For All Our Sakes, Trump Must Stand Up for Religious Freedom for Muslims, Too
After widely publicized fears of Donald Trump as a threat to pluralism and freedom, it is heartening to see Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, reject the idea of a Muslim registry during his confirmation hearing. When questioned on his position, Tillerson stated, “I do not support targeting any particular group.”
In the past, there have been instances where the United States has taken a clear and strong stand on religious freedom under the Republican leadership, even when the persecuted community was Muslim.
In 2005, the George W. Bush administration revoked U.S. visas of then-Governor of Gujarat State in India, Narendra Modi, for his role in anti-Muslim pogroms that left some two thousand Muslims dead in his state. Likewise, the 113th Republican Congress passed resolution H.Res 418 urging the Government of Burma to stop the persecution and extermination of Muslim Rohingya population.
At Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) posed the only question about religious freedom. He asked Tillerson what he would do in India, where faith-based humanitarian organizations from his state were being targeted by the Indian government because of their Christian affiliation as part of the Hindu nationalist onslaught against religious minorities. While Mr. Tillerson did not respond in detail, he was interested in learning more. Clearly Sen. Gardner has opened the door to an important conversation about the future of U.S. policy in India—and on religious freedom.
Modi’s rise to the Prime Ministerial position in India raises important questions about the future of U.S. policy towards a nation that is home to 1.2 billion people, including the third largest community of Muslims and significant populations of Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs. Each of these communities has faced large scale attacks by militant Hindu nationalist groups that supported Modi’s rise to power.
What will the U.S. position be toward countries like India where the present administration is promoting violent sectarian sentiments? Will the U.S. turn the other way when even democratically elected governments fuel religious conflict and place religious minorities in the path of increasing religious persecution? How will President Trump stand by Muslim communities who, along with Christians, are fearful of the growing nationalist intolerance that places their community and faith at risk in India?
The U.S. needs to stand for what Tillerson referred to as a position of moral clarity, where human rights are part of American interests, and not an “either or” proposition—both at home and abroad. We should be guided by our universal aspirations, of which religious freedom is an integral part.
America has an opportunity to stand for freedom at home and abroad, joining with millions of Muslims in America and around the world who want the same thing and will work with us to attain it.
Apparently, this is the approach Tillerson seems to have taken. He stated in his confirmation hearing, “If confirmed, I will ensure the State Department does its part in supporting Muslims around the world who reject radical Islam in all its forms.”
He would find millions of partners in Indian-American Muslims and their co-religionists in India.
America is home to nearly 3.3 million individuals who practice the Muslim faith. Many of these individuals come from communities that fled violence and persecution, much like many of America’s founding fathers, and are deeply committed to religious freedom.
A Pew Research report from 2007 indicates the Muslim American community is mainly middle-class and mainstream, with very little inclination for radical ideas. Per a Rand Corporation report in 2010, “the local Muslim community rejected al Qaeda’s appeals and actively intervened to dissuade those with radical tendencies from violence.” This is especially true for Muslim families that came to the U.S. from Iraq, the Balkans, China, and India. The U.S. has long championed their freedom and provided them refuge from persecution.
There is also a strong business case for the billionaire businessman turned President-elect to shore-up religious freedom. Denials of religious freedom are associated with poorer economic performance and lower global competitiveness, according to a study by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University. The study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011 and controlled for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences.
Across the globe, Muslim leaders are risking their lives to defend persecuted Christians and other religious communities. In Iraq, a country unraveling from ISIS, a Muslim judge who attended trainings conducted by Hardwired Global on religious freedom realized the need to defend minority faiths affected by ISIS in the courts. When ISIS sent him a photo of them beheading his brother, he responded by saying that “This is the fate that awaits every Iraqi if we do not stand together for religious freedom.”
It is time to come together to call on the President to present a robust policy for religious freedom in the new administration. It is something that Muslims and Christians and every person of faith requires to ensure we all have the freedom to live our faith and traditions openly and fully.
Americans have reason to be afraid of terrorism, including that perpetrated by those professing the Muslim faith. But if our responses are guided by our fears and suppress the religious freedom rights of others, no one will be safe from government oppression on the grounds of deeply-held beliefs.