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One thing I struggle with as I write about international religious freedom issues is that the countries responsible for the most egregious and systemic attacks on faith communities feel very far away.
In many cases, they feel that way because they really are on the other side of the globe from the United States. But other times, they feel distant because of political or religious differences, or their relative unknown status. You don’t hear much about Eritrea or Turkmenistan in the news, after all, unless you’re reading about faith-related violence.
The perceived or actual distance between the U.S. and the countries that appear in reports on international religious freedom becomes a problem when it leads people to believe that religious discrimination only happens in distant, nearly forgotten nations.
In reality, religious freedom violations are present in some form basically everywhere, and they’ve actually become more common in familiar places like Europe in recent years.
Faith-based discrimination has become a big enough issue in Europe that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chose to highlight it in its latest annual report and the accompanying press conference, which took place Monday.
Commissioners emphasized a “troubling” rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, noting that a handful of European countries are growing increasingly uncomfortable with religious expression.
“In August, a body of the ruling political party in Denmark proposed a ban on hijabs for elementary school girls. In October, the Swiss government introduced a draft law to ban face coverings. ... The European Court of Justice ruled in October that prohibitions on religious symbols in the workplace are not discriminatory if those restrictions are applied equally,” the new report said.
Physical attacks on members of minority faiths are also becoming more common in Europe, said commission member Imam Mohamed Magid during Monday’s press conference.
“We’ve seen social intolerance that’s causing some religious communities to leave some European countries,” he said.
Although the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom does not report on faith-based violence in the U.S., those of you who follow my work will know that similar trends are playing out in this country. In recent months, American houses of worship have been vandalized — or worse — by attackers and individual people of faith have faced discrimination when going about their daily lives.
The new international religious freedom report and recent headlines in the U.S. make it clear that religious violence is not a distant problem. It’s something that all of us must watch for and something that all of us should try to root out.
Fresh off the press
Term of the week: Yom HaShoah
Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is an annual holiday honoring those who lost their lives during the Holocaust. It is celebrated around the world by Jewish communities, government leaders and others.
“Many commemorate Yom HaShoah by lighting yellow candles to keep alive the memories of the victims. Most synagogues and Jewish communities gather together to mark the day through worship, music and the stories from survivors,” according to ReformJudaism.org.
The date of Yom HaShoah changes each year because it’s set based on the Hebrew calendar. This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day stretched from the evening of April 17 to the evening of April 18. Next year, it will begin on May 5.
What I’m reading ...
As the trial for the alleged attacker in a 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting gets underway, Jews who were targeted that day remain focused on honoring the victims through their religious habits and social activism, The Associated Press reports.
The Washington Post recently obtained previously unreleased photos showing scenes from the White House the day Osama bin Laden was killed. The resulting photo essay includes a picture of now-President Joe Biden showing off the rosary beads he held during the raid.
Odds and ends
Can you guess America’s favorite bottled water brand? I had fun digging into research about the factors that drive people’s water preferences from Morning Consult.
Stumbling on this video of South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol singing the first verse of “American Pie” from memory was the high point of my week.