CNS | Azerbaijan’s Grand Prix Transcends Sports, Speaks to Religious Freedom

Azerbaijan defies conventions on religious freedom. That’s precisely why Rev. Johnnie Moore, commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), issued a dissenting opinion on the recommendation in USCIRF’s recently released 2020 report to “include Azerbaijan on the U.S. Department of State’s Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act.”

“Azerbaijan does not meet the threshold necessary to be included in this report,” Moore wrote April 28. “As I have said before: it is a country where Sunni and Shi’a clerics pray together, where Evangelical and Russian Orthodox Christians serve together, and where thriving Jewish communities enjoy freedom and total security in their almost entirely Islamic country. It is a Muslim-majority country that has hosted prominent Hindu leaders and it is a Shi’a majority neighbor of Iran whose commitment to peace led it long ago to forge a vibrant, public, and diplomatic relationship with the state of Israel. Azerbaijan has had the challenge of bringing religious freedom into a post-Soviet legal framework, but — even in this — it has achieved much more than any of its neighbors.”

The following could easily be added to Moore’s analysis: Muslim-majority Azerbaijan has hosted the Grand Prix, a major international sporting event, during Ramadan. No nation is immune from criticism. But it’s only fair to judge Azerbaijan in relative terms, and in the context of the rest of the Muslim world.

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