The Religious Freedom Report: Some points are bright others are bleak

The Religious Freedom Report: Some points are bright others are bleak

By Fr. Rif'at Bader

The US State Department issued a few days ago a report covering “religious freedom” in the world, which is the first report released during US President Donald Trump’s term in office who had earlier shown great concern in religious affairs during his visits to the Vatican, Riyadh and Jerusalem.

This year's report (which is related to the events that took place in 2016) regrettably unveils a bleak image of the condition of religious freedom, which is an essential element of human rights and freedoms granted by God rather than by humans. The report lists a number of countries, including Arab countries, which practise persecution and discrimination on religious, sectarian and ethnic bases.

The violent and terrorist movements have promoted this trend in many young people, who took killing as a profession and made it a religious affair. On the other hand, the report-- which reflects positive and negative aspects-- is certainly not binding, yet it expressed “satisfaction” with the religious situation in several countries, including Arab countries, particularly the UAE which launched the Ministry of Tolerance and passed a law that criminalizes religious discrimination.

We definitely needed not an annual report issued from afar, to inform us that there are people being killed, taken captive, and forced to leave their homes on religious or ethnic bases, since news reports relay on daily bases their suffering and pain.

As for Jordan, the report commends--as is the case every year--the state of harmony in our Jordanian society, the plurality whose components reciprocate respect within the "Jordanian society", as well as the reception of the forcibly displaced, where some of whom were forcibly displaced on religious grounds as has been the case with the Christians of Mosul. We provided them with all possible aid including religious freedom.

Some of the sensitive points highlighted in the report are old as they were mentioned in reports issued in the past years such as the desire of some religious groups to receive official recognition, and people shifting from one faith to another for certain purposes including marriage. Other points address the issue of amending the school curricula and textbooks which have caused a great uproor in the academic and intellectual circles. The Higher Council of the National Center for Curriculum Development has been established under the chairmanship of Dr. Adnan Badran. We are confident that those appointed to carry out this goal will manipulate their knowledge, skills and experience for the benefit of the homeland and citizens, particularly with regards to have the school curricula identify with followers of another religion and means to cooperate with them for the benefit of humanity.

Yet, I have deeply pondered the reference made by the report to a worrying phenomenon in our society which is the increase of attitudes of hatred posted on social networking sites. This is not a novel issue, yet it has become so outstanding in our society which necessitates that we jointly help reduce it or rather uproot it. Our society has changed demographically. We have several nationalities, ethnicities, as well as religious and sectarian affiliations. Do we face this attitude by rejecting the others, especially when the issue is related to different beliefs and views? Or should we make public interest, national unity and the safety of our society forestall views relevant to exclusion of others so that such exclusion does not turn from being an intellectual dialogue into a violent and faulty practice based on fanaticism and an ideology that refuses to cooperate with others simply because they are different?

In conclusion, the US report is not the ultimate goal, for we have to block all sources of turmoil. We have in the first place to give priority to the value of citizenship as well as equality in rights and duties before rejecting the views and aspirations of others simply because they are different from us. This necessitates reconsidering the educational process which implies training the new generation on the proper use of media outlets on the one hand and respecting the others on the other hand.

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