An exhaustive report by the Catholic foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), says that Europe and the West have done little but provide lip-service when it comes to defending and upholding religious liberty.” in Europe and elsewhere in the West.

The report by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic foundation, assessed the religious situation of scores of countries.

The ACN criticised the current method used for assessing the religious freedom record of several countries around the world. While the organisation noted that fact-finding endeavours regularly take place, the ACN said that religious liberty cannot be adequately assessed through isolated, country-by-country reports as the intricate relationship between matters of religion and other related variables such as specific political, economic, and educational factors have a heavy influence over each case.

The foundation, which seeks to support Christian denominations in the places where they are “persecuted or oppressed” says it saw some important positive steps in the form of religious freedom which “could scarcely have been predicted” at the time of the last report two years ago.

The near destruction of ISIS and the loss of its caliphate in northern Iraq and Syria, as well as major setbacks to other radical Salafist groups in the Middle East, north-east Nigeria, and elsewhere, have contributed to the more positive forecast. This has not only brought an end to the terrorists radical Islamist agenda but also it has ushered in a window of opportunity for the return of minority religious groups who were ethnically cleaned or forced from their homes during the extremist groups’ genocidal terror campaign.

The ACN noted that while Islamist extremist activities have been pushed back in some regions, in others it has expanded, including Nigeria, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and Madagascar – developments that the ACN says will have “devastating consequences” for the regions in question.

The expanded activities of Militant Islamist groups, including in Europe, were one of a number of factors which prompted a sharp downturn in religious freedom between 2016 and the end of 2018 as a result of what has been deemed “neighbourhood terrorism”.

This development was coupled with a major spike in overt nationalism – especially from national governments – which became “increasingly aggressive” against minority faith groups.

The ACN’S report, which covers the period between 2016-2018, and seen by New Europe, indicated that “the rise of state-backed ultra-nationalism is especially significant because it is now dominant in China, Russia, and India – world powers with growing influence around the world.”

Concerning the rise of chauvinism in Russia, the ACN noted that “another dimension of religious ultra-nationalism” has emerged in the country over the last two years – a period of time that coincides with the worsening relations with the West, continued crackdowns on religious minorities that the authorities deem to be “religious cults”, and Moscow’s ongoing war with the country’s southern neighbour Ukraine.

“Religious freedom (in Russia) has dramatically worsened in the last two years,” the ACN report indicates, directing particular concern to the so-called Yarovaya Package of laws that came into effect in July 2016. Introduced as part of the Kremlin’s anti-terrorism legislation, the laws increased restrictions on acts of proselytising, including the preaching and dissemination of religious material.

This move was an unprecedented reversal from the decidedly secular and free-to-worship period of the 1990s that fell between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the coming to power of Vladimir Putin 20 years ago. During that brief period, dozens of minority religious groups operated freely and attracted followers across Russia.

Since that time, however, only religions that have historical ties to the area covered by the Russian Federation – Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism – have been regularly protected by the Kremlin.

Other governments around the world, according to the CAN, are increasingly hostile to minority groups, notably the current government in Myanmar, whose campaign of genocide and repeated violence against the Rohingyas, an Indo-Aryan Muslim population of half a million people, has “shocked human rights observers the world over”.

Elsewhere, in Africa, the attempted expansion of Islamism may not have been as aggressive as in recent years, but it was ‘no less ambitious’. There have been a variety of initiatives aimed at an Islamist take-over in certain are by bribing people to convert and join an extremist cause.

Extremist groups have offered people free courses in Wahhabism and other radical movements, and the mass building of mosques, irrespective of the population’s demand for additional houses of worship.

In Europe and elsewhere in the West, the ACN’s report indicated that “little has been done” to convert words of concern into an agenda to defend and uphold religious liberty, stating “the most egregious victimisation of law-abiding faith groups takes place in nations whose articulation of the principles of religious freedom is both eloquent and ambitious.”

The ACN attributes this strain of intolerance to the fact that the campaign for religious freedom has lost ground to the drive for racial, gender and sexual tolerance – which the ACN says is partially driven by the notion that any advancement for the latter three is “hindered by religion”.

“For the majority of people in the world, religion is a crucial, and often pre-eminent, driving force…The West ignores this at its peril,” the ACN’s report concludes.

This content is part of the ‘Religious Freedom’ section supported by the Faith and Freedom Summit Coalition