If we’re totally honest, most of the world doesn’t really care much about American politics.
There are more than enough problems in the rest of the world to keep track of the unending fight between Democrats and Republicans. And there are more than enough pressing social issues to stay up-to-date with the latest battle of words between liberals and conservatives in America.
But it’s a whole different story when America’s squabbles creep into matters of global concern.
Today, nearly three-quarters of the world’s population — more than 7 billion people — live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion and religious hostilities. Religious violence and intolerance is one of the world’s largest human rights issue, and it should be a chief foreign policy priority for any government. This is exactly why the U.S. has designated an ambassadorship for international religious freedom.
Yet — despite all these reasons — Vice President Mike Pence had to be called in twice to cast a tie-breaking vote to confirm Gov. Sam Brownback as the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
Why the deadlock in the U.S. Senate? All 49 Senate Democrats opposed Mr. Brownback’s nomination because he staunchly believes in traditional marriage. That was it. They held up his confirmation — and had they possessed one more vote, would’ve killed it — simply because they disagreed with him.
Now, had Mr. Brownback’s views compromised his ability to defend the rights of people of all faiths, regardless of their gender or sexual identity, there would’ve have been valid reason to question his candidacy. But Mr. Brownback arrived at his confirmation hearings with an extensive record of protecting human rights and religious freedom around the world, including of diverse minorities such as the Baha’i of Iran and Russia’s Jews, as well as Christians in North Korea.
Mr. Brownback was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act (1998), which created the ambassadorship for international religious freedom. Yet the Senate Democrats — many who knew and personally worked with Mr. Brownback during his 15 years as a senator — would rather judge him on his personal religious beliefs than evaluate him based on his qualifications.
As Mr. Brownback’s confirmation hearings took place, 700,000 Rohingya Muslims languished in makeshift camps after being violently driven out of Myanmar, Christians and Yezidis struggled to rebuild their lives in the Middle East after ISIS’ genocidal campaign against them, anti-Semitism surged to record highs globally and in the U.S., and religious groups in scores of countries faced fierce persecution.
That alone says what mattered more to those senators: a petty argument, rather than an urgent global crisis.
Now a similar situation is unfolding with Ken Isaacs, President Trump’s nominee for the general directorship of the U.N. International Organization for Migration.
Shortly after the nomination was announced, The Washington Post ran a series of articles aimed at discrediting Mr. Isaac’s candidacy for the position and to pressure the U.N. from confirming him. The Post went as far as to opine Mr. Isaacs would be “an embarrassment to the United States.”
There’s no question Mr. Isaacs, currently vice president of programs and government relations for Samaritan’s Purse, has said — as he acknowledged — some careless things about Islam on social media. In a world obsessed with political correctness, anybody in a position like his should think twice before publicly expressing his opinions. But should a tweet disqualify him from the position?
In the past three decades, there probably hasn’t been a global humanitarian crisis where Mr. Isaacs hasn’t been present.
From the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides to the Haiti and Nepal earthquakes, the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and the crises unfolding in the Middle East, central Africa and South Asia, Ken Isaacs has organized relief efforts and served people in need regardless of their ethnic, religious or social background.
Under his guidance, Samaritan’s Purse opened a field hospital in Iraq to treat victims of ISIS. Not only did the hospital treat Muslims and Christians alike; it also treated injured ISIS fighters with the same level of compassion and care.
The day his nomination for the U.N. post was announced, Mr. Isaacs was in Bangladesh, treating Rohingya refugees, the vast majority which are Muslims.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon, defended Mr. Isaacs and provided the perfect blueprint of how to separate a person’s qualifications from his opinions.
“I’ve known Ken for more than 15 years, and in that period, I’ve utterly disagreed with him on politics and utterly admired his humanitarianism,” Mr. Kristof said. “He has been tireless in fighting for oppressed and desperate people of every faith and complexion, from Sudan to Iraq, Liberia to Bangladesh.”
The truth of the matter is that the issues in the world are too complex, the disasters too severe and the problems too pronounced to allow a mere difference of opinion to hinder our ability to respond to them.
Right now, 65.6 million people around the world are either refugees or have been forcibly displaced within their own countries. It’s the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Is it worth fighting over a tweet when so many lives hang on the balance?
America can’t constantly be going through the exercise of finding an excuse to prevent someone qualified from filling an urgently needed leadership role, especially when it’s a matter of global concern like religious freedom or humanitarian aid for refugees. Doing so exacerbates the problem and puts lives in danger.
That’s when America’s squabbles become the world’s problem.
• Joseph D’Souza is the moderating bishop of the Good Shepherd Church and Associated Ministries of India.
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