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Religious Extremism On The Rise, Says United Nations

Jun 1, 2004
All Africa News Agency Thalif Deen At The UN United Nations

The United Nations says there is a significant rise in religious extremism and intolerance throughout the world. "No religion is free from extremism," declares Abdelfattah Amor, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance.

In a 23-page report to the General Assembly, Amor points out that religious intolerance should be viewed in the larger context of the economic, social and political conditions that foster it.

"At the national and international levels, unjust economic, social and political systems which really constitute violations of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, contribute to the birth and/or nurturing of extremism," he says.

His report provides examples of overt and covert discrimination against Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Scientology, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses.

The report acknowledges that that religious minorities have been the butt of prejudice and stereotyping. It is important to distinguish between such extremists using religion for political purposes, who are in fact in the minority, and the majority who are practising their religion in accordance with the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination, the report notes.

The UN Special Rapporteur notes the persistence of various types and degrees of religious extremism particularly in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Niger and Pakistan.

The report notes the persistence of various types and degrees of religious extremism particularly in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Niger and Pakistan.

Extremism, says the Special Rapporteur, may be inter-religious (directed against religious communities of different faiths); intra-religious (within the same religion and, in particular, between different sects); or even both at once.

The most common victims of religious extremism are minorities (as in Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Israel, Niger and Pakistan) and women (as in the case of Afghanistan).

"Women are the prime target of the evil known as religious extremism," the study adds. Traditions attributable to religion are very often an obstacle to the implementation of legislation that treats women more fairly.

Most of the discrimination against women is derived from the requirement that women receive the authorisation of men to obtain a passport or to travel abroad (as in Gabon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen).

According to Amor's report, even national legislation in some countries favour men against women, as in divorce proceedings (in Bangladesh, Brunei,), custody of children (Brunei) and in testimony, where the evidence of one man is equivalent to that of two women (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).

Legislation may also require that women be dressed in a certain way. "The most manifest and insidious case in which women are totally deprived of their rights results from legislation which recognises the transmission of citizenship to children only through the male line," Amor says.

Despite some limited progress in matters of freedom of religion and belief, especially since the end of the Cold War 10 years ago, the Special Rapporteur says that, not only do manifestations of intolerance and discrimination based on religion and belief persist but religious extremism also is on the rise.

Addressing delegates last October, the Special Rapporteur said that "a strategy of prevention" is urgently needed to curb religious intolerance. This strategy should focus on education and dialogue as the only way to eradicate intolerance is to change people's mindset, according to Amor.

Prevention efforts should begin with children, he says. The school curricula in some countries contained "a virtual hymn to intolerance" by not mentioning other religions, or by presenting the country's own religion as the only one.

Amor told delegates that dialogue was the second critical factor in inculcating tolerance and, in the light of that, he believed his mandate as Special Rapporteur should be changed to focus not on "intolerance" but rather on "freedom of religion and opinion". ?

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