<< Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali (pictured below) refuted claims that the Indonesian government had poor record protecting minorities on Wednesday, calling Indonesia “the most tolerant country in the world.”
Suryadharma was responding critically to a plan by some rights groups to report the Indonesian government to the United Nations’ rights council for its failure to protect minority rights.
“We treat equally the minority and the majority,” the minister said in Jakarta. “Indonesia’s religious harmony is the best in the world.” >>
A major new study has found that when it comes to religious tolerance globally, predominantly Muslim countries rank among the least tolerant, while "Western" democracies make up the bulk of the freest places to live. Such findings may come as no surprise to millions of citizens of Westernized countries and refugees of religious persecution from Eastern and Middle Eastern nations, for example.
The new study, "Global Restrictions on Religion," charted "publicly reported incidents of religious violence, intolerance, intimidation and discrimination in 198 countries and territories from mid-2006 to mid-2008." Importantly, the study found that "more than two out of three people around the world live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion." In this regard, almost 50 percent of all nations charted either do not allow foreign missionaries or restrict their activities, while some 90 percent require religious organizations to register with the government, mainly for tax purposes.
The study did make a few surprising discoveries, including that, in tracking "violence between religious groups in 126 countries," it was found that a mere nine percent of these nations experienced "religion-related terrorism leading to injury or death." Another surprise was that the supposedly "moderate" Muslim nation of Indonesia is actually one of the most intolerant countries when it comes to religious freedom:
"Indonesia—the most populous Muslim country in the world—is often touted as an example of tolerance and democracy in the Islamic world.
"But a huge new study suggests it's actually among the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to religion.
Interestingly, in other countries, such as China, "tight controls" on religious practice seem to keep the peace between faiths, whereas less restrictive India suffers "very high levels of social hostility," mainly between Hindus and Muslims. Indeed, India rated the highest overall in terms of "social hostilities" and, despite its moderate governmental tolerance, has been known to prosecute individuals for "hurting another religion," as exemplified in the recent arrest of a Christian pastor and his wife, who had been attacked by Muslims and who were subsequently charged with "defiling a place of worship with intent to hurt another religion and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings," per the Indian Penal Code section 295 and 294(A).
Brazil rates best overall.
As concerns the two categories of government regulation and social hostility, the study concluded that "Brazil has the lowest ratings in both categories among the 25 largest countries in the world, while Pakistan has the highest, followed closely by Indonesia." This finding means that Brazil is the least restrictive and most tolerant nation of the top more than two dozen biggest nations globally.
Regarding religious tolerance overall, "Egypt, Iran and Bangladesh also rate poorly for religious freedom, while Japan, the United States, South Africa, Italy and the United Kingdom score well." Japan, of course, is an Eastern country, but the population is essentially homogenous with 98.6 percent of the populace "pure Japanese."
The study determined that the U.S. has low government restriction but a "moderate amount of social tension" because of religious divisiveness, a determination based on law enforcement statistics. Study leader Brian Grim said the U.S. was "marked down because of the Bush administration's 'global war on terror,'" while major terrorist incidents widely ascribed to Islamic fundamentalists on U.S. soil, such as 9/11 and Fort Hood, had not been factored into the study.
In consideration of the current climate of religious strife in many places, these discoveries may be considered hopeful in that this study is being conducted in the first place and that open dialogue about religion is increasing globally, without as much of the past repression and fear. This important development has much to do with the internet and its extraordinary freedom of expression.