Out of the Mountain of Despair, Hope
“We work around the clock. At 10 p.m., I put my phone on silent so I can sleep. When I wake up in the morning, I have a list of requests from mothers, who say, ‘Mamoud, please help us find our children.’”
It looks like a primitive N. Five years ago, Navine’s mother carved the makeshift tattoo into her arm in a panic, using a nail and ashes. If they were separated, her mother told her, this would be how she would identify her. Navine was 11 when she was taken. For more than two years, she pretended to be paralyzed so that the fighters wouldn’t take her as a sex slave. “It was so difficult,” she remembers. “Sometimes they were pulling my hair and saying, ‘You have to walk. You have to talk.’ But I wouldn’t answer them.” Even during airstrikes, while everyone else ran for safety, she lived in fear – right where she was.
Today, Navine is in a tent on the side of Mount Sinjar – one of the only children her mother has left. Like 4,000 other Yazidis, some still living under pieces of plastic dropped by the U.S. airlifts five years ago, she feels safer there. Splashes of color still dot the rocks and bushes, Jane Arraf writes, the clothing and belongings left behind by thousands of terrified Yazidis as they climbed higher up the huge mountain in 2014 to escape being killed. Too afraid to come down, the survivors have been waiting for help — that, until recently, rarely came.
Now, thanks to the Trump administration, Yadizis and Christian activists in the region agree: “Hope is back.” Wednesday, at the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom, Father Thabet Habib Youssef thanked Secretary Mike Pompeo and the president for the infusion of aid and humanitarian relief. “Our greatest fear in the early years was that the world would forget us. This conference tells us we are not forgotten.” Haider Elias, the president of Yazda who spoke at FRC’s Syrian event Tuesday night, was similarly optimistic, telling Breitbart that things are finally starting to change under this administration – that people are finally starting to come back to Sinjar.
A lot of the credit for that belongs to Vice President Mike Pence, who last year announced that the U.S. would stop funneling money through an ineffective U.N. Instead, the Trump administration decided, USAID would cut out the middleman and take full control of relief efforts. Suddenly, more than $25 million in assistance started flowing directly to persecuted families like Navine’s in Northern Iraq. And that’s just a small portion of the $340 million the president pledged to religious minorities in her country alone. Villages that were “part ghost town, part ruins” are coming back to life. The money is helping to rebuild schools, hospitals, power stations and wells — and, most importantly, convincing thousands of Yazidi and Christian families that it’s finally safe to go home.
Wednesday afternoon, I had the chance to help highlight the important work of USAID at a special ministerial panel about faith communities (starting at 25:30 of this video). As I shared with them, one of the areas where every major religion can find common ground is helping people. And what I’ve been thrilled to see — not just through the ministerial, but through USAID — are the partnerships with faith-based organizations. To them, it doesn’t matter what religion you are. We don’t ask, “Are you a Baptist? A Lutheran? Are you Catholic or Muslim?” We serve all people.
If world leaders would start seeing religious communities as force multipliers for service, we could meet the needs that government could. That’s what has been encouraging to me about the work of USAID, especially in the Middle East. They’re linking arms with groups that are on the ground who are motivated out of compassion for their fellow human being. And I think that as more and more governments model that and put an emphasis on the value of people operating from the foundation of their faith, we indirectly address the issue of religious discrimination. In the end, that’s what will help the Navines of the world — an effort that does more than meet basic needs, but strives to end the hatred and harassment once and for all.
Originally published here.
‘We Turned a Blind Eye When We Shouldn’t Have’
It’s difficult not to be swept up by the horror stories of the Uyghurs, the Yazidis, the Rohingya, and so many other suffering faith groups represented at the State Department this week. But it’s important not to lose sight of another hurting community — the global Christians. Their nightmares are real, and — based on a shocking report — growing.
During one of the small press gatherings with victims, reporters heard one horrifying testimony after another from survivors who grew up equating their faith to fear. One woman, Sabrina, was born into a Syrian Christian family in Iran. Her parents were church leaders, and she remembers being eight years old when her father started bringing home the bloody corpses of pastors who’d been killed so that he could bury them. “It was a normal thing for us growing up,” she said.
And that kind of persecution is a normal thing, tragically, for tens of millions of believers. Like her father, many are imprisoned in dark, bug-infested cells that are barely big enough for a child. They’re tortured, sick, and despondent just like him. They’ve lost mothers, wives, sons. They’ve gone for years without word of their children. They’re disappearing from China, Eritrea, Iraq — all over the world — because 80 percent of the persecuted are Christians.
The Anglican Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, admits that it’s a shocking figure. It came, he told me on Wednesday’s “Washington Watch,” from the International Society of Human Rights 10 years ago. And they believe, after all of their research and monitoring, that 80 percent may actually be a conservative estimate of the situation now. “I don’t want for one minute to ignore the way that members of other faiths are persecuted…. What’s happening to the Uyghur Muslims in China is absolutely outrageous. But… the Christian faith today is the one true global faith, and this is a global phenomenon that we’re facing. So in that sense, it’s not surprising that Christians are more in the firing line than any other faith is,” Mounstephen explained.
When I asked him why more leaders weren’t standing up and fighting these injustices, he blamed political correctness. “I think I think there’s an embarrassment about the Christian faith,” Mounstephen said. “I think there’s a failure to recognize that the Christian faith is predominantly a global faith… And the net effect of that, I think, is that we’ve turned a blind eye when we really shouldn’t have, and we’ve failed to live up to our moral responsibilities in this whole area.”
He touched on this during a ministerial panel I joined in my USCIRF (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom) capacity: “Monitoring International Religious Freedom.” But if the world’s largest religion can be abandoned, what’s the motivation for reaching out to other faith groups? “Exactly,” he agreed. “…[A]ll governments need to stand up for the freedom of religion or belief for everybody. This is foundational. This is what Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is all about…. And I think from the perspective of us in the United States [and] Britain, we should speak up for those because we have a voice. We have the ability to shape a policy.”
But, he insisted, there are two reasons why we really need to care about this issue.
“There’s a moral imperative to look after people of faith… But there are really important, pragmatic, political reasons why we should do this as well, because there are some really ugly things going on in the world today. And I think religious persecution is often the bellwether. It’s the canary in the mine. Think about how this impacts upon other fundamental human rights where religious persecution is happening. You’re going to [find] people trafficking, you’re going to find forced conversion, forced marriage, terrible gender inequality, gender-based violence, denial of freedom of expression, denial of a shed load of other human rights…”
The freedom of belief is the foundational human right on which every other one depends. If that’s violated, you can be pretty certain there’s some pretty ugly things going on. But if you get this one right, you have a greater chance of seeing the other freedoms established.“
Originally published here.
The Family Planning Title Wave
The news wasn’t just a shock to the country, it was a shock to Wen herself. "I just learned that the @PPFA Board ended my employment at a secret meeting,” she tweeted. “We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood.” That “good faith” ended abruptly when the president of America’s abortion giant found out she was fired.
One of those philosophical differences, sources say, is that Wen happens to believe women’s health care is for, well, women. “Two sources told BuzzFeed News that Wen refused to use ‘trans-inclusive’ language — for example saying ‘people’ instead of ‘women’ and telling staff that she believed talking about transgender issues would ‘isolate people in the Midwest.’” Not to mention that as a physician, Wen knows better than anyone: men can’t get pregnant.
Another sore spot between Wen and the board may have been her reluctance to make abortion hyper-political. “I believe that the best way to protect abortion care is to be clear that it is not a political issue — but a health care one, and that we can expand support for reproductive rights by finding common ground with the large majority of Americans who understand reproductive health care as the fundamental health care that it is,” she said. Obviously, her idea didn’t play well in a group that dumped more than $30 million into 2016 campaigns like Hillary Clinton’s.
Now, with President Trump causing major upheaval of his own with the new Title X rules, the Planned Parenthood board has decided that it wants a pit bull — not a doctor — to wage its war on women (or, to be more “inclusive,” war on people). While it looks for a new leader — something the group is putting off until after the 2020 elections — it has plenty of other headaches to contend with, including the president’s family planning laws. Thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court, several of the group’s local facilities are about to feel a major squeeze on their bank accounts. As of Monday, HHS started enforcing the new ban on abortion referrals from offices that get family planning funds — a decision that could cost Wen’s former group as much as $60 million dollars.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) celebrated the decision on Wednesday’s “Washington Watch.” “Think about it — how often do we get to talk about a victory in the Ninth Circuit of all places? Fortunately, many times now we’ve talked about victories at the Supreme Court level — and in no small part [that’s due to] two great new members that Donald Trump has put [there]. But even in the Ninth Circuit, that tells you how… well put together the president’s rule was.”
Already, the protests are streaming in from states who’ve gotten used to the lucrative checks. Faced with separating abortion from “family planning,” Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide have abandoned the program altogether. “We are not going to comply…” group lobbyist Jacqueline Ayers protested. In Illinois, the local network walked away from the family planning money — more content to stick with Planned Parenthood’s cash cow — abortion. Maine, Vermont, and New York City are either leaning that way or have made it official. For Big Apple Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), the price of his abortion allegiance is steep. By dropping out of the Title X program, they’re losing $1.3 million in taxpayer funds.
Is the Left imploding? Faced with unprecedented political and cultural resistance, groups like Planned Parenthood look vulnerable for the first time in a long time. Liberals in likeminded groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are being exposed to a level of scrutiny and opposition that’s unparalleled for them. And it’s testing their mettle and applying stress in a way that’s quite unflattering.
Earlier this year, SPLC — which has long had free reign in the government, media, and our schools — experienced almost cataclysmic setbacks. They, like Planned Parenthood, had been emboldened by the Obama years. Now, their media-inflated image has overreached, put the public’s tolerance to a test — and lost. SPLC’s hypocrisy was exposed after the ouster of its racist and sexist founder, Morris Dees, and president Richard Cohen. Now, faced with an administration that’s committed — not just to pro-life rhetoric, but establishing of a pro-life record — Planned Parenthood has been put back on its heels. How long can it survive? In this growing pro-life wave, no one is quite sure.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.