Americans should not resign themselves to “a Middle East without Christians” but should work to expand their traditions of religious freedom overseas, says Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.
“Across North Africa and the greater Middle East, anti-Christian pressure has grown during the past few decades, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt,” Gerson wrote on Dec. 26.
He cited the Christmas Day bombings in Iraq that killed more than 30 people, the flight of Syrian Christians to Turkey, and attacks on Coptic Christians and their churches in Egypt.
Gerson said the United States should see its “unique success” in dealing with religion at home as a guide for global action. He advocated a foreign policy that more strongly condemns human rights abuses, backs moderate forces and makes foreign aid conditional on the protection of minorities.
He also praised Prince Charles of Wales' efforts to build bridges between Islam and Christianity, noting that the prince believes there is now a “crisis” where these bridges are “rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so.”
Gerson said that other countries' respect for religious minorities is important for both humanitarian and strategic reasons. Citing William Inboden of the University of Texas, he said there is a “robust correlation” between religious persecution and threats to national security.
The United States' major wars of the past 70 years have taken place against enemies that have “severely violated religious freedom,” Inboden has said.
“There is not a single nation in the world...that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States,” according to Inboden.
Gerson contended that religious freedom involves “the full and final internalization of democratic values” and “requires the state to recognize the existence of binding loyalties that reach beyond the state’s official views.”
He noted that it took “many centuries” for Christendom to achieve a strong form of religious pluralism and it is a major geopolitical question whether the Islamic world can achieve its own distinctive version.
“Every major religious faith contains elements of tribal exclusivity and teachings of respect for the other. The emergence of social pluralism depends on emphasizing the latter above the former,” the columnist said.
Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a proponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, argued against criticisms that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East often results in “oppressive Sunni religious ascendancy” and that majority rule results in “the harsh imposition of the majority faith.”
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, about half of Iraq's 1.5 million Christians have left the country, fearing violence and religious persecution.
Gerson said protecting minority rights is “particularly difficult in transitioning societies.” However, he said that “clinging to authoritarianism” further weakens civil society and makes the situation “even more chaotic and dangerous when a dictator falls.”
Tags: Religious freedom