Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

Why Taiwan Matters

by Arielle Del Turco , Bob Fu

October 19, 2021

The Financial Times reported last week that China tested a new nuclear-capable hypersonic missile, a development that surprised U.S. intelligence agencies. This comes as China also continues to develop its conventional military capabilities.

Nowhere will China’s military buildup be felt more keenly than in Taiwan.

Just days before Taiwan celebrated its 110th National Day at the beginning of October, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent almost 150 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone. This show of force marks the largest threat to Taiwanese airspace since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took control of mainland China 72 years ago.

These events make it clear that Beijing is seriously upping the ante, and it signals that a military invasion may now be more likely than ever before.

Taiwan is an island off the coast of mainland China with which the United States has long-standing commitments that are partially outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. But for its part, the Biden administration met Beijing’s provocations toward Taiwan with lackluster and at times confusing statements urging Beijing to stop pressuring Taiwan.

So, why does the future of Taiwan matter to Americans, and specifically to American Christians?

Tensions between China and Taiwan point to a larger global struggle between authoritarianism and freedom. And for the 23 million people who currently live in Taiwan, the prospect of the CCP taking over would mean an abrupt end to many of the human rights they currently enjoy, including freedom of speech, political participation, and religious freedom.

Chinese President Xi views Taiwan as a breakaway province, but the reality is that the CCP has never ruled Taiwan. In a speech delivered on China’s national day, following days of military drills close to Taiwan, Xi struck a nationalist tone, declaring, “The historic mission of achieving the complete unification of our country must be realized, and can be realized.” While this narrative plays well for Xi on the mainland, most Taiwanese citizens would reject “unification” with China even if ideal conditions were guaranteed.

The day after Xi’s speech, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen responded in a speech of her own, saying, “[W]e will continue to bolster our national defense and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us… as it offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people.”

And this is exactly what President Tsai says is at the heart of the issue—not only a dispute about territory or sovereignty but also a debate over which vision of government is better.

Do free countries want to see Taiwan succumb to the oppressive authoritarian leadership of the CCP as seen in mainland China? Or see it remain a democratic society, which while flawed, protects the most basic human rights for its people and gives its citizens a voice in the government?

For Christians, the answer is obvious. The concept of Imago Dei, found in Genesis 1:27, teaches that every human person is created in the image of God. Because of the worth and value that all people inherently possess, they have God-given rights that the American Founders called “unalienable rights” and international law identifies as “human rights.” These include core rights such as the right to life, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and others outlined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We can treat people with human dignity by working to protect people against authoritarian regimes like China’s.

We want to see more people living under governments that respect human dignity, not the other way around. The world has already seen the consequences when China takes over a freedom-loving population. Over the past couple of years, President Xi’s government effectively eliminated political rights and freedom of expression in Hong Kong. We don’t want to see this happen to Taiwan, too.

President Tsai met China’s bullying with a principled reminder to the free world. In a recent op-ed in Foreign Affairs, she wrote, “[I]f Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system. It would signal that in today’s global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy.”

The values that Taiwan shares with America should be the backbone of our friendship. Now more than ever, Taiwan needs and deserves American support.

The United States should offer robust support for Taiwan in practical ways. This includes supporting Taiwan’s defense weaponry system, especially its missile defense and air to surface capacities, in order to deter an invasion. In addition, the United States, along with other allies, should hold military exercises on the Taiwan Strait, demonstrating American support for Taiwan and a presence in the region. 

The Taiwanese people formerly spent four decades under martial law, then demanded—and successfully achieved—democracy. That shift has led to greater prosperity and human flourishing. Today, Taiwan is a shining example for people suffering under authoritarian regimes that change can happen. To stand with Taiwan is to stand for fundamental human rights, including religious freedom. The United States should do so without reservation.   

Bob Fu is Senior Fellow for the International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council. Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.

Pew Finds High Rate of Global Restrictions on Religion

by Arielle Del Turco , Cristina Cevallos

October 12, 2021

Each year, the Pew Research Center publishes a report assessing the extent to which governments and societies around the world restrict religious beliefs and practices. This year’s report—which examines 198 countries and contains data up through 2019—shows how much more work needs to be done to protect religious freedom globally.

Social Hostility to Religion Declines Slightly

Let’s start with the good news. The report’s Social Hostilities Index measures acts of hostility to religion by private individuals, organizations, or groups in society. Examples of hostility include religion-related terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment, and other forms of intimidation or abuse. In 2018, 53 countries (27 percent) had “high” or “very high” levels of social hostility, but in 2019 this number was reduced to 43 (22 percent), the lowest it has been since 2009.

Religion-related terrorism incidents (such as deaths, physical abuse, displacement, detentions, destruction of property, and fundraising and recruitment by terrorist groups) are also in decline. According to the Global Terrorism Database, 49 countries experienced at least one of these actions. However, 2019 was the fifth consecutive year of declining global terrorism rates. This decline is largely due to ISIS having lost control in many parts of the world, even though it continued to commit attacks such as the one in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in 2019 that killed more than 250 people and injured approximately 500 others.

Afghanistan is the greatest exception to these statistics. In 2019, the number of terrorist incidents by the Taliban in Afghanistan increased. Now that the terrorist group has taken control of the entire country, this trend will likely continue to worsen.

Notably, Christians are still the group most likely to be on the receiving end of religious harassment. In 2019, countries harassing Christians increased from 145 to 153. 

Government Restrictions Remain High

The report’s Government Restrictions Index measures government laws, policies, and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices. In 2019, the number of government restrictions reached its highest level since 2007. Most of the countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions were located either in the Asia-Pacific region or in the Middle East-North Africa region.

Pew’s study reveals that government harassment and interference against religious groups were present in 163 countries (82 percent). All 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region and 91 percent of the European nations had this type of occurrence. These include governments prohibiting certain religious practices, withholding access to places of worship, or denying permits for religious activities or buildings.

High-Tech Threats to Religious Freedom

For the first time, Pew’s study measured governments’ use of online restrictions and advanced technologies (such as surveillance cameras, facial recognition technology, and biometric data) to target religious groups. Pew found that 28 countries (14 percent) have some type of online restriction of religious activity, and 10 countries use technology to surveil religious groups. Most of the countries were located in either the Asia-Pacific region or in the Middle East-North Africa region.

For example, in the United Arab Emirates, the government blocked websites with information on Judaism, Christianity, and atheism. Iran launched cyberattacks against religious minorities. China installed surveillance equipment in houses of worship, used facial recognition technology to monitor and collect biometric data on Uyghur Muslims, and installed software on their phones to monitor their calls and messages. 

Government Repression Is Brutally Enforced

Worst of all, Pew found that 48 percent of all nations used force against religious groups in 2019. China, Myanmar, Sudan, and Syria tallied over 10,000 use-of-force incidents each. These incidents include property damage, detention, arrests, ongoing displacement, physical abuse, and killings.

Among the 25 largest nations (which account for 75 percent of the world’s population), Egypt, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Russia recorded the highest overall levels of restrictions and hostilities against religious people.

Conclusion

Pew’s report demonstrates that many governments are attacking religious freedom rather than protecting it as a human right. Although much has changed since 2019, including a global pandemic, government attitudes seem to remain hostile to people of faith. For now, we can rejoice in the moderately good news that social hostility to religion declined slightly even as we take action to combat problematic global trends. Religious freedom for all people everywhere is worth fighting for.

Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Cristina Cevallos is majoring in law at the University of Piura in Lima, Peru.

What Does the Future Hold for the Pro-life Movement in Mexico?

by Arielle Del Turco , Cristina Cevallos

October 6, 2021

Culturally conservative Mexico made international news last month when its Supreme Court decriminalized abortion. Four Mexican states had already legalized abortion, but the Supreme Court’s decision marks a major shift for a country with one of the largest Catholic populations in the world.

Mexico has a fairly conservative and religious culture. Yet, the Mexican Supreme Court dictated from the top down a decision that likely wouldn’t have passed if put to the Mexican people for a vote. A strong majority (60 percent) of Mexicans oppose abortion.

On September 7, the Mexican Supreme Court unanimously declared some articles of the state of Coahuila’s Penal Code, which penalized those who had or assisted in an abortion, as unconstitutional. Two days later, the same judges invalidated an article of the Sinaloa state constitution, which established: “[t]he State protects the right to life from the moment an individual is conceived.”

But the assault on life in the womb did not stop there. On September 13, the Mexican Supreme Court began to hear arguments concerning a law that seeks to restrict medical professionals’ conscientious objections to participating in abortions. A final ruling has yet to be made. 

This attack on conscience protections is devastating for people of faith, those who believe life begins at conception, and for medical workers whose professional opinions make them reluctant to participate in abortions. In the few Mexican states where abortion is legal, many medical professionals have refused to participate in carrying out abortions. Conscience protections are essential to protecting their freedom to live in accordance with their deeply held beliefs.

The Mexican Supreme Court’s decriminalization ruling implies that there are Mexican women in prison for having abortions. But that’s not the case. According to the National Penitentiary Registry of Mexico, no woman is currently in jail for having an abortion. There are five female abortionists currently serving sentences for carrying out illegal abortions, but even these cases were only prosecuted because they resulted in the death of the mother.

Notably, the chief justice of the Mexican Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar, said, “From now on, a new path of freedom, clarity, dignity, and respect for all pregnant persons, but above all for women, begins.” By referring to “pregnant persons” as opposed to pregnant women, Zaldívar is adopting a dangerous gender ideology that denies the scientific reality of the biological distinctions between the sexes.

Pro-abortion activists hope Mexico’s Supreme Court rulings will put pressure on other countries to take steps in the same direction. Mexico’s decriminalization decision comes right after Argentina’s legalization of abortion and Ecuador’s decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape. Pressure from international organizations is also a factor in abortion’s increasing momentum in Latin America. In Mexico alone, the International Planned Parenthood Federation has invested more than $18 million in abortion advocacy between 2008 and 2016.

In a New York Times op-ed, Melissa Ayala wrote about the Mexican Supreme Court’s decriminalization decision, saying, “The justices said what has long been intuitive to feminist activists: that someone who is not yet born does not have the same protection as someone who already is alive.” This is a disturbing and revealing sentence—one that gets at the heart of the pro-abortion argument. It’s the dangerous assumption that a child in the womb is not already alive and that a woman’s comfort and convenience is worth more than the unborn child’s fundamental right to life.

Sadly, the Mexican legal system is moving towards embracing a culture of death. Yet, there is still reason for hope for the pro-life movement in Mexico. On October 3, thousands of women rallied across Mexico to protest the Supreme Court decision. The pro-life majority should not let radical Supreme Court justices decide the fate of the unborn. Now is the time for pro-lifers in Mexico and across Latin America to make their voices heard.

Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Cristina Cevallos is majoring in law at the University of Piura in Lima, Peru.

Google’s Hypocrisy on Free Speech and Human Rights, at Home and Abroad

by Arielle Del Turco

October 1, 2021

This week, Google’s YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told Bloomberg that free speech is a “core value” for Google. Her assertion comes a week after Google and Apple deleted a Russian political opposition app from their app stores after Russian censors demanded they do so.

The app’s purpose was simple enough; it acted as a voting guide to encourage all opposition voters to vote for the candidate in their district most likely to beat candidates from the ruling party, United Russia. The app was part of a “smart voting” strategy developed by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Last year, Navalny was nearly killed by a nerve-agent attack suspected to be carried out by Russian agents on a flight in Siberia. After he recovered from the attack in Berlin, he returned to Moscow, only to be arrested upon arrival.

In his first interview from prison in August, Navalny described his experience to The New York Times, saying, “You need to imagine something like a Chinese labor camp, where everybody marches in a line and where video cameras are hung everywhere. There is constant control and a culture of snitching.”

Russian authorities accused Google and Apple of interfering with Russia’s September elections by hosting Navalny’s app on their platforms. Yet, free speech is hardly election interference.

Confident leaders don’t feel threatened by political opposition, and they don’t eliminate apps that encourage citizens to vote for other candidates.

Russian President Putin has gone to great lengths to suppress activism from opposition leaders—and in doing so, crush freedom of speech. Sadly, Google is enabling these human rights violations without putting up much of a fight.

Some Google employees are reportedly outraged about the move and frustrated that their company was so quick to accommodate the demands of foreign governments that have little respect for basic freedoms.

In addition to deleting the “smart voting” app, Google also blocked YouTube videos and Google Docs files meant to coordinate opposition voting. When tech companies like Google suppress speech on behalf of the Russian government or other oppressors, they are facilitating human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Google disallowed Live Action’s pro-life advertisements for abortion pill reversals earlier this month. Google claimed that “medical questions” about the reversal pill motivated the decision to disallow the ads. In actuality, the ads were cut shortly after abortion activists asked the company to stop running them.

Actions like these reveal something ugly about tech giants like Google. They are not actually concerned about upholding free speech or standing for human rights—at home or abroad.

Similarly, major U.S. companies like Disney have threatened to boycott U.S. states that pass pro-life laws, supposedly out of concern for a woman’s bodily autonomy and “right” to abortion. However, in the credits of Mulan, Disney happily thanked the same Xinjiang police units responsible for detaining one to three million innocent Uyghur Muslims in China, forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women, and aborting their children.

Tech giants’ concern about U.S. legislation and simultaneous disregard for egregious human rights violations in China and Russia is the height of hypocrisy. Americans should keep this history of duplicity in mind the next time Google or other corporations lecture or threaten states about policy decisions and claim to value “free speech.”

China Must Stop Sending North Korean Defectors Back into Grave Danger

by Arielle Del Turco , Tyler Watt

September 29, 2021

North Korea is infamous for having one of the worst human rights records on earth. In recognition of this fact, some human rights advocates dubbed September 24, 2021, as “Save North Korean Refugees Day.”

Crossing the border into China is the only option for most North Koreans trying to escape from North Korea. Yet, when they arrive in China, they face a whole new set of dangers. Most North Korean defectors are women, and most are sold into human trafficking once they arrive in China, often as brides for Chinese men.

Defectors who are caught by Chinese authorities and sent back to North Korea face an even worse fate, as the North Korean regime brutally punishes repatriated defectors. North Korean Freedom Coalition Chair Suzanne Scholte says that “certain torture, imprisonment and potential death” await the defectors upon their forced return to North Korea.

One Christian North Korean defector, Ji Hyeona, has shared her harrowing story of enduring a forced abortion in a North Korean labor camp after she was repatriated (the regime does not recognize half-Chinese children). She said:

Every night, I heard the screams of women going through forced abortions in the prison camp.

I, too, could not avoid this fate, as I was three months pregnant with a half-Chinese, half-Korean baby in my womb.

Where they placed me was not a hospital bed, but it was a desk. And a fearful-looking doctor forcibly pried open my legs and inserted forceps and started killing my baby in my womb by cutting up and shredding my baby.

This is the level of cruelty experienced by repatriated defectors.

The threat posed to religious freedom by these brutal repatriations should not be ignored. Upon their return to North Korea, one of the first questions defectors are asked by authorities is if they met any Christian missionaries. Responding in the affirmative would guarantee time in a labor camp or even a death sentence.

Many North Korean defectors encounter Christianity for the first time while in China, either by South Korean missionaries ministering to them or by seeking help from Chinese churches. For newly converted Christians, returning to North Korea is all the more dangerous. The North Korean regime views religion of any sort as a threat to the Kim regime’s stranglehold on the minds of its citizens—a threat they will brutally suppress.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea has become even more isolated and repressive. The U.S. State Department recently issued a statement condemning the North Korean regime for the “increasingly draconian measures [it] has taken, including shoot-to-kill orders at the North Korea-China border, to tighten control of its people under the guise of fighting COVID-19.” With devastating conditions such as these, it is all the more important that China stop repatriating North Korean defectors.

North Korea’s human rights violations, especially those against repatriated defectors, are well-documented. China is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which states that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. With North Korea’s long history of human rights violations, it is wrong for China to repatriate defectors back to North Korea. Instead, Beijing should cooperate with the South Korean government to help bring defectors to South Korea, a safe country that is ready and willing to take them.

Letters sent to President Xi Jinping and Chinese ambassadors have called upon the Chinese government to uphold the human rights of the defectors and pursue a plan to resettle to willing countries, especially South Korea which offers defectors automatic citizenship. Activists are delivering appeals for a change in policy at more than a dozen Chinese embassies located around the world.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused a brief pause in China’s repatriation of defectors, they have since resumed, placing thousands of North Korean defectors currently in China at risk. Now more than ever, the Chinese government should be held accountable for sending defectors back to certain punishment in North Korea.

The UK Is at a Crossroads of Conscience Concerning Assisted Suicide

by Arielle Del Turco

September 16, 2021

A bill proposed in the Scottish Parliament would legalize physician-assisted suicide, adding Scotland to a growing list of countries that allow the practice. What the Scottish Parliament eventually decides to do with the bill will reveal something about the conscience of the nation. Will Scots choose to tell their fellow man their lives are worth living, or not?

Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament, proposed the bill, which would allow terminally ill patients thought to have six months or less to live to choose to end their lives. All forms of assisted suicide are currently illegal across the United Kingdom (UK), but recent polling suggests the UK public is increasingly favorable towards the practice.

Critics of the bill from the medical field say that policies allowing for physician-assisted suicide fundamentally reorient the purpose of medical care. In July, 200 medical professionals signed an open letter opposing the bill, saying, “The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due to the immeasurable worth of every human life.”

The bill in the Scottish Parliament is part of a wider push for assisted suicide across the United Kingdom. Baroness Meacher introduced a bill in the UK Parliament in May that would similarly legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, demonstrating a failure to acknowledge that any person—even those who are terminally ill—who seeks to end his life is in need of love, support, and treatment for depression.

UK Bishop John Sherrington warned of the dangers of a gradual expansion of the criteria by which one might be eligible for physician-assisted suicide. Indeed, other European countries have slipped further down this dangerous slope. For example, Belgium and the Netherlands allow physician-assisted suicide for psychiatric reasons, even for patients in perfect physical health. Such an allowance makes it clear that a state’s endorsement of assisted suicide is really an endorsement of all suicide. Not surprisingly, both countries have seen a sharp rise in assisted suicide in recent years.  

A major victory for proponents of assisted suicide was announced on September 14 when the British Medical Association adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue when they had previously been against it. The vote was narrow—with 49 percent of the association in favor and 48 percent against the “neutral” stance—but the effects will be substantial. Members of Parliament had often pointed to the medical community’s opposition to assisted suicide when Parliament voted against it previously.

Proponents of assisted suicide say they are motivated to end physical suffering. But the reality is that many patients who choose assisted suicide do not cite pain as the primary reason. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund reports:

[T]he overwhelming majority of the people in Oregon who have reportedly used that state’s assisted suicide law wanted to die not because of pain, but for reasons associated with disability, including the loss of autonomy (89.9 percent), the loss of the ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable (87.4 percent), the loss of dignity (83.8 percent), and the loss of control of bodily functions (58.7 percent). Furthermore, in the Netherlands, more than half the physicians surveyed say the main reason given by patients for seeking death is “loss of dignity.”

The legalization of assisted suicide is intrinsically linked with devaluing the lives of people living with disabilities. While the reasons many people choose assisted suicide are not related to pain and suffering, they are related to struggles people with a disability face every day. Although not everyone with a disability has a terminal illness, everyone with a terminal illness eventually develops a disability. Society cannot condone those with terminal illnesses killing themselves without simultaneously condoning those with disabilities killing themselves. The message to those with disabilities is loud and clear: a life with a disability is not worth living. 

In addition, a 2007 study about assisted suicide patients in the state of Oregon found that 45 percent of assisted suicide patients made that choice out of fear of becoming a burden to their families. Thus, assisted suicide does not primarily serve to end suffering, as its advocates would have us believe.

Elderly patients, especially those who fear being a burden, are vulnerable to manipulation or family pressure, and it can be difficult to comprehensively safeguard against this. Even knowing that assisted suicide is an option can pressure some people into choosing death if they think they will become a future burden to their family or society. Instead of offering them assisted suicide, these concerns should be met with assurances that their lives are worth living and that we are prepared to love and support them to the end.

At its core, assisted suicide promotes a false compassion. It benefits caretakers or families who prefer not to observe or care for someone experiencing trials at the end of their lives, rather than the patients themselves. We ought instead to exercise true compassion, the root of which means to “suffer with.”

Even if assisted suicide was primarily utilized to end suffering, it focuses the efforts of doctors, medical professionals, policymakers, and others toward the wrong goal. The goal ought not to be ending human suffering at all costs. In a broken world, suffering will always be with us.

An appropriate goal that truly treats humans with dignity is to love people well by providing everyone with the best medical care, emotional and spiritual resources, and community support possible until their lives come to natural ends.

Doctors should be focused on healing patients and enabling them to live as well as they can for as long as they can. Premature death is not an equally valid option in the category of health care—rather, it sidesteps health care entirely.

The Scottish Parliament will debate the issue this fall, and the UK House of Lords will debate its bill later this year. One thing is for sure—this issue will test the conscience of the people. Concerned individuals should reach out to their members of Parliament about the dangers of assisted suicide and the value of all human life.

Those in favor of assisted suicide have co-opted the phrase “death with dignity,” but they fail to recognize that human dignity cannot be taken away by life’s circumstances.  It is because human beings have dignity that all people must be loved, supported, and cared for until natural death.

Biden Wants Us to Forget about Afghanistan. We Must Not.

by Arielle Del Turco

September 15, 2021

Even as the front pages of newspapers have noticeably shifted away from focusing on Afghanistan, reports trickling in from that country are increasingly troubling.

Recent reports tell us: Taliban fighters have hunted down and killed four elite Afghan counterterrorism agents from American and British-trained units. The Taliban’s new acting government is comprised of many of the same characters the United States and our allies kicked out of power in 2001. The United Nations has warned that one million Afghan children face possible starvation in a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

The effects of President Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan are still unfolding. Biden would no doubt love for his role in the Afghanistan debacle to fade quietly into history. We cannot let that happen.

Afghan women are perhaps the largest group of people to endure immense suffering in the fallout of the clumsy withdrawal and the subsequent Taliban takeover.

Countless women and girls in Afghanistan are facing an impossible future, with reports surfacing that women must be segregated in universities, women may no longer work alongside men, and women may be prevented from playing sports. These are disastrous steps backward for women’s rights in a country that made a lot of progress in the past 20 years. And it’s happening under Biden’s watch.

The Left has long styled themselves as the champions of women’s rights. So, what does the Biden administration have to say about the rights of Afghan women?

When asked about the future of women’s rights in Afghanistan during a Senate hearing this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that ever since the Taliban takeover, the U.S. government has “worked to rally the international community to set very clear expectations going forward to include the expectation that it will uphold the rights of women and girls as well as minorities.”

It’s unlikely that these lackluster diplomatic efforts will comfort the millions of women in Afghanistan who have just been sent back to the dark ages.

Presumably, the “minorities” Blinken referred to include religious minorities, such as Christians, Hazara Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Those who have not managed to flee are in great danger.

Eric Patterson wrote in Providence that “Christians and other religious minorities are fearful of venturing out in public, despite their needs for groceries, medical assistance, and other basic necessities.” Patterson also heard reports that Taliban spies collected the names of possible Christians by infiltrating crowds of people outside the Kabul airport hoping to escape.

Instead of working to help vulnerable Christians, the Biden administration made it more difficult for believers to flee. Private charities are still trying to help rescue vulnerable religious minorities and other at-risk Afghans with their own flights out of Afghanistan. Those involved in private rescue efforts say that the State Department has hindered efforts to rescue vulnerable Afghans.

It’s a life-and-death situation for those on the ground; what justification could there possibly be for blocking private flights not even headed to the United States?

In addition, the State Department also neglected to make religious minorities eligible for the Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting them access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Conversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death under the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, and Christian converts face almost certain death for their religious views. Even though there were only a small number of Afghan Christians to begin with (several thousand), they were not prioritized by the Biden administration.

Biden’s disastrous withdrawal will also forever affect the families of the 13 U.S. military members who died in a suicide attack from ISIS-K at the Kabul airport in the chaotic last days of the evacuation. The grief of their families will not soon subside. Although they volunteered to serve our country knowing the risks, poor strategic decisions unnecessarily put them in harm’s way.

Some commentators have noticed that the newsiness of the Afghanistan withdrawal is “over.” But not so for those whose lives have been forever changed. In his public comments, Biden seems to coldly evade that fact.

Biden’s disaster in Afghanistan is not over by a long shot. The suffering of millions of people will far outlast the news cycle. And so should our collective memory.

After Biden Abandoned Afghan Women, His “Women’s Rights” Rhetoric Rings Hollow

by Arielle Del Turco

September 8, 2021

In a bold act of defiance against the Taliban, hundreds of Afghan women took to the streets of Kabul on Tuesday morning, demanding that the Taliban respect their rights. Taliban fighters beat them with sticks and rifles in response. Validating the fears of Afghan women’s rights activists, the Taliban seems to be showing its true colors after initially attempting to reassure the world it would respect human rights.

This is happening as President Biden denounces the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to leave a Texas pro-life law—that protects an unborn child from abortion after a heartbeat is detected—in place and touts his own concern for women’s rights. In a statement, Biden said the situation in Texas is an example of why he decided to create a Gender Policy Council “to be prepared to react to such assaults on women’s rights.”

Biden can pretend to care about women’s rights, but that’s rich coming from the president who just triggered the most significant women’s rights crisis of our time in Afghanistan.

In the 1990s, the Taliban regime was notoriously oppressive for women and girls. With President Biden’s ineptly managed withdrawal and the Taliban’s sudden return, women have been sent back to the dark ages of Taliban rule. Many young women and girls who grew up in a democratic Afghanistan will be experiencing those dark ages for the first time.

Physical danger to Afghan women is great. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid recently warned that women should stay inside their homes since Taliban fighters “have not been yet trained” to respect women. And the targeting of women has already begun.

Well-known Afghan journalist Beheshta Arghand has already fled the country, afraid for her life. She said, “When a group of people don’t accept you as a human, they have some picture in their mind of you, it’s very difficult.” The Taliban has already been accused of murdering a pregnant policewoman. Other Afghan women who have achieved career success are afraid of being similarly punished by the Taliban.

The Taliban promised that women “will be given all their rights within Sharia ‘the Islamic laws.’” Unfortunately, the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law in the 1990s meant that women could not leave their homes without a male guardian, most women could not work outside the home, and girls could not even go to school or play sports.

Knowing the risks, many Afghan women have already stopped going to work, even though the Taliban promised women could work. Supposedly, recent measures which sent women home from work in parts of Afghanistan are temporary. However, Taliban requests for women to stay home after they seized power in Afghanistan 25 years ago were said to be temporary then, too. But it wasn’t temporary; it was the new reality.

The Afghans who fled to Kabul from other areas already held by the Taliban reported that Taliban fighters were forcing families to hand over unmarried women to become wives for the fighters. Some young women went into hiding as fighters searched houses, looking for victims to be used as sex slaves. 

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan perfectly demonstrates what an assault on women’s rights really looks like.

The Taliban takeover is a worst-case scenario for Afghan women, and they are devastated. Small groups of women have staged protests demanding basic rights. But few will be so bold, and most will mourn silently.

The ongoing work to secure women’s rights in Afghanistan was well known to American foreign policy leaders and human rights experts. Some had spent years working to improve the plight of Afghan women. So, it should not come as a surprise for the administration—or Biden himself—that women now face an impossible situation in Afghanistan. Yet, Biden’s hasty and careless withdrawal seems not to have taken women into account.

Caring about women’s rights means caring about women’s education, opportunities, equal treatment, and fundamental right to life. The situation unfolding in Afghanistan over the past few weeks proves Biden cares about none of that. If Biden wants to promote the “right” to kill unborn children in Texas, he can. But he cannot act like he is a women’s rights hero while doing so.

Protecting innocent children in the womb after they develop a heartbeat—which is what Texas’ new law does—is not a threat to women’s rights. Joe Biden’s policies, on the other hand, are.

IRF 101: Perils for Christians in India

by Arielle Del Turco , Tyler Watt

September 7, 2021

This blog is part of an International Religious Freedom 101 series providing an overview of religious freedom challenges in countries around the world. Read our previous installments on TurkeyPakistanSri LankaVietnamUzbekistan, and Nigeria. 

In May 2021, a mob of radical Hindus attacked Pastor Ramesh Bumbariya’s family after they refused to renounce their Christian faith. One of the armed assailants shot Bhima Bumbariya, the father of Pastor Bumbariya, killing him. Pastor Bumbariya and two other members of his family were hospitalized.

Even in the face of his father’s death, Pastor Bumbariya thanked God for His faithfulness. He was comforted by his conviction that God had a plan for his life to continue ministering to his community.

As Hindu nationalism continues to surge in India, the violence committed against this Christian family is just one example among hundreds. The violence stems from social hostility to religious minorities and state policies that reinforce such sentiments—making it more difficult for religious minorities to thrive in the Hindu-dominated state.

Mob Violence against Christians and Others

Christians in India number in the tens of millions but still only comprise just over two percent of the country’s population. Many Indian Christians come from historically lower castes in society, which can make them even more vulnerable to discrimination or social pressure. As the Evangelical Fellowship of India reported, the first half of 2021 saw at least 145 acts of violence perpetrated against Christians. These included several religiously motivated murders. These acts are all part of a larger effort to “purify” India of non-Hindu influences.

Some members of the Hindu majority feel threatened by the presence of Christians, especially when Hindus convert to Christianity. Some Hindus have led social movements to “reconvert” Indians back to Hinduism, even if the potential reconverts or their families were never adherents to Hinduism in the first place. These ceremonies are oftentimes forced or coerced.

Christians are not the only minority facing discrimination and threats because of their religion. More than 30 Muslims were killed in mob violence in New Delhi in 2020, following the passage of a law that created easier pathways to citizenship for specifically non-Muslim immigrants. The police were later found to be complicit in allowing these acts of violence to take place.

Several states in India have passed the “Freedom of Religion Act,” an ironically titled piece of legislation that makes it difficult or illegal for individuals to convert to their spouse’s faith at the time of marriage. Although proponents of the ban assert that a ban on this form of conversion protects women entering arranged or coerced unions, the result of the ban seems to disproportionately affect religious minorities. 

Anti-Conversion Laws Used to Control Faith

As previously documented by FRC, several Indian states have legislation restricting religious conversion. Odisha (formerly Orissa), Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand prohibit religious conversion by use of “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means” and “require district authorities be informed of any intended conversion one month in advance.” Punishment varies by state, but the maximum is imprisonment for a term of three years and/or a fine of 50,000 rupees ($700). Some states require “individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate in a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the government.”

Such anti-conversion laws prohibit people from converting to another religion, and governments utilize them to maintain a majority of the population within their preferred religion. They are often framed as if they are protecting people from being tricked or “induced” into changing their faith. Yet, they often discourage people from sharing their faith at all.

Activities that seek to convert people in these states must be reported to local authorities weeks in advance. As advocacy organizations like International Christian Concern have reported, the anti-conversion laws in place throughout India are one-sided, targeting religious minorities while leaving members of the Hindu majority unaffected.

Social Hostility and the Dangers of Hindu Nationalism

A growing political agenda pushed by Hindu nationalist political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sometimes inspires violence against Christians and Muslims. For example, this summer, members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) rallied in Chitrakoot (a town held as a holy site in Hinduism) and developed a new party slogan: “Chadar aur Father Mukt Bharat,” which translates to: “An India Liberated of Muslims and Christians.”

Whether the violence is directed toward Muslims, Christians, or any other religious minority, the outcome is the same: the social position of the targeted group is weakened. Religious minorities feel less comfortable meeting to worship, setting up new social services like schools and clinics, and even walking in the streets of their home cities and villages. An apathetic government allows persecution to continue, especially in far-flung rural areas far from the areas that experience greater influence from Western values of tolerance and religious pluralism. 

India’s status as a democracy and a strategic ally of the United States should not prevent us from speaking out in defense of vulnerable Indian believers experiencing persecution. Exposing the truth and praying for the protection of all downtrodden people are the first steps toward fostering a better future for believers in India.

Taliban Takeover Brings New Hardships for Afghan Women

by Arielle Del Turco

August 26, 2021

The Taliban is trying to convince the rest of the world that they will respect human rights, including women’s. But the women of Afghanistan aren’t buying this for a second, and neither should the rest of the world.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid recently warned women to stay inside their homes, saying, “We are worried our forces who are new and have not been yet trained very well may mistreat women.” Some Afghan women fear that the supposedly temporary measure of keeping women indoors will remain in place.

This comes after Mujahid promised last week that women “will be given all their rights within Sharia “the Islamic laws.” However, it’s wrong to put qualifiers on human rights. If Afghan women’s equality is based on the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, then they are not truly equal at all. The women who remember life under the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan from 1996-2001 know this better than anyone.

Previously under Taliban rule, women could not work outside the home in most instances, leave the house without a male guardian, or receive a proper education. This is a reality that Afghan women don’t want to revert to.

After the Taliban was defeated in 2001, Afghan women began a long struggle for basic freedoms and opportunities. Trailblazing women entered and succeeded in many sectors of Afghan society. They went to college, started businesses, and thrived when given the opportunity.

But the effects of Taliban rule were long-lasting, and the journey for women’s rights in Afghanistan over the past 20 years was difficult and still a work in progress in the male-dominated culture. Now, women fear a return to the way they were forced to live in the 1990s.

Many young women, especially those living in urban areas and who were too young to remember the previous Taliban rule, grew up with the expectation of receiving an education and having the opportunity for a career. When Afghanistan quickly fell to the Taliban, these women’s dreams were crushed.

Some who used to work outside the home now fear they will be punished for it. Author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon reported that a young woman who visited a makeshift camp in Kabul filled with families who fled Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan stated that, “Girls who had duty out of house [are] in greater risk, because [the Taliban] recognized them and then they punish, they ask you are Muslim why are you working out of you[r] home.”

Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Afghan air force pilot, worries that the Taliban might harm women who served in the Afghan Air Force as retribution. She has been a Taliban target herself. “They wanted to kill me just for what I have done, so I know what [Afghan women] are going through.”

Afghan women might lose the opportunity to have a career and even have a basic education.

Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent, spoke with a room full of Afghan women on August 10, 2021. She said, “The Taliban talks about how it’s changed now and girls can go to school, but I asked if any of these girls will be going to school, and I was told ‘Absolutely not. Girls don’t go to school.’” When pressed about why they would not be going to school, the women replied that the “Taliban says it’s bad.”

Worst of all, some Afghans who fled into Kabul from Taliban-held areas prior to the group’s takeover of the city claimed that Taliban fighters were demanding that communities surrender their unmarried women to become wives for fighters, essentially treating these women as sex slaves. This is a terrifying possibility for any family.

It remains to be seen what life will look like exactly for Afghan women and girls under the Taliban in the coming months. Yet, many are scared and facing an unimaginable future. Careers will be destroyed, young women’s safety is at risk, and hope for young girls’ futures is diminishing. 

U.S. leaders and intelligence officials knew how bad the Taliban would be, especially for women. When President Biden withdrew from Afghanistan, knowing what the consequences would be, was he also giving up on women’s rights in Afghanistan? Afghan women have just been sent back in time 20 years, and they have a long road ahead of them to reclaim their basic freedoms once again.

Every single woman in Afghanistan is created in the image of God, possesses inherent human dignity, and deserves to be treated with respect and honor. Pray that they will be.

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