Brownback Can Advance Peace, Prosperity Through Religious Liberty

New U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom has an office and a budget to make a positive difference in trouble spots around the world

At first, the headlines are jarring. A brutal regime is ethnically cleansing the Rohingya from Myanmar. ISIS wantonly murders gays, the disabled, religious minorities, and dissenting Muslims, and uses women and children as sex slaves. In West Africa, Boko Haram uses small children as suicide bombers to attack religious gatherings and marketplaces.

But these events are so frequent and expected, we have become indifferent to the plight of these peoples.

The suppression of thought, conscience, religion and belief in the world has left no room for humanity. Bloggers have vanished, artists have fled, families have been ripped apart, women have been silenced and stripped of their dignity, children brainwashed to hate, and minorities that won’t comply are being eliminated.

At the root of all this evil is one common denominator: Dictators who want to control what their people think, believe and express to maintain their hold on power. The repression of religious freedom leads to only one outcome — greater instability, human suffering, and economic devastation.

But most world leaders want to ignore the religious dimension of global conflict and placate rogue regimes and global crisis with Band-Aid solutions.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Congress recognized that religious freedom — the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as defined in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights — was essential for human freedom and global security.

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After emerging from the Cold War, Congress recognized the importance of planting this freedom in places where it was a foreign concept. But those seeds fell on rocky soil and never sprouted.

Two decades later, we are “reaping the whirlwind” — a proverbial dust bowl is upon us, and the human cost is staggering.

In the past decade, religious oppression has grown at an alarming rate, affecting 67 percent of the world’s population in 2007 and 79 percent in 2017. At this rate, there will be little space for people like you and me and billions worldwide to believe in anything in the future.

At the same time, the North Korean regime is preparing for nuclear war. There is chaos across the Middle East. Minorities and marginalized groups, religious and otherwise, face extermination and persecution.

And regardless of whether these dictators and terrorist groups stay or go, they have left an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of millions of people living under them. Victims have become victimizers. It has kept the systems going. And without minority and dissenting voices, there is little public space for challenging the status quo.

But the reality that President Donald Trump recognizes is that there is no Band-Aid large enough that will stop the flood of refugees, nuclear zealots, and humanitarian disasters in the world. At the root of much of this chaos is religious oppression, and until there are leaders in countries other than our own standing up for this fundamental freedom, our present levels of chaos and oppression will only worsen.

We have learned from the failures of Iraq that we cannot leave a political vacuum in the world. It will only be filled by a different oppressor.

The work of my organization, Hardwired, demonstrates that in those countries with the worst religious liberty track records, nurturing a culture of respect for diversity of thought and practice has a positive impact on many other freedoms, peace and stability.

During one of my last trips to Iraq, a Muslim judge trained in religious freedom shared how his youngest brother had been beheaded by ISIS for his work bringing justice to the groups’ victims.  He shared that if he did not continue to stand for this freedom, that was the fate that awaited every person in Iraq — regardless of what they believed or any other identifier.

Furthermore, as economic studies have shown, robust religious protections and civil society norms contribute to economic growth as well. And while Trump’s foreign policy is unpredictable, it is based on an important reality that cannot be ignored — much of the global conflict and chaos in the world today has a religious dimension, and without greater freedom, it will only get worse.

Here, the U.S. can tend the garden of peace by nurturing the seeds of religious freedom globally.

The newly confirmed ambassador for international religious freedom, former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, can use his office to establish leaders in countries where this freedom is most at risk. These men and women will defend this fundamental freedom — for themselves and others.

The Office of International Religious Freedom (OIRF) has primarily served in a reactionary capacity since its inception twenty years ago: helping Americans or persecuted people get out of jail or escape their countries, or reporting on abuses and negative trends.

Under new leadership, the OIRF should take this opportunity, after 20 years of neglect, to focus on a positive solution — the establishment and embedding of indigenous leaders who can make a case for why this freedom is critical for their country’s future.

Brownback perhaps fills the most important position in the new administration, an office at the State Department that focuses on the root cause of so much global conflict and chaos — religious oppression.

To accomplish this, the ambassador has two critical tools at his disposal — he has a budget of nearly $10 million to utilize for programs that promote this freedom.  To date, little has been accomplished to establish lasting, sustainable change with the funds. Now is the time to change that.

Brownback perhaps fills the most important position in the new administration, an office at the State Department that focuses on the root cause of so much global conflict and chaos — religious oppression.

Second, he has been authorized to train foreign service officers in religious freedom. With a team of diplomats at his disposal, he could transform the culture of U.S. embassies worldwide, and plant the value of religious freedom into countries where it is most needed.

Brownback is well-placed to achieve great things. What he does could have an enormous impact on global security and stability for years to come.

Tina Ramirez is president of Hardwired Global and travels to Iraq regularly. She is a contributing author and editor of “Human Rights in the United States: A Dictionary and Documents” (2010 and 2017). Previously, she served as founding staff director of the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Sam Brownback [1], [2], CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)

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