Frank Wolf's Campaign
Addressing the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East.
8:23 AM, Feb 9, 2011 • By THOMAS O'BAN
For Christians in Iraq, the situation was desperate long before the October 31 attack caught international attention. Coordinated attacks began in 2004 with the bombing of five churches in Baghdad and Mosul. In July 2009 seven churches were bombed in Baghdad on a single day. And while Iraq’s pre-war Christian population was only five percent, Iraq’s post-war refugee population is a staggering forty percent Christian.
“In 2003, there were at least 800,000 and as many as 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq,” Shea testified. “It is now estimated that only half of that community remains in the country.”
Attacks against Christians in these two countries, however, are part of a broader picture. Egypt’s is not the only government in the region stained by a failure to defend the rights of its religious minorities. (Lee Smith wrote recently of the intensifying persecution of Christians in the Middle East, with a focus on Lebanon’s Maronites, in a recent issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.)
“Ahmadis, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and Jews are under increasing pressure in the region,” Wolf said when he introduced his bill the other week. Several hundred Baha’is have been arrested in Iran, and seven Baha’i religious leaders are currently being held in prison by the Iranian government. Militants in Pakistan attacked two Ahmadi mosques last May, killing at least 80 people. “According to the State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, Zoroastrians living in Iran also face persecution and blatant discrimination.”
Through this legislation, Wolf is bringing greater attention to an issue he believes must be “a foreign policy priority for America.”
Since 2008, the State Department has designated over $25 million for aiding religious minorities in Iraq, which Wolf calls a “much-improved focus.” Focus has not improved across the board, however, and has noticeably decreased in other areas. The office of ambassador-at-large for the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, a presidential appointed position, has been vacant since Obama took office. This position needs to be filled, says Wolf: further steps must be taken, and more direct aid must be given. “Someone who focused specifically on these issues would be a welcome addition to the state department.”
“Our embassies should be ‘islands of freedom’, and they’ve been anything but in the past two years,” said Wolf. “And the Bush administration didn’t do much better.”
“Women are being held in Pakistan for blasphemy, and Christians in Afghanistan are being held for their faith,” Wolf told me. “We’re sending people to die In Iraq and Afghanistan, and Christians can’t even survive persecution. We’ve given 50 billion in aid to Egypt, and they’re persecuting Copts. We give Morocco hundreds of millions through a challenge fund, and they expel Christians.” (The Millennium Challenge Corporation, established by Congress in 2004, signed a five-year, $697.5 million aid deal with Morocco in 2007).
Wolf told me he might advocate for withholding aid dollars to nations that continue to allow (and support) the persecution of their religious minorities, striking money from states like Lebanon and Morocco if exiles aren’t returned. In the short run, Wolf encourages the State Department to undertake a review of its aid policy to the persecuted minorities, and to promote international awareness of their plight through the office of a special envoy.
“President Ronald Reagan once said that the U.S. Constitution is a ‘covenant that we have made not only with ourselves, but with all of mankind,’” Wolf aptly reminded Congress in his opening remarks last week. “I believe that the United States has an obligation to speak out for the voiceless around the world, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting my legislation.”
Thomas O’Ban is an intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
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