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The Future of Asia: Forces of Change and Potential Surprises – Supplementary Report

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The Rise of Fundamentalism as a Constraint to Economic Development

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What is it?
Why is it important?

What is it?

Religious fundamentalism is increasing across several Asian nations, posing threats to national economic development. Failed states characterized by social, political and economic failures such as Afghanistan and Pakistan are not the only Asian countries affected by fundamentalism. Although other tensions have a more local reach, religious fundamentalism is present in Bangladesh,1 the Maldives,2 Indonesia,3 Thailand,4 Malaysia,5 the Philippines,6 India,7 Nepal, Sri Lanka8and Myanmar.9 For example, Muslim-Buddhist clashes in Myanmar, and Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist tensions in Sri Lanka, continue to pull the countries down and slow their economic development.10

The cause of religious fundamentalism is not necessarily linked to poverty. Political ideologies, the uprooting of traditional ways of living through rapid urbanization 11 and even the highly educated class (as evidenced in Bangladesh) may also contribute to its development. These factors, especially ones relating to the fast modernization of societies, may indicate that the trend will continue in the future.

At the same time, the form and scope of fundamentalist activity has been evolving. Prior to September 11, 2001, the focus of terrorist groups included investment in large-scale operations and international targets. However, since 9/11, counter-terrorist responses have resulted in organizational fragmentation, hindering the ability of these groups to implement large-scale attacks. As a result, terrorist operations have become more localized, with religious minorities and local authorities frequently targeted.12 This form of local fundamentalism and terrorism is a common source of instability across Asia.

Why is it important?

Although estimating the cost of religious fundamentalism is very challenging, it can negatively impact health, culture and economic output. It has the potential to cause international alienation and large population displacements, as well as incubation of criminal activity, destabilization of national budgets, increased debt, and excessive reliance on foreign aid.13 Countries bogged down by religious fundamentalism and the costs of response (i.e., counter-terrorism, law enforcement) tend to have a lower GDP, Purchasing Power Parity, and rank on the Human Development Index. These countries generally have fewer fundamental freedoms, women’s14 15 and children’s rights and less personal mobility. As a result, rising fundamentalism has the capacity to undermine economic growth and development in otherwise economically healthy countries in Asia.


  1. Jha, L. “Minority Hindus attacked in Bangladesh.” NITI Central. November 2013. http://www.niticentral.com/2013/11/21/minority-hindus-attacked-in-bangladesh-160191.html(link is external)
  2. Randolph, E. “Unrest in the Maldives.” Current Intelligence. March 2013. http://www.currentintelligence.net/analysis/2013/3/25/unrest-in-the-maldives.html(link is external)
  3. Yang Hui, J. “Religious harmony under attack in Indonesia.” The Nation. October 2013. http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Religious-harmony-under-attack-in-Indonesia-30216068.html(link is external)
  4. Mandhana, M. “No Peace: Why Conflict Persists in Thailand’s Deep South.” Time World. April 2012. http://world.time.com/2012/04/23/thailand-insurgency/(link is external)
  5. “Four dead as Myanmar religious clashes bleed into KL. The Malaysian Insider. June 2013. http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/four-dead-as-myanmar-religious-clashes-bleed-into-kl/(link is external)
  6. Eulich, W. “Separatist clashes in Philippines could renew insurgency.” September 2013. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/terrorism-security/2013/0912/Separatist-clashes-in-Philippines-could-renew-insurgency(link is external)
  7. Subramanya Dehejia, R. “Economics Journal: Mumbai 2011 – What is the Cost of Terrorism?” The Wall Street Journal. July 2013. http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2011/07/14/economics-journal-mumbai-2011-what-is-the-cost-of-terrorism/(link is external)
  8. Al Maeena, T. “Sri-Lanka Besieged by religious conflict.” Gulf News. November 2013. http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/sri-lanka-besieged-by-religious-conflict-1.1250289(link is external)
  9. “Latest Myanmar violence blamed on religious and ethnic extremists.” The Himalayan. October 2013. http://www.thehimalayantimes.com/fullNews.php?headline=Latest+Myanmar+violence+blamed+on+religious+and+ethnic+extremists&NewsID=392954(link is external)
  10. “Impact on Religious Fundamentalism on Asia.” Shaping Tomorrow. October 2013.
  11. Avakian, B. “Why is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today’s World – And What is the Real Alternative?” October 2007. Website: http://www.revcom.us/a/104/avakian-religion-en.html(link is external)
  12. “Fragmentation and Resurgence of Islamic Terrorist Groups in Asia.” Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada (article for Policy Horizons Canada). Pending publication in 2014.
  13. Idem. “Impact on Religious Fundamentalism on Asia.” Shaping Tomorrow. October 2013.
  14. Devasahayam, T. “Through a Woman’s Lens: A Survey of Employment, Marriage and Fertility Trends in Southeast Asia.” Trendnovation Southeast. September 2010. http://www.trendsoutheast.org/opinion/2010/9/1/through-a-womans-lens-a-survey-of-employment-marriage-and-fertility-trends-in-southeast-asia(link is external)
  15. Derischs, C. and A. Fleschenberg. “Religious Fundamentalisms and their Gendered Impacts in Asia.” Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. January 2010. http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/07061.pdf
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Policy Horizons | Horizons de politiques

Policy Horizons Canada, also referred to as Policy Horizons, is an organization within the federal public service that conducts strategic foresight on cross-cutting issues that informs public servants today about the possible public policy implications over the next 10-15 years.

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