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KLICE Comment March 2017

Illiberal Liberals?

Dr Vinoth Ramachandra serves on the Senior Leadership Team of IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) as Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement.

This article first appeared on his blog on 25 February 2017 and is reproduced here (slightly revised) with permission.

There are plenty of good arguments with which to criticize Donald Trump and his supporters without needing to resort to misrepresentation and one-sided rants. The liberal media in the US and Britain have tended to indulge in the latter, both during the presidential campaign and in the aftermath of his inauguration. ‘Trump wages war against Islam’ screamed the front page of a well-known liberal British weekly after his travel ban. But he did nothing of the sort. If it was ‘anti-Muslim’, why leave out many other Muslim-majority states, some of which have a worse record of repression than the seven that were targeted?

Trump’s justification was couched in the language of ‘stopping terrorists’ and ‘making America safe’. I’ve argued elsewhere that this was a foolish as well as an immoral and dangerous decision. But, however ‘Islamophobic’ Trump’s campaign rhetoric may have been, both the 27 January and 6 March executive orders were not.

The hypocrisy and double standards practiced by prestigious liberal media such as the BBC and the New York Times is well known. They were supporters of the war against Iraq, but suddenly turned self-righteously against Bush and Blair when the lies propagated by their respective intelligence agencies were exposed. On religious issues, the BBC loves to broadcast extreme viewpoints. In January, I watched an interview with an obscure black pastor who claimed that Trump was a ‘wonderful Christian’, but they have given absolutely no attention to several Christian leaders and organizations who have roundly condemned Trump’s polices as deeply antithetical to the Christian faith. So much for the coverage of ‘evangelical voices’ in the liberal media – which is simply a mirror image of the bias in the conservative media. Such media polarization ultimately undermines the sane, mutually respectful dialogue on which a liberal democracy rests.

When it comes to religious persecution, we see the same polarization in media coverage. The BBC, CNN, etc., give little airtime to such cases, especially when they involve Christians suffering under oppressive Muslim or Hindu regimes. Terror attacks on Muslim minorities in Muslim countries (e.g. the recent deadly attacks in Pakistan on Shia followers) receive little or no attention in the mainstream news channels, let alone the tabloid press in the US and Britain. We see the reverse in the conservative Christian media which only highlights cases of anti-Christian persecution.

Trump’s earlier decision to give priority in refugee applications to those minority Christians fleeing Muslim persecution was opposed as ‘discriminatory’ by liberal media and human rights watchdogs such as the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). It was rescinded in the 6 March directive. But where were these critics, when (for decades) US governments gave priority to refugees and asylum seekers who were their allies in military conflicts (such as Afghans during the Cold War) or to the rich or intellectuals – denying visas to the economically poor or disabled? I’m sure that if the Trump regime gave priority to homosexuals fleeing persecution in some African states, there would scarcely be a murmur of criticism. Governments do have a right to decide to whom they will grant visas. This is happening all the time, in every country on earth. The grounds on which such decisions are made should be transparent and open to moral criticism (for example, why favour the rich?), but charges of ‘discrimination’ carry little weight unless they are applied across the board to cover all forms of travel and immigration.

Of course, there are great dangers for the Christian church if Trump’s America were to be identified in the Muslim world as ‘Christian’ and enjoying the support of those who go to Muslim-majority countries as ‘missionaries’. Giving priority to Christians fleeing persecution can also lead to many bogus ‘conversions’ and persecution stories. But, given these important caveats, it is also necessary that the plight of Christians in Muslim states be brought to public attention by the secular liberal mainstream.

Anyone who writes on this sensitive issue has to be Janus-faced and so address the hypocrises on both sides of the political spectrum. Those evangelical Christians who support Trump’s denunciation of undocumented migrants in the US need to ask: why does he not crack down hard on all those who employ such vulnerable migrants? Human trafficking is alive and flourishing in the US; and those who come voluntarily are often working as near-slaves in many hotel chains, restaurants, factories and large farms. Blaming victims is an easy game and it is sad to see Christians playing it – and, at the same time, profiting from the labour of such folk.

In the meantime, it is equally infuriating to watch the smug complacency of European governments as they posture in opposition to Trump’s antics. We have a 20-year old friend from one of Trump’s banned countries who ended up in Sri Lanka after fleeing family and police in his own country after he had been baptized as a Christian. After a long and humiliating wait in the bureaucratic coils of the UNHCR, he was admitted to the US refugee vetting program in December and told that he would likely leave by May. Trump’s executive order of 27 January has demolished that hope. He is now told that he may have to wait another five years or more. He is utterly devastated.

My wife Karin, a Danish citizen, has taken our friend around some European embassies to see if they would consider his plight and treat him with empathy and understanding. She ran into a brick wall everywhere. ‘The only possibility of accepting him is if he applies from within an EU territory’, she was told. ‘Well, how does he get on a plane without an EU visa?’, replied Karin. They smiled politely and remained silent. But one official said, ‘He can arrive with a false passport, like others do.’ This is how European governments encourage illegal migration.

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