Foreign Affairs

Lost in Obama’s Tolerance Shuffle: Persecution of Christians

It is well-known that Barack Obama presides over one of the most anti-Israel administrations ever.  But Israel’s Jews aren’t the only besieged religious minority in the Middle East that’s scorned by the Obama administration.
 
The region’s dwindling Christian population hasn’t had to deal with the hectoring that has defined Obama’s policy toward Israel.  Rather, Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world encounter an Obama administration that seems utterly indifferent to their fate.  One of the most important but mostly neglected stories in recent years is the severe persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world.  Words such as “religious cleansing,” “mass murder” and “authentic martyrdom” have been used by those who know the situation best to describe this persecution.
 
The situation has deteriorated over the last year, as the so-called Arab Spring has threatened to beget a Christian Winter.  Last week, Catholic Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, estimated that there are more than 200 million Christians who face persecution around the world.
 
Rarely does Obama even mention the bloodshed.  And when he does, he sounds like so many media commentators, presenting the killing of Christians targeted for their faith merely as sectarian violence between two sides of equal strength.
 
Recently, after 27 protesters were killed during a peaceful demonstration against the burning of a Coptic Church in Egypt, President Obama urged “restraint on all sides.”
 
Last week, Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, declaring victory for the U.S. in Iraq, “a country in which people from different religious sects and ethnicities can resolve their differences peacefully through the democratic process.”
 
But it is in Iraq that Christians face perhaps the most severe persecution.  The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) continues to designate Iraq a “Country of Particular Concern” for its systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.
 
In fact, in a letter to Obama in early December, the USCIRF stated that despite an overall reduction in violence in Iraq, religious minorities, including Christians, “continue to suffer from targeted violence, threats and intimidation, against which the government does not provide effective protection.”
 
The USCIRF, an independent federal watchdog panel that monitors religious freedom around the world, nearly lost its funding last week when the Democratic-controlled Senate waited until the last minute to reauthorize it.
 
Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, told Christianity Today that the USCIRF has made many policy recommendations to the State Department that have been dismissed.  Farr said that Congress’ reluctance to fund the USCIRF made it “reasonably clear to the persecutors … that advancing religious freedom is not a priority for the United States.”
 
It’s not that the Obama administration is averse to discussing religion or to protecting people of faith as a matter of its foreign policy.  But Obama’s priority is the protection of Muslims.
 
At an international conference in July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for negotiations to combat “Islamophobia.”  Last week, the State Department met with representatives from more than two dozen countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).  The three-day conference’s mission was to establish international standards that criminalize “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of religion and belief” and accompanying plans to restrict free speech and to promote “blasphemy laws,” which punish criticism or “defamation” of Islam, including the printing of cartoons that depict Muhammad.
 
But Islam is the only religion the Obama administration has any interest in promoting.  In 2009, Obama declared that it was his responsibility as President to fight negative stereotypes about Islam “wherever they appear.”  This is one promise Obama may actually fulfill.
 
But his administration’s highest foreign policy priority is the imposition of the gay agenda.  Earlier this month, President Obama issued a directive elevating the treatment and rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people abroad as a priority in American foreign policy.
 
The U.S. will now use foreign assistance and diplomacy to force states to recognize gay rights as a basic human right.  “Gay rights are human rights,” Secretary of State Clinton declared in introducing the new policy, “and human rights are gay rights.”
 
There is irony in Obama’s cultural imperialism.  As writer George Neumayr has noted, “An administration that came to power calling George W. Bush a bully who sought to impose Western ideology on foreign countries feels entitled to behave imperialistically on [the gay agenda].”
 
The Obama administration values an assertive foreign policy in promoting sham human rights for pet constituencies.  But it cannot summon the courage even to acknowledge the plight of a truly beleaguered religious minority.


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