In its ninth annual study of global restrictions on religion , the Pew Research Center has checked how government actors – political parties or individual public officials – as well as nongovernmental nationalist organizations used nationalist, and often anti-immigrant or anti-minority, rhetoric to target religious groups in their countries in 2016.
The political parties and groups identified as “nationalist” in the report “were either explicitly described in sources as being nationalist, or espoused anti-immigrant or anti-minority views that result in their classification as nationalist.” The US-based think tank concludes that “2016 saw an uptick in nationalist activities around the globe.”
This phenomenon was especially common in Europe. According to the study, “about a third of European countries (33 percent) had nationalist parties that made political statements against religious minorities, an increase from 20 percent of countries in 2015.”
Overall, the report says, “muslims were the most common target of harassment by nationalist political parties or officials in 2016, typically in the form of derogatory statements or adverse policies.”
Nationalist parties also singled out Jews, Christians and members of other minority faiths: “In Bulgaria, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported an ongoing campaign against their religion by two nationalist parties, which together form the Patriotic Front political alliance in the country’s legislature. And, in Sweden, representatives of the Sweden Democrats Party made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks on multiple occasions during the year.”
Nationalist ideologies were not limited to governments, notes the study: The number of countries where nongovernmental nationalist organizations (as opposed to governmental actors, such as officeholders or political parties with a role in government) targeted religious groups also increased in 2016.
The majority of social groups displaying this kind of nationalist or anti-immigrant and anti-minority activity – 25 out of the 32 – “were in European countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland and Hungary.” In these countries, “religious minorities were often the targets of demonstrations, derogatory public comments or violent acts by nationalist groups.”
In European countries, Muslims were targeted most frequently. Muslims were the focus of nationalist groups in 20 of the 25 European countries where these types of groups were active, like France, Germany, Ireland, Finland or Estonia.