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Model United Nations

General Assembly Topic 1

Social and Economic Consequences of Religious Intolerance

Religious intolerance is defined as a group of people, of any religion and of any standing,  that is unwilling to accept views, beliefs, or behaviors and customs of another group’s religion. In the world, there are acts of intolerance in many different states that come from a history full of religious tensions that lead to inequality within all aspects of society. Religious intolerance adds an extra obstacle to an already abundant field of challenges for those who are in particular religious groups. The intolerance of religion inhibits social and economic advancements because when large groups of citizens are not allowed to participate fully in society, then the economy becomes uncompetitive and inefficient.  Moreover, demagoguery in a political system may lead to corruption and exploitation because large populations are vulnerable to systemic discrimination.

Religious intolerance has had a long history, the Sunni v. Shiite conflict within Islam on who should have succeeded the prophet Muhammad is one that has continued since his death. This conflict represents intra-religious intolerance. In the United States, there have been recent incidents relating to intolerance towards immigrants and their religious affiliation. An article in writes that in the 1880’s, there was a movement within the United States to keep Southern and Eastern Europeans from migrating to the country, partly because of many being Jewish and Roman Catholic, and immigration restrictions were designed to prevent the United States from being “overrun by undesirable ethnicities” at the time. In recent years, attacks on Muslims in the United States have risen to their highest levels since 2001, the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2001 there were 93 registered assaults reported against Muslims, reported assaults stayed steady around 55 cases from 2011 to 2015. A rise occurred in 2016 at 91 cases, rising again to 127 in 2016, surpassing the 2001 assault number.

Religious intolerance fosters distrust and fans tribalism within the current social conditions of a nation, creating an atmosphere amicable to radicalization.  The inevitable conflict that arises from an intolerant society damages many aspects of life.  The segmentation of a population may hamper a nation’s potential for economic growth.  The United Nations has discussed the topic of religious extremism and its causes before. In 1996 the General Assembly adopted a resolution, titled A/RES/50/183 Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, which aimed to achieve exactly what its title suggests.  This resolution foremost reaffirmed that freedom of religion is a human right, which is enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It also stressed the importance of the cooperation between government and religious leaders in ending religious intolerance.  With the cooperation of all religions, and inclusive government policies, intolerance can be resolved.

While violence is the worst possible byproduct of religious intolerance, all forms of intolerance can affect a community, like boycotting shops, vandalism of idols or places of worship, propaganda and hate speech.  Even smaller acts of discrimination can have subtle consequences such as affecting trust in a community and freedom of the press.  Liberal modern societies require respectful discussion among all citizens in order to thrive.  Silencing or disregarding certain groups in a nation can prevent vital discussions that help a society function and improve.  Religious intolerance can also hurt business and the economy by segmenting the population into arbitrary groups. For  example, Islamophobia has been growing in Europe.  Austria provides a glimpse into the effects of intolerance. The government, led by Sebastian Kurz, is cracking down on Mosques receiving foreign financing, claiming these mosques are “promoting radical Islam”. This move by the government may further alienate the 800,000 Muslims in the country of 8 million people. The closing of seven Mosques and expelling of Imams in Austria could further harm international relations with Muslim majority countries, especially Turkey, the country many of these Imams come from. Meanwhile in India, there is growing intolerance between Muslims and Hindus. Concerns of a growing Hindu nationalist attitude has caused alarm in many northern Indian states, and continued silence from the government creates uncertainty on improving Muslim representation in a turbulent time.

Religious tolerance has improved, despite situations in some areas of the world, but improvements must be made. As pluralism and diversity continue to advance on all continents, there are greater opportunities to integrate and understand others who hold different beliefs.  Your task is to try and convince fellow states of the benefits of religious pluralism and how it will better the life of all citizens socially, economically and politically, additionally ensuring that religious intolerance is reduced to a minimum around the world. 

Questions to consider:

  • Does, or did, your country have any religious conflicts? How are religious minorities treated in your country?
  • Are there any steps or policies your country has taken that should be considered or adopted by the United Nations?
  • What are the current actions, if any, being taken by your country’s government to address religious intolerance and increase religious tolerance?
  • How has religious intolerance affected the lives of your citizens, politically, economically and socially?     

Resources to Consider:

Eastwood, Luke. 2018. “The History of Religious Intolerance.” Global Research, February 20, 2018.

Eddy, Melissa. 2018. “Austria Closes 7 Mosques and Seeks to Expel Imams Paid by Turkey.” New York Times, June 8, 2018.

GA Resolution. A/RES/50/183.

Grim, Brian. 2014. “The Social and Economic Impact of Religious Intolerance.” Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, March 15, 2014. 

Kishi, Katayoun. 2017. “Assaults against Muslims in U.S. surpass 2001 level.” Pew Research Center, November 15, 2017.

United Nations. 2015. “At UN, religious and political leaders weigh strategies to stem rising tide of intolerance, extremism.” UN News, April 21, 2015.

United Nations. 2015. “In Morocco, UN-backed forum highlights role of religious leaders in preventing atrocities.” UN News, April 23, 2015.

US History. n.d. “Intolerance.” Accessed July 26, 2018.