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Religious Intolerance on the Rise in Asia

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Religious intolerance in Asia is on the rise with more and more states falling foul of such acts. From Muslim extremism in Pakistan to Buddhist dominance in Sri Lanka, minority religions are finding themselves targeted.

Wars and political instability have all contributed to this growing trend and with it those countries that play host to such ideals are being increasingly sidelined on the international stage.

Sri Lanka, whose population is over 70 percent Buddhist, plays host to a diverse collection of races and religions. From Christians to Muslims and Indians to Africans, the country has for the most part been a tolerant society. It is not an uncommon site to see a Buddhist temple side by side with a Hindu Kovil or a church sharing the same street as a mosque. And while much of the country was shrouded in the horrors of war, the religious unity was a silver lining.

With the conclusion of the war back in 2009 this silver lining was erased as members of the Buddhist majority looked to exert their dominance over the other religions.

Earlier this year the holy city of Dambulla in the Central Province was the scene of an unwarranted attack on a Muslim prayer hall by mob led by the Buddhist head priest of the region. While politicians and human rights groups were quick to condemn the violence little was done to deter future attacks. This was not the first such incident, last year a mosque in the city of Anuradhapura was demolished by a group of Buddhist priests.

Those responsible for the attacks defended their actions claiming that these mosques had been illegally built on holy land. While members of Muslim clergy sought to prove otherwise, claiming that in fact they were legal constructions which had been in existence for decades.

This increased hostility towards the Muslim population comes as a surprise with Sri Lanka being increasingly isolated on the world stage. When the U.S. presented a resolution against the country at the UN it was the Muslim nations that chose to side with Sri Lanka, or at the very least abstain from the vote.

These attacks have resulted in those very same countries expressing concern to the government. It also allowed the countries that brought up the issue of human rights at the UN to once again voice their opinion.

Sri Lanka's case of intolerance is not a unique one, nor is it new to the region. In Myanmar the Buddhist majority continue to persecute the Rohingya Muslims, forcing them to flee the country. While the ongoing battle between the Buddhists and Muslims is not a new revelation it will certainly have far reaching implications for a country trying to re-enter the global stage.

Not only has the Buddhist majority looked to intimidate and assault the Muslims, they have gone one step further and encouraged their mass exodus to Bangladesh and other neighbouring states.

While the UN and the U.S. have both urged the government to ensure the safety of all their citizens, there seems to be little more else done by these bodies. President Obama's upcoming visit to the country shows the influence the U.S. still holds. The pending release of 425 prisoners is certainly a sign that the Myanmar government is worried. Whether or not the U.S. government uses this leverage in their favour in ensuring that safety of the Muslim minority is not clear.

Pakistan's flirtation with the Taliban has certainly had its impacts on society with a growing threat looming over the Christian minority. In fact the situation in Pakistan has got to a point where the Christians are demanding a separate province to ensure their safety.

These demands have resulted from the increased persecution which has even seen a 14-year old girl imprisoned for three weeks in a high security prison on charges of blasphemy. While her case is not unique, it shows the lack of leniency or compassion on the part of the Muslim majority.

Members of the Christian clergy and Western countries have been quick to condemn these actions. Yet there has been little else done to deter the extremist elements within Pakistan. This lack of opinion on the issue could very well have to do with the fact that Pakistan is an essential supply route for troops stationed in Afghanistan.

With the impending withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan, this hesitancy on the part of the U.S. to step in may disappear. However, to what extent, if any, their involvement would be remains to be seen.

Whether or not the rest of the world will step in to put a halt to these growing cases of religious intolerance is still unclear. What is clear is that it is spreading within the region as more and more countries fall foul.