The American Way

What does it mean to be a U.S. citizen? Understanding the American psyche.

Religious Freedom

Another casualty of the Arab spring

Why does America produce so much more religious activity and diversity than other Western countries?  Some thinkers point to the generative power of the separation of church and state, and attribute America’s growing spirituality to the blessings of religious freedom.

Sadly, that freedom is decreasing in the world today, just where we hoped it was about to flower: in the “Arab Spring.” 

Daily news of turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa continues to overflow with casualties we can hardly count: Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Syria followed the lead of Tunisia and Libya.  Stability is threatened in other countries in the region, too: Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf states.  Iran, and its proxies, Hezbollah & Hamas, spread violence in many parts of the region, as refugees from current and previous conflicts threaten to overwhelm receiving nations. A vast movement of populations has taken place: in Qatar, only one-third of the residents are citizens, while the rest are refugees, migrant workers, or exiles. 

Meanwhile, 900 U.S. troops have arrived in Jordan to help that vulnerable country.

These conflicts have multiple causes that include ethnic and religious differences.  Many Western leaders, and others, thought the revolutions represented the rise of democracy.   Western hope was that democracy and modernity would bring civil liberties to the region; and prominent among them, religious freedom, which is so desperately needed.

Sadly, a recent Pew study reveals that just the opposite has happened. (See Arab Spring Adds to Global Restrictions on Religion at http://www.pewforum.org/Government/arab-spring-restrictions-on-re...) It confirms that governments in the Middle East and North Africa have become even more repressive for various religious groups.  It also reports a pronounced increase in social hostilities involving religion.

Coptic Christians in Egypt were among the groups most adversely affected, their churches bombed and burned.  Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the number of countries with sectarian or communal violence between religious groups doubled from 5 to 10 during 2011, the year of most of the political uprisings called the “Arab Spring.”

The report surveyed 198 countries around the world and found the share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religion rose from 37% in mid-2010 to 40% by the end of 2011.  That’s movement in the wrong direction.

  Religion is a powerful force in human life.  Given freedom, it can inspire and enlighten the best of humanity’s potential.  But enslaved and harnessed, manipulated by bad leadership, the power of religion destroys.

The American Way