Commentary Magazine


Topic: International Religious Freedom Report of 2011

Report: Precious Little Religious Freedom

Here’s a pretty gruesome story from Pakistan that began circulating yesterday:

At least 11 nurses, including three Christians, were poisoned at Civil Hospital Karachi for eating during Ramadan. During their afternoon break yesterday, the 11 nurses went to the hostel cafeteria for some tea and food. Rita, a Catholic nurse, collapsed first after drinking her tea. Now all the nurses are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, some in very serious conditions.

It was an appropriate day, then, for the State Department to publish its 2011 report on religious freedom around the globe. And the bottom line is that, throughout the Islamic world, as well as in the unreconstructed communist and authoritarian states, there’s precious little of it.

What kind of ranking does religious freedom hold in the conduct of American foreign policy? As of this morning, the State Department’s website had on prominent display the following declaration from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “For the United States, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.” No room for misinterpretation there, then.

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Here’s a pretty gruesome story from Pakistan that began circulating yesterday:

At least 11 nurses, including three Christians, were poisoned at Civil Hospital Karachi for eating during Ramadan. During their afternoon break yesterday, the 11 nurses went to the hostel cafeteria for some tea and food. Rita, a Catholic nurse, collapsed first after drinking her tea. Now all the nurses are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, some in very serious conditions.

It was an appropriate day, then, for the State Department to publish its 2011 report on religious freedom around the globe. And the bottom line is that, throughout the Islamic world, as well as in the unreconstructed communist and authoritarian states, there’s precious little of it.

What kind of ranking does religious freedom hold in the conduct of American foreign policy? As of this morning, the State Department’s website had on prominent display the following declaration from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “For the United States, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.” No room for misinterpretation there, then.

The report does shine much needed light on the serial violators of religious freedom. Pakistan, for example, features prominently in the report’s executive summary, which notes the assassination of two politicians who criticized the country’s draconian blasphemy law – one of them, Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, was the only Christian in the cabinet – and the continuing imprisonment of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is facing a death sentence for blasphemy. Other countries singled out in the executive summary include Iran, where the Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani still faces a death sentence arising from the charge of blasphemy, and where seven leaders of the embattled Baha’i minority remain incarcerated on trumped up accusations of spying for Israel; Indonesia, another state where Christians are being imprisoned under a blasphemy law; China, where Buddhists in Tibet and Uyghur Muslims in the restive province of Xinjiang are subjected to all sorts of discrimination and harassment; and North Korea, where, the report states simply and accurately, “religious freedom does not exist in any form.”

The report also discusses what it terms “a rising tide of anti-Semitism.” In a welcome riposte to those who argue that anything short of an expletive-ridden denunciation of Jews isn’t really anti-Semitism, the report explains that in countries like Egypt and Iran, anti-Semitic agitation works hand-in-hand with opposition to Zionism and Israel. Instructively, the report mentions “Holocaust denial, glorification, and relativism” (my emphasis) as manifestations of anti-Semitism. This last word refers to the execrable habit of Arab propagandists and western leftists of comparing Israeli policies with the Nazi Holocaust.

Still, the report does pull its punches in certain key areas. Reading the section on Afghanistan, you would never know that American and allied troops have been present there for more than a decade, nor that President Obama has still to spell out what the “new chapter” in U.S.-Afghan relations which he promised in May will actually involve, especially once the U.S. withdraws in full by the end of 2014.

In its section on Nigeria, the report buries the enormous threat posed by Boko Haram, an Islamist terror group whose name is Hausa for “western education is a sin.” It asserts that “Boko Haram has likely killed more Muslims than Christians, since its primary bases of operation have existed in the predominately Muslim North.” That statement may be true, but it misses two important points:  firstly, that there is an established global pattern demonstrating that other Muslims are the main victims of Islamist terrorists, and secondly, that Boko Haram sets out to kill Christians along with other members of non-Muslim faiths. The most yawning gap of all concerns Boko Haram’s status here in the United States: the Obama administration is still refusing to designate the group as a terrorist organization, citing its apparent lack of homogeneity as the reason.

Turkey, too, is treated with kid gloves. The report praises the Islamist government of Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan for issuing “a decree facilitating the return of property confiscated from religious community foundations in the past.” However, according to Open Doors, an American organization that monitors the persecution of Christians worldwide, Turkey stands at number 31 on its watch list of 50 countries, hardly evidence of the “improvements” which the report claims have been implemented.

Further afield, the report notes that the “influential” Jewish community in Venezuela numbers 9,000, but fails to mention that its Jewish population has plummeted by 50 percent during the past decade, largely because of the anti-Semitism stoked by the regime of Hugo Chavez. Nor is there any investigation of the claim the Venezuelan authorities required the Jewish community to obtain special sanitary permits for the importation of matzo for the Passover holiday.

In its conclusion, the report says that the “United States was active around the world promoting religious freedom,” before citing a vague list of meetings, conferences, and small grants to local advocates of religious tolerance. None of this will exactly have the tyrants shaking in their boots. And one wonders what the report will have to say in 2013, when we will have a better chance to assess whether the policy of constructive engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has paid off. Or not.

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