lines, leaving tens of thousands dead and displacing millions in recent years.
And in Iraq, sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims continued, and attacks of some kind continued to occur on an almost daily basis.