The US State Department just released its Report on International Religious Freedom.

Much of the media reporting on this study focuses on those countries identified as arousing “particular concern”, including such obvious usual suspects as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Some of those CPC’s (“Countries of Particular Concern”)  have fired back at the US accusations, not least on the grounds that they don’t accept the Americans’ right to proclaim themselves the self-appointed judges of truth and justice around the globe. I don’t know if the Chinese language has a direct equivalent of “Who died and made you king?” but that is the implication of the PRC’s riposte.

There are moreover plenty of countries – not least in Europe – who find Particular Concern in many aspects of US life and national policy. People in moral glass-houses shouldn’t throw reports.

It’s also true that the range of misconduct attributed to the various CPC’s and other targeted countries varies enormously. In practice, Chinese Christians (for instance) enjoy vastly more rights than those of Saudi Arabia or North Korea, where religious freedom is wholly non–existent. It is also debatable why China is on the various rosters and not India, which is comfortably situated on the less threatening “watch list.” Arguably, the US threat assessment owes as much to diplomatic considerations as to any objective analysis of individual situations.

Whatever we may think of the conclusions, US government agencies generally do a magnificent job of collecting and publishing materials about religious politics and persecutions worldwide. The best resource of all is the annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which you can download in full. Just at random, I look at the twelve detailed pages on Nigeria, which offer just a wonderful summary of recent events and conflicts in that nation (and the Appendices have still more material). We may argue whether Vietnam deserves the stigma of CPC status, but the twenty pages of information on that country’s religious life are eye-opening – and, to the best of my knowledge, reported fully and honestly.

Whatever my caveats, I hope USCIRF will continue its important work, which is so very useful to researchers and activists of all shades.

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