Should we defend Christians, or all people?
Published November 6, 2003

We are hearing more and more frequently in the news about persecution of Christians abroad in many countries; I've heard quite a bit about China, and one of my best friends recently forwarded me an article about persecution in Egypt. Apparently, though it is not technically illegal in Egypt for Muslims to convert to Christianity, those who do are arrested, tortured and mistreated with callous regularity. It is a terrible situation that should be addressed. No country that claims to be a part of the broader international community, like Egypt, should be allowed to carry out such harassment and persecution without any sort of international outcry.

But what form should our outcry take? According to last year's human rights report from the State Department (available at www.state.gov), Egypt has detained thousands of people arbitrarily and without charges, as many as 17,000 by some accounts. Fifty-nine cases of torture were documented in the country, resulting in the death of 11 of those persons. Prisoners' families were also tortured. Despite laws to the contrary, female genital mutilation, sometimes known as female circumcision, persists in Egypt. In fact, all of these abuses are illegal, but the laws are enforced either poorly or not at all.

Similarly, in China Christians are far from the only persecuted group. Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists and all religious groups face government crackdowns. Executions without due process are common, as are torture and mistreatment of prisoners, forced confessions and arbitrary arrests. Violence against women is also common, including forced abortion and sterilization and forced prostitution. Both women and children are frequent victims of abuse, and forced labor and slavery are not unknown.

All these issues are on the table when we address human rights abuses in these countries and others. Yet many of our lawmakers continue to focus on the abuses directed at Christians. What's my problem with that? I appreciate efforts by religious groups to defend the followers of their faith, but I don't think it's the job of the government to single out these groups. America is a nation that has a Christian majority, but it is also a country of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and many, many others. To focus on the human rights of only one of these groups makes us look like we don't much care for the others. That is a problem.

I do not mean to imply that we should stop fighting for the basic human right to believe in whatever faith you want to believe in. If anything, we should be far more aggressive in fighting human rights abuses in countries with which we have close economic ties, like China.

What can we do? In the case of China, we have close economic ties that we could exploit to achieve change. Would this hurt our economy? Probably, at least at first, but we need to decide how much these things are worth to us. Would we pay more for our toys and clothes at WalMart to save lives abroad? It might be an opportunity for a lot of people to put their money where their mouth is and stop buying Chinese goods!

Egypt would be a different challenge; their economic ties with the US are certainly not as great as China's. Still, they are technically our allies, and indeed, their government has been making strides towards correcting human rights abuses. We should support these initiatives, but also insist that inspectors and independent organizations can audit the success of these regulations. Laws that are unenforced are no more useful than no laws at all.

What we should not do, however, is give the impression that some people are more important to us than others. This is why the government's sometimes-focus on Christian persecution abroad does not sit well with me. Let us fight for the rights and humanity of all people, and show the world that the United States is a place where all creeds, races, beliefs and practices are held equally dear.