Dodgy future: How religious minorities across the world were targeted in 2019
A look at the global events during 2019 in which religious minorities were either tortured; thrown out of their homelands or were singled out in barbaric attacks.
2019 was a turbulent year for religious minorities as the world witnessed an alarming increase in violence against them due to their beliefs. There were several instances where Muslims were brutally gunned down in mosques, Jews murdered in synagogues and Christians killed while praying at churches.
The governments of several countries across the world who give priority to one religion over others are paving the way for discrimination and discontent, leading to mass violence. Religious extremists use this faith-based favoritism as a cover for attacking minorities amid terrorism and hate-fuelled campaigns.
Let’s take a look at the global events during 2019 in which religious minorities were either tortured; thrown out of their homelands or were targeted in barbaric attacks.
1. China's repression of Uighurs
China is holding over a million Uighurs -- a Muslim minority ethnic group -- in “counter-extremism centres” in Xinjiang region of the country. China blames the community, which makes up around 45 per cent of Xinjiang’s population, for terror and separatist activities.
In China’s crackdown on Muslims, even children have not been spared. In Xinjiang, authorities have separated nearly half a million kids from their families, aiming to instill loyalty to China and the Communist Party.
In a report earlier this year, the World Uyghur Congress said that detainees were being held indefinitely in camps without charge, were poorly fed and reports of torture were widespread.
Citing leaked documents, the BBC reported that China was “systematically brainwashing” hundreds of thousands of Muslims in high-security jail camps. The Chinese government, however, has repeatedly claimed that “Xinjiang’s camps offer voluntary education and training”.
According to anthropologist Darren Byler, who carried out research in the area between 2011 and 2018, said that Chinese authorities have been using technology since 2016 to track Uighurs.
He said that Chinese authorities “collect biometric data, such as DNA, high-fidelity voice recordings and face scans, from the entire population of the region to track the activities of people using their voice signature and faceprint”.
2. Christchurch mosque shootings
On March 15, Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, shot and killed 50 Muslims attending Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Before carrying out the massacre at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, Tarrant had published a 74-page manifesto describing his racist worldview.
During the attacks, he used a mounted camera to live-stream his violence to an online audience.
Tarrant offered his own version of a pledge of allegiance, claiming he had contacted a reborn Knights Templar group — a militant order with a fearsome reputation in battles against Muslim adversaries in the medieval Crusades — and received the blessing of Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in attacks on Oslo and a nearby island in 2011.
3. Sri Lanka’s anti-Christian violence post Easter attacks
On Easter Sunday this year, three churches, high-end hotels and two other locations were targeted in a series of coordinated terror suicide bombings in the island nation, killing 259 people.
According to the Washington Post, on major Christian feast days, somewhere in the world, some numbers of Christians are likely to be killed for no reason other than that they chose to attend religious services.
Approximately 7% of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people are Christians, most of them Roman Catholics, according to Catholic studies scholar Mathew Schmalz.
Schmalz said that in current scenario, these Christians have become targets of a newly emerging “militant form of Buddhism”.
4. Exclusion of Muslims in India
India’s Parliament on December 10 passed the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was became an act later after being signed by President Ram Nath Kovind. The act aims to fast-track citizenship for persecuted religious minorities who’ve fled Muslim majority Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan. The law includes Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities.
The legislation has been criticised as discriminatory because it excludes Muslims. The government’s move sparked widespread violence across the country which claimed several lives.
Historian Haimanti Roy said she found evidence of religious discrimination in a citizen documentation process – National Register of Citizens (NRC) -- recently completed in India’s northeastern state of Assam. The process declared approximately 1.9 million out of 30.5 million people “foreign.”
“Most were women, members of oppressed castes, religious minorities or poor,” Roy said.
According to her, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to Hindu nationalism has already raised concern that any national citizen ID effort will target Muslims.
5. Uncertain future of Turkish Christians
According to scholar Ramazan Kılınç, Christians are “depicted as collaborators with foreign powers” who are set to “undermine the Turkish identity”.
Though Christians have lived in the region that is modern-day Turkey since the first century when Christianity emerged, their numbers are declining.
The percentage of Turkey’s population that identifies as Christian has dropped from nearly 25% in 1914 to less than 0.5% today.
Kılınç says that after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, in 1922, Christians suffered discrimination from time to time. But under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a “rising populist nationalism” is worsening attitudes towards Christian minorities.
6. Rohingya Muslims’ ‘genocide’
In Myanmar -- a Buddhist-majority country -- thousands of Rohingya Muslims were massacred by military forces in 2017. The UN had denounced the military crackdown as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
The future of the roughly one million Rohingya refugees who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017 is now at considerable risk, according to scholar Rubayat Jesmin.
Jesmin said that no formal schooling was offered for Rohingya refugee adolescents.
The Bangladeshi refugee camps were particularly dangerous for young women who could be targeted by traffickers promising them jobs. Rohingyas are now stateless people – the world’s largest, she noted.
Earlier this year, the UN had declared August 22 as an “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief”.