Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The real test of whether we or our governments understand the concept of human rights is whether we or they are willing to defend the rights of our enemies.

I believe that the near-hysterical denunciation of the white far-right marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, with numerous calls on Twitter and elsewhere for their sacking from their jobs and expulsion from universities, is evidence of a lack of understanding about human rights.

The marchers were protesting the demolition of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, one of the leaders of the Confederate Army in the American Civil War. Whatever Lee’s political views, no historian doubts his military genius. And if city mayors and state governors are going to expunge memorials to Americans who were “pro-slavery” or “white supremacists”, they should begin with Thomas Jefferson and shut down the University of Virginia. And, in Britain, the memorials to Churchill and a host of other statesmen, generals and scientists (including Darwin) should be demolished.

It seems to me that this is another instance of “political correctness” run amok. Dismantling statues rather than unjust structures. Suppression/Denunciation replaces moral argument- something on which I have written before: e.g. The New Intolerance and On Giving Offence. Paradoxically, tolerance is killed in the name of promoting tolerance, intellectual diversity suppressed in the name of valuing diversity. I am reminded of Zygmunt Bauman’s quip that, in some strands of postmodernist rhetoric, Descartes’ cogito (“I think, therefore I am”)has been replaced by its neo-tribal version “I shout, therefore I am.” The one who shouts loudest, whether on social media or in the university, is the new moral leader.

Another recent instance in the U.S of this new ethic is the sacking of an engineer at Google for suggesting that the reason there may be fewer women in the hi-tech sector is because of biological differences. Note: this was a suggestion, not a recommendation to exclude women applicants from any job. One can disagree with his view and present counter-arguments and empirical evidence, but to sack him as if he had committed an immoral act? Surely that is itself immoral- violating the basic right to be different, to hold contrary opinions.

Racism/sexism is about systemic injustice more than it is about attitudes. But attitudes also matter as they are what shape our everyday social relations. A Martian who scans news media on the planet Earth will conclude that, whatever some national Constitutions may say, the lives of “celebrities” and super-rich oligarchs and tycoons are far more valuable than others.

The arrogance of those left-leaning secular liberals who disdain or caricature viewpoints other than their own is a mirror-image of their right-wing conservative opponents. Both have created a global financial system and internet empire that perpetuate the most grotesque economic inequalities ever seen in the history of the world. Yet much of the talk of “equality” in the media focuses narrowly on issues of sexuality.

Why do we scarcely hear of protests against the exploitation of children in the mines of Congo, for instance- mines which are producing the cobalt and other metals that are used in electric cars and smart phones? Are we not complicit in this exploitation through our silence and never questioning where our technologies or food or clothing come from? And where were the liberal protesters on the streets of Washington DC when the Indian Prime Minister Modi visited a month ago (see my post India: A Failing State?)

This is why many of us believe that what most undermines “human rights” and “equality” is the hypocritical and one-sided way they are invoked by Western governments and liberal media.

Equality is a relative concept. Equality in relation to what? The worst female athlete in the Olympics is far superior to me in terms of physical fitness, just as I am superior in reasoning ability to a Downs Syndrome person. Empirically we are clearly unequal. The moral questions are whether a given inequality is enforced and whether inequality in one area justifies discrimination or exclusion in another, unrelated area. The intrinsic and equal worth of human persons, which undergirds equal respect before the law, is a difficult concept to justify on strictly secularist/naturalist grounds. It is why this deeper question is side-stepped (or, as Bauman’s quote implies, shouted out of view) in the polarized discourse about equality in contemporary politics.

But it was this sense of the intrinsic and equal worth of human persons that motivated the Christian Church, throughout its history and all over the world, to care for the despised, degraded and forgotten members of society. Whatever their own culpable “blindspots” in relation to internal church politics, the best Western missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (often from under-privileged backgrounds themselves) sacrificed their own reputation and health in providing education and healthcare to women and the destitute classes (often in opposition to both local elites and colonial administrations). If helping women and dalits in India or Sri Lanka become nurses, doctors and teachers is labelled imperialistic, then I am happy to identify myself with that label.

The American (Eastern Orthodox) theologian David Bentley Hart raises some thought-provoking questions about the American church that if raised by others would immediately be brushed aside as symptomatic of “anti-Americanism”. In an article (“The Angels of Sacré-Coeur”) first published in 2011, Hart writes:

“It is very much an open and troubling question whether American religiosity has the resources to help sustain a culture as a culture- whether, that is, it can create a meaningful future, or whether it can only prepare for the end times. Is the American religious temperament so apocalyptic as to be incapable of culture in any but the most local and ephemeral sense? Does it know of any city other than Babylon the Great or the New Jerusalem? For all the moral will it engenders in persons and communities, can it cultivate the kind of moral intelligence necessary to live in eternity and in historical time simultaneously, without contradiction?”

And he ends with the sober judgment: “European Christendom has at least left a singularly presentable corpse behind. If the American religion were to evaporate tomorrow, it would leave behind little more than the brutal banality of late modernity.”

Harsh words, perhaps, but they stem from a passion to see the Lordship of Christ embracing and permeating every area of the church’s life and engagement with the world. The apostle Paul too used harsh language in denouncing the way the face of Christ was distorted by both false teaching and behaviour inconsistent with the Gospel.

American Christian Fundamentalism (ACF) has made deep inroads into churches all over the world since the Second World War, and its influence has been magnified with the rise of satellite TV and the Internet. I have often said that, with the decline of old-style European theological liberalism, ACF poses a far bigger threat to the global church than Islamist fundamentalism. Why? Because the biggest threats arise not from those who can only kill the body but from those who kill our souls in the name of religion.

Here are four reasons, among others, for my concern:

(1) ACF promotes religious hypocrisy. Its preachers rail against “worldliness” while baptising the consumerist “American dream” and right-wing political agendas; they announce that we are living in “the last days” but they don’t close down their bank deposit accounts or pull their children out of school; they teach that “preaching the Gospel” is the primary, if not the only thing, that matters to God, but they themselves spend most of their time in getting married, building a home, ensuring that their children get the best health care, education and employment. They preach that since the earth is going to be destroyed anyway, environmental concerns are a waste of time; but they spend an inordinate amount of time feeding and clothing their bodies, repairing their homes and cars- all of which are likewise doomed to perish. They teach that all who don’t hear the Gospel are “going to hell”, but that doesn’t seem to move them to give up marriage, children, jobs, money, etc., and go about rescuing as many souls as they can from this “eternal hell”. If they clearly don’t believe what they preach, why should we?

(2) ACF promotes mindlessness. It demonizes whatever it doesn’t understand, especially Secularism, Evolution, Feminism, Islam and the ancient Asian religions. Walk into an affluent ACF-influenced church, and you will see some highly educated men and women in the audience who have checked in their critical thinking at the door. They passively absorb the most outrageous theological notions, submit to authoritarian forms of leadership, and fail to see the glaring contradictions between the lifestyle of Jesus and that of the preacher-entertainers on the podium.

This “split-mind” among many ACF-influenced academics and professionals is a product of the narrow “Gospel” they have been introduced to (e.g. “being born again”, “going to heaven when I die”, “having a personal relationship with God”), so that they cannot see how their daily work, studies, political views, economic behaviour, and so on, have anything at all to do with the Gospel of Christ.

(3) ACF promotes divisiveness. By preaching a private, individualistic “Gospel”, it blinds its followers to the scandal of Christian fragmentation, rivalry and separation. It also encourages “personality cults” which are often disguised as “doctrinal distinctives.” ACF-influenced Christians believe they have nothing to learn from other Christians. The concern of Jesus that the visible unity of the church is the best apologetic to a watching world (e.g. John 13:34, 35; 17:20,21) and Paul’s teaching that the visible unity of the church is central to the message of the cross itself (Eph. 2:14ff) – these are completely ignored.

(4) ACF promotes Zionist views re the Middle East, reinforcing the apartheid practices of the Israeli state. The post-1948 secular state of Israel is bizarrely identified with Old Testament covenant Israel, and the politics of the region going back to the 19th-century is simply ignored. Most tragically, there is a profound and culpable neglect of the entire New Testament understanding of Christ as the fulfilment of all the Old Testament promises (e.g. where is “the land” ever mentioned in the New Testament?).

At root, all these spring from the sad fact that those who talk most loudly about the “authority of the Bible” and being “Bible-believing” Christians, don’t actually read the whole Bible. They read a “Bible within the Bible” (selected verses used as proof-texts) or they read the Bible through spectacles taken from their favourite preachers and authors.

Which is why we need a new Reformation among evangelical Protestants.

While “hate crimes” committed by and against Muslims in Europe receive increasing attention in the global media, the rise of Hindu vigilantism in India receives scant coverage. Yet the loss of life and the levels of terror under which Muslim and other religious minorities in India now live far exceed anything experienced in the West.

For example, a 15-year-old Muslim boy, Hafiz Junaid, was stabbed to death on board a Delhi-Mathura train on June 22. His and his three brothers had boarded the train at Delhi’s Sadar Bazar Station after shopping for Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They were set upon by a mob which repeatedly taunted them with cries of “anti-nationals” and “beef eaters.” In the fight which ensued, Junaid’s three brothers were hospitalized with stab wounds. The police have hitherto done nothing to apprehend the killers.

India is an exporter of beef. But ever since the nineteenth-century Hindu nationalist movement under the leadership of the Arya Samaj made Cow Protection a political slogan, it has from time to time been an excuse for vigilante groups to harass and even murder Muslims in the name of “protecting our religion and culture”. Cows are deemed more valuable than some human lives. Hence the term “sacred cow” that has passed into the English language to denote any object that is immune to criticism.

Under the current BJP government in India, cow protection groups, operating with impunity, have killed Muslims and low-caste peoples simply for transporting cattle. In BJP-ruled states the lynching of Muslim men by Hindu mobs is becoming commonplace.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cronies in the central government remain silent over these killings. But so do many affluent Hindu Indians in the US who welcomed Modi to the US a few days ago and who are intent on exploiting the Trump regime’s ignorance and fear of the Muslim world. A week after Junaid’s murder Modi was in Washington DC, wooing the Tech Giants to invest in India, while the country itself is deteriorating into a state of near-anarchy.

The BJP-ruled Gujarat state, where Modi was formerly chief minister and blithely ignored repeated pogroms against Muslims, recently amended its Animal Preservation Act of 1954 to extend the maximum sentence for cow slaughter from the present seven-year jail term to life imprisonment.

Anybody familiar with Indian cities knows that cows are treated far worse in India than in other countries. Malnourished cows, their ribs painfully sticking out and munching on discarded polythene bags, are a common sight in Indian cities. But anyone familiar with Indian politics knows that such contradictions are central to the whole ideology of Hindutva. Every nationalist needs a bogeyman, and Pakistan and the Muslim and Christian minorities in India serve that end.

Moreover, academic scholars are under pressure to rewrite not only the history of India but their specialist courses so as to obliterate or diminish the contribution of Muslim, Christian and other minority communities. Liberal and Marxist scholars and journalists, no less than Christians and Muslims, are often the targets of vicious personal attacks. Christian NGOs working among the poor (largely ignored by vocal Hindu politicians except at election time) are constantly harassed with allegations of making “unethical conversions”.

Yet another irony is that the colonial penal code relating to “sedition” has often been invoked in recent months to justify assaults on anybody who criticizes India’s policy or military actions in Kashmir. Pakistani actors cannot appear in Indian movies. A group of Muslims who cheered Pakistan’s recent victory in the international cricket championship were set upon by a gang who charged them with “sedition”. Such are the ridiculous depths to which Indian society has sunk! (Imagine all those Indians in the UK who, despite being British citizens, cheer the Indian cricket team when they defeat England, being hauled off to gaol!)

But all is not yet lost. Amnesty International India has condemned hate crimes against Muslims, and civil society organizations have continued to mobilize people to express their revulsion at police inaction and tacit governmental support for the growing culture of Hindu vigilantism. Several thousands of concerned citizens have marched in Indian cities under the slogan “Not in My Name”, following the murder of Junaid and the spate of recent mob lynchings.

If more Hindus in India and the so-called Indian diaspora in the West do not raise their voice in support of such civil society defiance, they should not be surprised if the fear, anger and frustration of young Muslims becomes channelled in the direction of ISIS and other radicalised Islamist groups. If there is one lesson we have learned in South Asia in the post-colonial era it is that extremism breeds extremism, and the silence of elites strengthens the voice of the mob.

Is a government that fails to protect its minorities a “failed state”?

The United States has signed the biggest arms sale in its history (a staggering $100 billion) with Saudi Arabia. There is much irony here, not to mention moral revulsion. For consider:

(1) The Saudi Arabian air-force (comprising predominantly American and British aircraft) has indiscriminately and brutally ravaged the country of Yemen over the past year- leaving a people devastated by famine and facing what the UN has called the gravest humanitarian crisis of the present time (even surpassing that in Syria!). The Saudi military is not held accountable for war crimes. Since militant Islamist movements thrive in failed states, Yemen will be the breeding ground for the next version of al-Qa’ida or ISIL that rises against the West.

(2) Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states being wooed by the Trump regime are apartheid-type societies which do not acknowledge religious liberty nor the equality of women. They have done precious little by way of offering shelter or financial help to refugees from Syria or Iraq, despite their status as fellow-Muslims.

(3) Saudi Arabia has played a central role in the nurturing of a violent form of Islamism. It is home to the most intolerant form of Islam known as Salafist or Wahhabi. Until the mid-twentieth century this was a theological movement of only localized significance; but the oil wealth of modern Saudi Arabia has allowed the Salafists to spread their militant brand of Islam through the funding of extremist religious schools, charities and mosques across the Islamic world. The Saudi kingdom took in Salafist leaders expelled by secular regimes such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq. It was among Saudis engaged in the Afghan conflict of the 1980s that the fatal fusion took place between Wahhabi puritanism and the jihadist ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to the creation of the al-Qa’ida network.

Many of the conflicts within the Muslim communities of Asia and Africa are fuelled by Saudi-funded Salafist organizations that claim to possess a purer interpretation of the Qur’an and therefore condemn as “heretics” Shi’ites, Sufis and others who have lived relatively peacefully with their non-Muslim neighbours Salafism does not necessarily advocate global political violence. It does, however, tend to view the world in Manichean terms, with the West the source of all the impurities that have contaminated the world of Islam and obscured the message of God.

(4) Arabs and Persians have very different civilizations, and their differences were exacerbated by the Sunni-Shia conflict in early Islamic history. Iran, heir to both Persian and Shia Muslim traditions, boasts a much richer intellectual community of scholars than any Arab nation. It does not pose a threat to the USA or Europe. It is clear that the US, with its fear of both ISIS and uncritical defence of Israel, is being manipulated by Saudi Arabia into an irrational anti-Iran hysteria that trades on seeing the Middle East in simplistic black-and-white terms.

Why has the Trump regime’s politically short-sighted arms deal not elicited howls of protest among political and religious conservatives in the US and Europe?

The other part of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia involved securing deals for American corporations to the tune of several billions of dollars. This reveals once more the hypocrisy of those conservatives who accuse advocates for social welfare of wanting a Nanny State. What the Republican Party wants is not really “limited government” but a government that subsidizes the rich rather than the poor, that uses its political and military muscle to open up global markets to American corporations. Trump is only the latest embodiment- though perhaps the most blatant- of the unholy alliance between American government and Big Business. Doesn’t this make a mockery of “free markets”, let alone of democracy?

The March for Science, coinciding with Earth Day, took place last Saturday in about 600 cities around the world.

American scientists involved in the march said they were anxious about political rejection and public ignorance of established science. The biggest enemy of science was the “post-truth” White House, and the practice of science had to be protected from proposed government budget cuts and threats to global treaties such as the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Defending the Paris Agreement and exposing lies should indeed be on every citizen’s agenda, scientist or not. But many like myself who share the concern for promoting scientific research and evidence-based policymaking, are also skeptical about the arrogant “master narrative” of science that is as harmful for human wellbeing as widespread scientific ignorance. The marchers presented to the world a naïve, politically sanitized view of science as a value-free collection of “objective facts”, along with the bizarre implication that before Brexit and Trump truth was commonplace in politics and public life.

The danger with the March for Science is that it distracts us from paying attention to other reasons for public disenchantment with science- reasons that lie at the heart of the scientific establishment itself. In recent years, several cases of fraud and lack of reproducibility in mainstream scientific research have emerged. These are encouraged by an academic culture that places greater emphasis on publication metrics than the quality and relevance of research. In other words, where and how much you publish is more important than what you publish.

I suggest that the greatest threats to science lie within scientists themselves, just as the greatest threats to Christianity lie in the behavior of Christian leaders rather than in atheists or Muslims.

(1) The great majority of practising scientists have little understanding of the history and philosophy of their discipline. And, given the fragmentation of science into numerous arcane sub-specialities, very few scientists can converse meaningfully among their colleagues in their own broad disciplines, let alone with social scientists, philosophers and theologians. When combined with competition for funding, this narrowness of vision leads to scientists often making exaggerated claims for the superiority of their own sub-speciality.

For instance, in theoretical physics, superstring theory has attracted a massively disproportionate amount of research funding and elite university positions since the 1980s, because of its glamorous self-presentation as the “foundational theory” of science. The gulf between promise and fulfilment has been enormous: to date, the theory has not made a single experimentally verifiable prediction (unlike, say, the standard model in particle physics).

Walk into any major bookstore in a Western city and you will be assailed by books of a popular nature written by prominent physicists, biologists or computer scientists which aim, not simply to inform the public about their respective scientific disciplines, but to make philosophical claims that go well beyond the writer’s field of expertise. Anybody familiar with cosmology knows that the “matter” (a difficult concept in itself!) that we have hitherto investigated as physicists comprises only 4 per cent of the universe. Yet this doesn’t prevent some physicists from pontificating in popular media about the nature of “reality” and even of human persons. Metaphysical speculation about “multiverses” masquerades as physics, while all teleology is ruled out as “religious” and therefore unscientific.

Such all-pervasive “explanations” are crudely reductionistic. Their popular appeal trades on the prestige the writer has acquired in a narrow area of scientific research and which he exploits for self-marketing.

A gifted but prejudiced popularizer like Richard Dawkins poses a greater danger to science than to Christianity. For by marrying Darwinian evolution exclusively to an atheist agenda, he has reinforced the “creationism” prevalent in fundamentalist church circles and discouraged young Christians from pursuing a vocation in biology. If the perception of science in religious communities is to be corrected, and the latter encouraged to embrace scientific exploration, we need more humble and boadbased understandings of science among scientists themselves. The postmodern critique of science, for instance, should not be dismissed as mere “relativism”.

(2) So much scientific research is imprisoned within corporate and military interests. Very few scientists ask, “Who is funding my research and for what aims?” or “How am I reinforcing the existing asymmetries of information and power?”

Take cancer research, an area of personal interest to me since my wife is a cancer patient. Given that cancer research is heavily subsidized by governments, charities and individual donors- and new targeted drugs have successful trials involving far fewer people than used to be the case- why are cancer drugs produced by Big Pharma prohibitively expensive? In the US, cancer bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy. Imagine how it is for those of us who live in poorer countries. (Many cancer researchers in drug companies and research centres in North America and Europe come from some of the poorer countries of the world). Why don’t ethically responsible researchers demand control of their discoveries and collaborate with smaller biotech companies to cap the price of the drug on the market once it is licensed?

Science is now part of Big Business. And, as the Nobel prize-winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller argue in their book Phishing for Phools, ruthlessly competitive market economies tend to encourage unethical behavior such as withholding information from consumers and exploiting our weaknesses for bigger profit margins.

Globally aware citizens need to move beyond defending science from its detractors and initiate a critical dialogue about science as a socio-political practice as well as a worldview. Local populations need to be given access to relevant scientific knowledge and technical expertise; but they must also be given space to shape the questions that we ask of science itself.

Last Thursday, Helen Zille, the former leader of South Africa’s main opposition party and the current premier of the Western Cape, wrote on Twitter : “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water.” In another post she included “specialised healthcare and medication” as one of the benefits brought by colonial rule.

The comments provoked a public outcry in social media as well as among other politicians. She has apologised unreservedly, but will face a disciplinary process by her political party.

I am puzzled by the outcry and believe that Zille should not have apologised.

If we cannot engage in an objective, nuanced and morally responsible evaluation of our national histories, including the legacy of colonialism, then we condemn ourselves to intellectual obscurantism and the emotionally-charged political polarization that we now see sweeping the United States and Europe. Is this what we in Africa and Asia really want?

I could understand the outcry if Zille had justified apartheid. Or if she spoke of colonialism as nothing but a blessing and had not emphasized (in upper case) the word “ONLY”. But she clearly was not identifying colonialism with apartheid or slavery- which are absolute evils. And her immediate apology stands in marked contrast to those post-apartheid leaders who refuse to own up to corruption and other criminal acts.

It is only those who see the world in black-and-white (😏) who refuse to acknowledge anything good in their enemies. Even the early Christians could acknowledge some of the benefits of the pax Romana even as they proclaimed as the Lord of Caesar one who was an innocent victim of that oppressive pax. One need not be whitewashing (😉) European colonialism by simply recognizing that we who live in post-colonial societies have benefited from some aspects of colonial rule. Why does revulsion towards the British empire not translate into the rejection of sports such as cricket and rugby? And I would add to Zille’s list of post-colonial goods modern science and technology, parliamentary democracy, and universities (of which South Africa still boasts the best in Africa).

That these were all practised hypocritically, patronisingly and were biased towards ruling elites (and outside of South Africa, the latter included many native people), should be openly acknowledged by Europeans. But just as apportioning blame for slavery should also include those African chiefs who sold their own people to Arab and European slave traders, so apportioning blame for, say, Britain’s “divide and rule” colonial policies should include those native elites who welcomed those policies because they aligned with their own political and commercial interests. (The American historian Robert Frykenberg has pointed out that the British Raj in India was often a Hindu Raj because it served the interests of upper-caste Hindus who desired a Western education in English for their offspring and the state patronage of Hindu temples and institutions).

Is racism only to be named as such when it involves white people? Are we forbidden to call “racist” the black tribalisms in South Africa, or the treatment of Dalits and other dark-skinned peoples in India by Brahmins, or the brutality of the Japanese in China and Korea in the 1930s, or the Chinese government’s current treatment of Uighurs, or the constitutionally-approved discrimination against non-Malays in Malaysia, or the apartheid system that flourishes in Dubai and other Gulf states and to which many Indians as well as Europeans flock? The list is endless.

And are we, in the guise of “political correctness” refusing to discuss in our universities or mass media the many “internal colonialisms” in Asia and Africa that were- and continue to be- no less horrific than the worst expressions of Western colonialism? On a visit to Kenya last year, I was shocked to learn that most of the land is owned by just ten families. European settlers continue to enjoy privileges that the vast majority of Kenyans are denied. But most of those super-rich families are black Kenyans, and the income inequality and lopsided “development” in the country must be laid at the feet of the post-colonial state. The dispossession of peoples from their lands, whether in Africa or Asia, happened in the pre-colonial era and continues unabated today.

If what I have written is taken, like Zille’s tweets, as a defence of European colonialism, then put it down to my failure in communication. But I do believe it is a fundamental Biblical notion that moral outrage should begin with self-examination before it moves out to confront others.

The eminent Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield once observed that the history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament was “the only national history I ever remembered reading which proclaimed the sinfulness of the nation- proclaimed its own nation even to be worse than the pagan nations around them.”

When there is so much jingoism around that parades itself as “Christian”, and everybody wants to adopt a “victim mentality” by blaming their national ills on foreigners (white or black, it hardly matters), it is good to be reminded of what makes Christian faith truly universal and counter-cultural.

There are plenty of good arguments with which to criticize Donald Trump and his supporters without needing to resort to misrepresentation and one-sided rants. The liberal media in the US and Britain have tended to indulge in the latter, both during the presidential campaign and in the aftermath of his inauguration. “Trump wages war against Islam” screamed the front page of a well-known liberal British weekly after his travel ban. But he did nothing of the sort. If it was “anti-Muslim”, why leave out many other Muslim-majority states, some of which have a worse record of repression than the seven that were targeted?

Trump’s justification was couched in the language of “stopping terrorists” and “making America safe”. As I pointed out in my previous Post (“Selective Amnesia”) this was a foolish as well as immoral and dangerous decision, and I gave reasons for my judgment. But, however “Islamophobic” Trump’s campaign rhetoric may have been, the 27 January executive order was not.

The hypocrisy and double standards practiced by prestigious liberal media such as the BBC and the New York Times is well known. They were supporters of the war against Iraq, but suddenly turned self-righteously against Bush and Blair when the lies propagated by their respective intelligence agencies were exposed. On religious issues, the BBC loves to broadcast extreme viewpoints. Last month, I watched an interview with an obscure black pastor who claimed that Trump was a “wonderful Christian”, but they have given absolutely no attention to several Christian leaders and organizations who have roundly condemned Trump’s polices as deeply antithetical to the Christian faith. So much for the coverage of “evangelical Christian voices” in the liberal media- such coverage is simply a mirror image of the bias in the conservative media. Such media polarization ultimately undermines the sane, mutually respectful dialogue on which a liberal democracy rests.

When it comes to religious persecution, we see the same polarization in media coverage. The BBC, CNN, etc give little airtime to such cases, especially when they involve Christians suffering under oppressive Muslim or Hindu regimes. Terror attacks on Muslim minorities in Muslim countries (e.g. the recent deadly attacks in Pakistan on Shia followers) receive little or no attention to the mainstream news channels, let alone the tabloid press in the US and Britain. We see the reverse in the conservative Christian media which only highlights cases of anti-Christian persecution.

Trump’s decision to give priority in refugee applications to those minority Christians fleeing Muslim persecution is now opposed as “discriminatory” by liberal media and human rights watchdogs such as the ACLU. But where were these critics, when (for decades) US governments gave priority to refugees and asylum seekers who were their allies in military conflicts (such as Afghans during the Cold War) or to the rich or intellectuals- denying visas to the economically poor or disabled? I’m sure that if the Trump regime gave priority to homosexuals fleeing persecution in some African states, there would scarcely be a murmur of criticism. Governments do have a right to decide to whom they will grant visas. This is happening all the time, in every country on earth. The grounds on which such decisions are made should be transparent and open to moral criticism (for example, why favour the rich?), but charges of “discrimination” carry little weight unless they are applied across the board to cover all forms of travel and immigration.

Of course, there are great dangers for the Christian Church if Trump’s America were to be identified in the Muslim world as “Christian” and enjoying the support of those who go to Muslim-majority countries as “missionaries”. Giving priority to Christians fleeing persecution can also lead to many bogus “conversions” and persecution stories. But, given these important caveats, it is also necessary that the plight of Christians in Muslim states be brought to public attention by the secular liberal mainstream.

Anyone who writes on this sensitive issue has to be Janus-faced and so address the hypocrisies on both sides of the political spectrum. Those evangelical Christians who support Trump’s denunciation of undocumented migrants in the US need to ask: why does he not crack down hard on all those who employ such vulnerable migrants? Human trafficking is alive and flourishing in the US; and those who come voluntarily are often working as near-slaves in many hotel chains, restaurants, factories and large farms. Blaming victims is an easy game and it is sad to see Christians playing it- and, at the same time, profiting from the labour of such folk.

In the meantime, it is equally infuriating to watch the smug complacency of European governments as they posture themselves in opposition to Trump’s antics. We have a 20-year old friend from one of Trump’s banned countries who ended up in Sri Lanka after fleeing family and police in his own country after he had been baptized as a Christian. After a long and humiliating wait in the bureaucratic coils of the UNHCR, he was admitted to the US refugee vetting program in December and told that he would likely leave by May. Trump’s executive order of 27 January has demolished that hope. He is now told that he may have to wait another five years or more. He is utterly devastated.

My wife Karin, a Danish citizen, has taken our friend around some European embassies to see if they would consider his plight and treat him with empathy and understanding. She ran into a brick wall everywhere. “The only possibility of accepting him is if he applies from within an EU territory,” she was told. “Well, how does he get on a plane without an EU visa?”, replied Karin. They smiled politely and remained silent. But one official said, “He can arrive with a false passport, like others do.”

This is how European governments encourage illegal migration.


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