During a July 1 appearance on the political talk show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” political analyst Alexander Nekrassov was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May during the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
Nekrassov spoke about May saying she looked “stupid” like a “stern school teacher in a red outfit” and behaved “oddly” in Osaka. He then turned his attention to British politics and society, specifically the issue of gender diversity in the West and liberalism.
Nekrassov cited Britain’s ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s response to an interview Vladimir Putin gave the U.K.’s Financial Times newspaper on the eve of the G20 summit, in which the Russian president said the liberal idea “had outlived its purpose.” Johnson, who wrote that liberalism is delivering prosperity on a scale unimaginable to previous generations, argued the UK will prove liberalism is not obsolete by leaving the European Union.
Nekrassov said the claim liberalism has made Britain thrive is “erroneous,” arguing it celebrates “mediocrity” and drives countries to war.
Arguing that liberalism is behind “the brutal Russophobia” in the West, Nekrassov claimed that by worshipping “money and debauchery,” liberal democracies morph into atheistic regimes that conduct witch hunts against “all of the major religions.”
“Britain and all Western Europe, although it isn’t acknowledged publically, are waging a war against the three major religions,” he said. “The war is extremely ingenious, skillfully inciting Christians, Jews and Muslims against each other. This war is endless.”
Nekrassov’s claims, involving liberal societies’ treatment of religion, are false.
Evidence shows that illiberal governments have posed a much greater threat to religious communities than liberal ones.
For example, in its latest annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, found the following countries to be the worst violators of religious freedom: Myanmar, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
The USCIRF report noted that in Russia, “the government continued to target ‘nontraditional’ religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism.”
It added: “The Jehovah’s Witnesses, whom the government banned outright in 2017, faced severe persecution by the state. By the end of the reporting period, hundreds of members remained in detention, had travel restrictions imposed, or were under investigation, and church property estimated at $90 million had been confiscated.”
Adherents of the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat and readers of the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi were also reportedly imprisoned for what the report described as “peaceful religious expression.”
The Pew Research Center’s ninth annual study of global restrictions on religion listed the following countries as having particularly high levels of government restrictions on religion -- Algeria, Azerbaijan, Brunei, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia Iran, Iraq Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Western Sahara.
These are almost exclusively non-Western, non-liberal countries.
Pew also found the Middle East-North Africa region continued to have the highest median level of government restrictions on religion in 2016.
That year, Freedom House found that only two countries in that region, Israel and Tunisia, qualified as democracies.
A report ordered by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt found that “Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped-out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest.”
Amnesty International also documented state-backed repression of religion throughout the region.
The next most repressive region (according to Pew) was Asia-Pacific, and the country that scored highest on the Government Restrictions Index was China, where up to one million Uighur Muslims have been subjected to mass internment, surveillance, and forced cultural assimilation.
USCIRF said that the Chinese government “continued to persecute all faiths … not only to diminish and erase the independent practice of religion, but also the cultural and linguistic heritage of religious and ethnic communities, particularly Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.”
In North Korea, a UN report concluded there is “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
The independent human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide said Christians in North Korea are subject to detention for practicing their faith, where they face “extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labor, forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence, and other inhumane acts.”
State-sponsored acts of genocide against Rohingya Muslims have been documented in Myanmar. The report for the British foreign secretary found that in the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, “the freedom of religion and belief [are] severely inhibited as churches are regularly raided,” while in Saudi Arabia and the Maldives, Christians cannot hold meetings in the privacy of their own homes.
By contrast, the magazine U.S. News and World Report, which surveyed 20,000 people worldwide to evaluate 80 countries, found the following 10 countries (all Western, liberal democracies) are perceived as offering the greatest religious freedom:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
As noted by Pew and others, Muslims have been targeted by nationalist political parties or officials in the West. A few Western governments have faced criticism for being Islamaphobic on account of banning the face veil, including Austria and Belgium while France’s ban of the Burkini passed by the country’s parliament in 2010 has also incited controversy. Notably, Belgium’s ban on face veils was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2017.
But based on all of the available evidence, the claims that it is liberal, democratic societies conducting a witch hunt against “all of the major religions” is false.