Commission urges attention to religious freedom in war
December 7 2001 by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press

Commission urges attention to religious freedom in war | Friday, Dec. 7, 2001

Friday, Dec. 7, 2001

Commission urges attention to religious freedom in war

By Robert Marus Associated Baptist Press WASHINGTON - Religious freedom shouldn't become a casualty in America's war on terrorism, says a federal commission that monitors religious liberty around the world. Some observers say basic human rights may be already falling by the wayside in Central Asia and the Middle East as the United States focuses on building a strong international coalition against terrorism.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has in recent weeks asked President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to heed religious-freedom concerns in strategies to build both a military coalition and a new government in Afghanistan following U.S. military action.

"The commission believes strongly that the United States needs to be laying the groundwork now for a future Afghanistan that respects the rights of all persons - including the right to freedom of religion and belief - and strengthens elements of religious tolerance," the commission said in a letter to Powell.

The commission later warned both Bush and Powell against becoming too friendly with Uzbekistan, citing the nation's "abysmal treatment of religious exercise." The former Soviet republic, which has been used to support American military operations in nearby Afghanistan, has been documented for severe repression of religious practice.

In a letter, the commission said any non-humanitarian U.S. aid to the Uzbek government should be tied to ending religious repression. That includes the release of Uzbek citizens imprisoned for their faith and dissolving government agencies that regulate religion.

In a Nov. 27 hearing in Washington, the commission heard testimony from experts on religious freedom and the war on terrorism. It was the commission's first hearing since U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. Witnesses cautioned that many U.S. allies in the effort are listed among the world's worst abusers of religious freedom.

Paula Dobriansky, deputy to the Secretary of State for international religious-liberty issues, said the Bush administration hasn't lessened its commitment to religious liberty in the wake of Sept. 11.

"Many have raised concerns that we are partnering for the sake of our counter-terrorism objectives with some countries with less-than-stellar human rights records," she told the commission.

"We have not, however, suppressed our objections to their human-rights violations because of this increased cooperation."

Other experts testifying before the commission, meanwhile, said promoting religious liberty in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia would ultimately serve the long-term interests of U.S. national security.

"The widening of religious freedom must be a cornerstone of this effort (the war on terrorism)," said Amy Hawthorne, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This is not merely a humanitarian objective - it is essential to the promotion of U.S. interests in a stable, productive, peaceful Middle East."

The repression of fundamentalist religious groups in order to prevent terrorism in nations such as Pakistan, ironically, generally results in resentment and even more extremist religious sentiment, Hawthorne said. Interaction among faith groups in a religiously free society, meanwhile, tends to promote general tolerance and respect.

"Extremists like the al-Qaida network live in a symbiotic relationship with authoritarianism and disrespect for human dignity," she said.

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12/7/2001 12:00:00 AM by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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