Religious Freedom: The Best Weapon Against Terrorism

Behind religious terrorism are . . . restrictions on religious freedom.  Thus argue Nilay Saiya and Anthony Scime of the State University of New York – Brockport.  Here writes Saiya:

What is the relationship between religious liberty and faith-based terrorism? Some argue that restrictions on religion, though morally problematic, are at times justified in order to prevent or curtail religious violence. This logic gained increased traction in certain circles following the terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001 and then again in the tumult associated with the so-called “Arab Spring.” In the Middle East, many secular dictators have long defended their repressive policies on the grounds that they were at least able to keep to forces of religious extremism at bay.

In a forthcoming article in Conflict Management and Peace Science, my coauthor, Anthony Scime and I argue that this line of thinking is incorrect. On the contrary, restrictions on religion actually work to generate religious terrorism by radicalizing religious actors, weakening moderates, and increasing the support of extremists. Often embattled religious communities, perceiving their faith to be under attack, subscribe to a ubiquitous narrative of communal disillusionment, sometimes leading to violence against those perceived to be responsible for their marginalized and suppressed status. When religious groups find themselves ostracized through laws or violent suppression, they are more likely to pursue their aims through violence as well. In short, regimes that hinder the knowledge or pursuit of the supernatural play with fie when they interfere with peoples’ innate aspiration for transcendent and eternal truth.

Using classification analysis, we find that government regulation of religion is by far the most significant variable predicting the onset of religious terrorism—more than twice as important as any other variable included in our model. Generally, religious terrorism increases dramatically as the level of restrictions also increase. Religious repression becomes especially problematic in countries with large populations and unstable political regimes. We also find that when governmental restrictions on religion are low, religious attacks seldom occur and that the values of other variables have no effect in explaining the absence of religious terrorism.

Our findings suggest certain policy recommendations. The inclusion of religious groups and individuals in political processes and the protection of their religious rights serve to negate the claims of extremists that violence is necessary to challenge the status quo. The findings also buttress the accumulating evidence that the relaxation of religious restrictions and protection of religious liberty nurtures peaceful competition of religious groups in society, thus contributing to a wide array of positive externalities that come from widespread freedom. It is time for policymakers around the world to take religious freedom seriously, if not for moral reasons, then at least for the sake of peace and stability.

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Daniel Philpott

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