JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
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Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / March 20, 1998 / 22 Adar, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

A small step for persecuted minorities

YOU WOULD be forgiven for assuming that the Congress of the United States is currently engaged in nothing other than rubbing its eyes in the face of the daily deluge of dross coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But work does continue.

This week, the House international-affairs committee will mark up the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act (also called the Wolf-Specter bill). It is legislation crafted to address the ongoing persecution of Christians, Bahais, Buddhists and other religious minorities around the globe in nations like China, Sudan, Laos, Cuba, Iran, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Few Americans are aware that hundreds of millions of Christians around the world are subject today to brutal persecution, including beatings, rape, torture, starvation, child enslavement and murder. Christian victims simply do not receive the kind of attention that is so readily paid to Palestinians, Bosnian Muslims or women subjected to genital mutilation. Yet, persecution of Christians is one of the greatest human-rights disasters of our day (and a Jew named Michael Horowitz at the Hudson Institute has done more than any other individual to bring the issue to the fore).

The U.S. State Department has chronicled, in graphic fashion, the widespread persecution of Christians in China. The "house church" movement has been the target of orchestrated repression by the state, which has included disruption of services, beating of parishioners, the torture of priests and nuns, and false imprisonment. There are stories of priests apprehended by authorities, only to be found days later, tied to a tree, dead. Nuns have been suspended from ropes for days while their jailers sexually tortured them.

Religious movements represent a profound threat to authoritarian regimes. The Chinese are mindful of the role Christian churches played in the peaceful revolutions of 1989-90 in Eastern Europe. Speaking of the "house church" movement, an official Chinese government newspaper commented, "If China does not want such a scene to be repeated in its land, it must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger." Many Chinese officials have taken that advice quite literally.

In Sudan, Christian children are sold into slavery and adults starved to death in a campaign of genocide by the extremist Muslim government. Anyone who refuses conversion to Islam is liable to be starved, tortured and, yes, even crucified. In the past five years, 4 million black Christians in the southern portion of Sudan have been displaced, and more than 1 million have been murdered. It is a genocide that dwarfs what has happened in Bosnia yet has gone almost unremarked in the press.

The human rights "establishment" represented by groups like Human Rights Watch (which does excellent work in many areas) has utterly neglected religious persecution. In its 1997 World Report, Human Rights Watch paid special attention to children, women, prisoners, homosexuals and drug users. But there was no special attention to Christians.

Wolf-Specter is not a barn burner. It doesn't call for the United States to cut off relations with these regimes or impose sanctions (as we did against South Africa). It would simply deny non-humanitarian foreign aid as well as export-import bank loans to nations that engage in "widespread and ongoing persecution (defined as) abduction, enslavement, killing, imprisonment, forced mass resettlement, rape or crucifixion or other forms of torture." Contained within the legislation is a provision permitting the president to waive any or all of these sanctions in particular cases.

This is a very mild bill that is supported by liberal Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and conservative Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the Christian Coalition, the Campaign for Tibet, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Salvation Army, Iranian Christians International as well as dozens of other religious and secular organizations. Yet, it is being fought aggressively by the Clinton administration. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has cautioned that "if we are to be effective in defending the values we cherish, we must also take into account the perspectives and values of others."

The value of torture? The perspective of child enslavement? Right is right, and wrong is wrong. How can a Democratic administration that fought for sanctions against South Africa now say that black Sudanese Christians are not worthy of our attention? This bill should pass.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.