Christian leaders and secular governments around the world have condemned, with good reason, the recent decision of a Turkish court to reconvert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Indeed, this ruling is just the latest step in a century-long effort by the Turkish government to erase both the history and presence of Christianity in Turkey. And while President Erdogan’s advocacy for this change is little more than crude pandering to conservative Islamists in the wake of growing criticism, the ruling forces a series of hard questions for the advocates of persecuted Christian minorities in the region who use the framework of “religious freedom.”
For starters, there is the question of whether or not the forced transformation of Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum in 1935 was, objectively speaking, the just outcome of an aspiring democratic society. It is no secret that Kemal Ataturk, the engineer of the modern Turkish state, pursued this change as part of a wide-ranging plan to break from the historic authority of Islam in Ottoman society and to advance his vision for a future Turkey that would be radically secular.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently released its 2020 Annual Report. As Christian persecution intensifies across the globe, the report provides much needed data and findings from high-persecution regions, such as the Middle East. Importantly, it also recommends the worst violators of religious freedom at the governmental level to the Department of State for Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) status, which can trigger a number of actions (including sanctions). USCIRF also recommends countries with religious freedom violations, but not quite at the CPC level, for Special Watch List (SWL) status. Middle Eastern Christians stand to benefit greatly from this report’s analysis and recommendations, and it is imperative that the White House and Congress prioritize the USCIRF report as they seek to advance the principle of international religious freedom.
As Donald Trump’s newly-minted administration struggles to adhere to a concise foreign policy, an independent commission has thrown yet another cog in its long-lost dream of a productive relationship with the “very smart” Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a recently released annual report issued by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)—an independent federal commission tasked with advising the State Department and other policymakers on matters of religious freedom—one country name stuck out like a sore thumb among the organization’s list of countries of particular concern (CPC): Russia. Continue Reading…