Thursday, July 06, 2006

Egypt: Why Is Religion Ever Needed On ID Cards?

Amidst the attention being focused on the decision by the Egyptian government to prohibit the listing of the Baha'i Faith in the religion section of its national identification cards, thereby preventing Baha'is from obtaining the cards and gaining access to basic civil rights and social services, it is worth posing the question: why require the inclusion of a religion classification on government identification cards in the first place?

In a paper entitled "Group Classification on National ID Cards as a Factor in Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing," presented in November 2001 as part of a seminar series at Yale University, Jim Fussel sets forth a compelling argument against the inclusion of group classifications on national identity cards. Fussell describes in chilling detail the critical role that identification cards including group classifications played in crimes of genocide in Rwanda and Nazi Germany, stating that with respect to Rwanda, "[n]o other factor [than including the designation 'Tutsi' on national ID cards] was more significant in facilitating the speed and magnitude of the 100 days of mass killing in Rwanda."

The article goes on to assert:
"Group classification on national ID cards does not indicate a government will engage in massive human rights violations. Classifications on ID cards are instead a facilitating factor, making it more possible for governments, local authorities or non-state actors such as militias to more readily engage in violations based on ethnicity or religion. ID cards are not a precondition to genocide, but have been a facilitating factor in the commission of genocide. Additionally the presence of group categories on ID cards, used constantly in routine official and business transactions, can contribute to polarization that can lead to genocide or related crimes."

Thus another potential harm caused by the inclusion of religious classification on identification cards, in addition to the possible facilitation of governmental discrimination, is the discrimination that could arise from private citizens as a result of the use of these cards in routine business transactions.

It is interesting to note that Greece used to be among the handful of countries requiring that religion be listed on national identification cards, but eliminated the religion classification in July of 2000 in response to expressions of international concern, particularly from the European Union, demonstrating, according to Fussell, that "governments may be influenced by international and regional concern over the practice."

The article concludes with the following thought-provoking words:
"Over the past decade more people have come to recognize that genocide is not a rare, isolated or unique event, but instead is a crime that occurs with disturbing frequency. With that insight, the often repeated phrase "never again" can become a motivation not only for commemorating victims or punishing the perpetrators of past genocide, but also a basis for rejecting and condemning policies that make genocide more likely."

The Blog's owner would like to thank his son Victor for contributing this article.

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