New Report warns global impact of religious “hyper-extremism” threatens world peace

Religious Fundamentalism – more lethal than ever seen before – is unleashing death, destruction, displacement and instability at unprecedented levels, according to a new report. The kind of religiously motivated violence espoused by Islamic State  is “unprecedented in its violent expression” and has given rise to attacks in one in five countries worldwide over the past two years, including Australia, Europe and  17 African countries.

The Religious Freedom in the World report 2016, produced by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, warns of the global impact of “a new phenomenon of religiously-motivated violence”, which it terms “Islamist hyper-extremism.”The Report finds that governments are no longer the main perpetrators of religious persecution. Non-state actors, especially Islamist groups, have become the leading perpetrators.

The Report states that the “Islamist hyper-extremism” of ISIS – a phenomenon whose hallmarks are systematic attempts to drive out all dissenting groups, unprecedented levels of cruelty, a global reach and the effective use of social media to glamorise violence – is having a devastating impact around the world. This is undermining global peace and stability with an impact felt in the Middle East, Africa and the West.

In the West this hyper-extremism is at risk of destabilising the socio-religious fabric, with countries sporadically targeted by fanatics and under pressure to receive unprecedented numbers of refugees mostly of a different faith to the indigenous communities. “Manifest ripple effects include the rise of right-wing and populist groups; restrictions on free movement, discrimination and violence against minority faiths and decline of social cohesion, including in state schools.” Such problems are compounded by a sudden increase in fundamentalist Islamist attacks on the West.

Aid to the Church in Need’s survey of religious freedom in 196 countries, which comes out every two years, concludes “In parts of the Middle East including Iraq and Syria, this hyper-extremism is eliminating all forms of religious diversity and is threatening to do so in parts of African and the Asian Sub-Continent.” The Report argues that ISIS’s crimes against Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans and other communities constitutes genocide.

This is echoed in the report’s foreword by Father Jacques Mourad, a Syriac-Catholic monk who was held by ISIS in Syria for five months before escaping in October 2015. Fr Mourad writes: “Our world teeters on the brink of complete catastrophe as extremism threatens to wipe out all trace of diversity in society.  But if religion teaches us anything, it is the value of the human person, the need to respect each other as a gift from God.” He says that people of all faiths have to find a way to respect one another and their differences, adding adds that if the cycle of violence is to be broken, “we need to replace war with peace … It is time to cast aside religious hatred and personal interests and learn to love one another, as our faiths call us to do.”

John Pontifex, London-based Editor-in-Chief of the Report, said: “Our report is a wake-up call both to highlight that extremism has entered a new and entirely more dangerous phase, and the role of the West. “If there is just one finding of the Religious Freedom in the World 2016 report it is that faith groups need to tackle hatred within their own ranks.

“What prospects are there for peace when powerful sections within specific faith groups have nothing but contempt for those who do not share their world view – and who deny the right to life not just to people of other faiths but also to moderates from among their own community?”

The Religious Freedom in the World report 2016 can be seen on