In his press conference in Turkey on Monday, President Obama called “shameful” the proposals to give special treatment to Christian refugees from the Middle East. Here’s some of what he said:
The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents, they are children, they are orphans. And it is very important -- and I was glad to see that this was affirmed again and again by the G20 -- that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism….And the United States has to step up and do its part. And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution -- that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.
This is a standard Obama reaction to criticism: attack the motives of critics and use the most extreme version of their views to undermine their argument. It’s true that some critics have said that the United States should admit only Christians and never Muslims—at least until we have reliable vetting procedures for Muslims.
But in fact, the Obama administration has abandoned Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities during years of violent assaults. The Obama refugee program has simply ignored the plight of such religious minorities, treating them no better than Muslims despite the obvious fact that their own situation is far worse.
Why is it worse? Because Muslims can find easier and safer refuge in neighboring Muslim-majority countries such as Jordan and Turkey. Because the UN’s refugee camps, run by the high commissioner for refugees, are almost entirely Muslim and Christians do not feel safe in them. Because the U.S. refugee program accepts refugees mostly from those camps, where Christian refugees fear to live. Because there are no efforts to eliminate Muslims in the Middle East, while there are efforts to demonize, penalize, and convert Christians—and (according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum) there are genocidal attacks on the Yezidi minority.
The president’s argument is that distinguishing the cases of Muslim and Christian refugees would be “shameful.” As a question of national security, that is a difficult argument to sustain: in the United States and Western Europe, Christian refugees have not become terrorists and it’s a simple fact that their admission does not present the same security risk. That does not mean no Muslim refugees should be admitted, but it does suggest that an adamant refusal to distinguish among refugees on religious lines is illogical. The 1930s provide a useful comparison: would it have been “shameful” for the United States to provide special help to Jewish refugees, who were the targets of special persecution and genocide? Or was it instead “shameful” to refuse such help?
The Obama argument vilified his critics: “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion,” he said. Really? Has he never heard of the hate crime legislation his administration has comprehensively supported? We distinguish in the United States between acts of violence committed for financial or personal reasons, for example, and those motivated by hate—including “attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin.” So we distinguish in American law between some victims and others, even if the damage done to them by the violence is exactly the same. Why? According to the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” because “Such violence disrupts the tranquility and safety of communities and is deeply divisive” and “A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected.”
Quite right—and quite right not only in the United States but in Syria and Iraq. Christian and other minority communities are being “savaged” in just that manner by the “violent crime” called mass terrorism by the Islamic State.
The Yom Kippur liturgy, just followed in synagogues around the world, repeats several times references to God as one who rescues captives. The central daily Jewish prayer as well refers to God who “supports the fallen, heals the sick, sets captives free.” And throughout Jewish history, the redemption of captives has been considered an important commandment. This is the background to the repeated decisions by the state of Israel to free a hundred or a thousand Arab prisoners in exchange for one single captive Jew.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal talked about religious liberty on NBC's Meet the Press this morning:
"Well let me ask you this," Todd said. "Do you agree with some other folks and conservatives that you think Governor Pence and Governor Hutchinson in Arkansas and Indiana have essentially caved too much pressure?"
Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in Yafia, near Nazareth, made news in 2012 when he publicly urged Israeli Christians of Arab descent to join the Israel Defense Forces. Since then, he’s become a lightning rod for encouraging Christians to integrate themselves into Israeli society rather than maintain an Arab identity that typically entails hostility to their country. In the United States in recent days, Naddaf spoke to pro-Israel groups, urging Christians to support the Jewish state against anti-Christian, anti-Jewish Islamists throughout the Middle East.
Senator Ted Cruz’s vigorous defense of Israel at a recent conference for persecuted Middle Eastern Christians in Washington, D.C., provoked jeers from a loud minority in the audience, made up largely of Catholics and Orthodox, many of them from the region or of Middle Eastern background. In June, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three firms doing business with Israel to protest Israeli policies towards Palestinians.
Marietta, Ga. The 2004 presidential election was the Republican party’s high-water mark with Hispanic voters. George W. Bush received between 40 and 44 percent of the Hispanic vote that year. Bush lost Hispanic Catholics to John Kerry, but he overwhelmingly won Hispanic evangelicals, 69 percent to Kerry’s 29 percent.
As the U.S. and its allies prepare to return to the negotiating table with Iranian representatives, hoping to reach a deal on their nuclear ambitions, the Islamic Republic has significantly ratcheted up its efforts to repress religious minorities in the country.