10/23/2008, 00.00
ASIA
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Religious freedom, defended by civil society, neglected by governments

by Bernardo Cervellera
The report from Aid to the Church in Need demonstrates that the violations of this right take place purely for reasons of power, and to block social and economic development in society. Civil society throughout the world is increasingly aware of its importance; governments consider it entirely secondary. But promotion of prosperity passes for religious freedom.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The 2008 report on religious freedom in the world, produced by the pontifical association Aid to the Church in Need, offers an in-depth look at the sufferings of hundreds of millions of people on account of their faith. AsiaNews has also contributed to documenting the violations of this fundamental right, which Benedict XVI has called the "cornerstone" of human rights.

Following events in Asia each day through our news agency, we note a few important elements:

1) Violations of religious freedom mostly take place for reasons of power, in disdain for the human and social development of man. In the past, it was much more common to see motivations of fanatic fundamentalism, intended to wipe out the other confessional communities; the rejection of religions (like Christianity) connected to a colonial past; Marxist ideological motivations, which wanted to destroy religion as the "opium of the people." Now, instead, it is clear that even in China or in Vietnam, the struggle against the religions is a struggle against the freedom of man, the possibility of expressing one's own thought and building arenas of dialogue and justice in society. In China, as in Vietnam, the communist party has lost its ideological edge, and is trying to save itself from imminent collapse on account of the corruption of its members and calls for justice on the part of farmers expelled from their own land, citizens tired of pollution, witnesses of unbridled abuse. Even the persecution in India, although it contains a strong measure of Hindu religious fundamentalism, is motivated by the interests of the political parties and landholders, who want to keep enslaved the tribals and Dalits who convert to Christianity, opening the way to a new social and economic emancipation in their lives. From this point of view, we realize that silencing religious means silencing the voices that speak of freedom of expression, of justice against corruption, of development and dignity. The powers that struggle against religious freedom want countries that are closed, restricted, without economic development, in order to preserve their monopolies and their interests.

2) It must be noted that in the Islamic world, there is increasing detachment from fundamentalist terrorism. This is demonstrated by the opening of various churches in the United Arab Emirates and in Kuwait, the dialogue between Saudi Arabia and the Vatican, the defense of Christians on the part of moderate Muslims in Indonesia. Even the fate of Iraqi Christians has become a topic of debate in newspapers in the Middle East: these Christians are a source of culture, of development, of international identity, capable of dialoguing with both East and West, and it is a shame to lose them.

3) There is growing interest on the part of worldwide civil society in religious freedom as the basis for building peace. It is enough to think of the large-scale demonstrations that have taken place all over the world in support of the Burmese monks, and against China and its repression of Tibetan monks. This worldwide public opinion is able to influence "rogue" states in regard to religious freedom, which is, in the end, the only thing they are afraid of. In Vietnam, thanks to international attention toward the Catholics of Hanoi, the government of the city has been unable to eliminate the community or its bishop. In India, although it took place a month after the massacres and destruction, the government of Orissa has had to open an inquiry into the violence against Christians. China itself, pressured by civil society around the world, has had to reopen dialogue with the Dalai Lama, which had been broken off for years. For the civil population of the world, it is clear that religious freedom is the catalyst for other freedoms and the guarantee of order and peace in society.

4) There is less and less interest on the part of world governments toward this topic. The inability to boycott even one day of the Beijing Olympics, in the name of "strategic partnership" and economic contracts; the halting and impotent vacillation toward the Burmese regime; the silence over the violence in India all demonstrate that countries are increasingly interested in nothing but economic matters. Globalization has made worldwide civil society more unified, but it has made governments more dependent upon the economy. And we maintain that with the worldwide recession we are witnessing, the discrepancy between public opinion and government policy will become even wider.

This situation confirms the importance of the information that we provide, attentive to the fate of Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus: an aid for worldwide public opinion, and for peace in the world.

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