Monday, September 22, 2008

USCIRF calls for cancellation of meeting with Ahmadinejad

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom sent a letter on Friday to the leadership of Religions for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, Quaker United Nations Office, and World Council of Churches—United Nations Liaison Office to protest their invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to take part in a “dialogue” on “the significance of religious contributions to peace” (see below).

The letter reads as follows:

On behalf of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, I am writing to express profound concern over your organization’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for what is termed an “international dialogue” on the topic, “Has Not One God Created Us?  The Significance of Religious Contributions to Peace.” 

While organizations such as yours espouse the value of mutual understanding through dialogue, in this case we are convinced that this invitation and this platform will be counterproductive.  President Ahmadinejad has manipulated such dialogues repeatedly into a platform for spreading hatred.  He hosted some of the world’s most notorious deniers of the Holocaust, racists and anti-Semites at a 2006 conference questioning the well-established facts of the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of a member-state of the United Nations.  The only accomplishment of such an invitation would be to burnish the Iranian leader’s legitimacy and cleanse his reputation as a purveyor of hate.

It is disturbing enough that a leader who has worked so ruthlessly to close off channels for free expression at home should be given an opening to expound his views here.  But the invitation to President Ahmadinejad comes amid a rapidly accelerating deterioration of religious freedom and other human rights in Iran, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions often based on the religion of the accused.

The Iranian Parliament currently is finalizing a new penal code that for the first time would legally enshrine the death penalty for so-called apostasy, putting the members of many religious minority communities at grave risk.  More than 20 Baha’is currently are in prison in Iran on account of their religious identity, and two Christian men were charged with apostasy earlier this month.

While the government has announced its suspension of stoning to death—although this is not the first time such claims have been made—Iran has continued the brutal execution of minors, with reliable reports that at least six have been executed this year, two of them just last month.  Four women leaders of the One Million Signatures campaign, which is dedicated to ending discrimination against women in the application of Islamic law in Iran, have been jailed for six months for allegedly “spreading propaganda” against Iran’s Islamic system by advocating for its reform. 

Muslims are hardly immune to the repression.  In recent years, hundreds of prominent Muslim activists and dissidents from among the Shi’a majority advocating political reform have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of seeking to overthrow the Islamic system in Iran; others have been arrested and detained for alleged blasphemy and criticizing the nature of the Islamic regime.  Reformists and journalists are regularly tried under current press laws and the Penal Code on charges of “insulting Islam,” criticizing the Islamic Republic, and publishing materials that deviate from Islamic standards.

Because of these recurring and egregious violations of religious freedom, the Commission continues to recommend that Iran be included in the U.S. State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern.” Since 1999, Secretaries of State from both the Clinton and Bush administrations have agreed. 

Inviting this leader undermines the legitimacy and seriousness of the “dialogue” termed “the significance of religious contributions to peace.”  Just today, the State Department issued its annual International Religious Freedom Report, which underlines the long history of human rights violations in Iran and the continued deterioration of religious freedom conditions under President Ahmadinejad.

We are concerned that your “dialogue” will be merely another platform for President Ahmadinejad to espouse an ideology of intolerance. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom would recommend that this event be canceled and that in any event you withdraw your organization’s co-sponsorship.

I look forward to your reply.

Respectfully yours,

Felice D. Gaer

We at The Voice of the Martyrs echo this call. We urge any Canadian church leaders who may be planning to attend this event (as some did last time), to reconsider and refuse to attend as an act of solidarity with Christians and other religious minorities in Iran and an act of protest against the oppression of this regime.  There is a time and a way for constructive engagement to occur; we do not believe that this event contributes to such engagement in any meaningful way especially on the topic to be discussed. We will be very disappointed if evangelical leaders from Canada, in particular, attend this event.


Tim said...

I know this is probably a harsh comment to make, but this event reminds me of Balaam being rebuked by the donkey. In this case the donkey being USCIRF, who can see clearly who Ahmadinejad is while Balaam seems to be completely blind to it.

The Church ought to be smarter and better informed than government offices like this one are because we're one of the few genuinely international networks of people. But instead it's the other way around. Our ignorance of people like the president of Iran and the issues surrounding him I think are symptoms of how detached and introverted the North American church has become to the point of being almost dangerous to those who are actually working for religious freedom and justice in the world.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good article on this important meeting online (website removed by moderator as per this website's comment policy)

I especially admire these quotes:

"Jesus ate with lepers and with tax collectors, and in the United States right now, Iran would be in that category," says Arli Klassen, executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee, an outreach arm for Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada.

"The criticisms levied at Jesus were that he ate with ... people of ill repute, and we're getting similar criticisms."


"You can't just engage with people with whom you agree on all issues," Graham says. "That leads to a very myopic view of the world. And you miss a lot of opportunities with that approach."

Thank you MCC for having the courage to work at peacemaking even when it's not popular!

Glenn Penner said...

But did Jesus eat with Herod Antipas? I think that this might be a more appropriate comparison with Ahmadinejad.

Anonymous said...

The point of the USCIRF is, I believe, well stated and surprisingly blunt in its honesty. I see this as simply a warning to some rather naive people. Europe "dialogued" with Hitler (someone Ahmadinejad seems to respect); Look at the results. Does MCC and company really want to be a part of that?

Jesus ate with those society rejected. In tying that together with this dialogue, supporters are basically saying "Poor, misunderstood and abused Ahmadinejad." Let me guess ... they will also argue that all the bad things supposedly said by Ahmadinejad are fabrications by the great enemy of the world, Satan himself, George W. Bush.

Thankfully, most of the world can see through this mad man. Unfortunately the agenda of the WCC, MCC, etc. has blinded them so much they can't. We can only hope this doesn't encourage this lunatic too much.


Tim said...

It's probably not necessary to point this out on a blog like this, but maybe if the Church as a whole had closer ties with the persecuted Church then they'd understand those who are doing the persecution much better and be able to respond to the persecutors in a more effective way.

Herod Antipas - Ahmadinejad
I think that hits the nail on the head. Jesus was a carpenter too...