Intolerance: What's the cure?
Publication date: 2001-05-10
Arrival time: 2001-05-11
LAST week, President Bush spoke against cruelties that are inflicted on religious minorities in many places around the planet.
Addressing the in Washington, he recounted how Orthodox Russians massacred Jews in pogroms at the start of the 20th century. He said President Theodore Roosevelt sent Russia's czar a telegram so stinging that the czar refused to accept it. When some complained that Roosevelt's rebuke was too strong, the president "replied that there were crimes so monstrous that the American conscience had to assert itself."
"And there still are. Such crimes are being committed today by the government of Sudan, which is waging war against that country's traditionalist and Christian peoples. Some 2 million Sudanese have lost their lives; 4 million more have lost their homes. ... Aid agencies report that food assistance is sometimes distributed only to those willing to undergo conversion to Islam.
"Iraq murders dissident religious figures. Iran systematically maltreats Jews, Christians and adherents of the Bahai faith. ... Afghanistan's Taliban government has horrified the world with its disdain for fundamental human freedoms, epitomized by its destruction of ancient Buddhist works of art."
President Bush's message is exactly on target: Members of underdog religions often are victims of persecution, usually by adherents of dominant faiths, but also by secular governments such as those in communist China.
But simply criticizing the cruelty doesn't end it. Curing the age-old menace seems almost impossible. How can outsiders go into brutal countries and tell majority believers to stop hurting minority ones? Nobody ever has found a solution to this problem.
The endless Sudan war began mostly because Muslim rulers in the north tried to make Christians and animists in the south subject to the Sharia religious law, which requires chopping off hands and feet, and stoning unwed lovers to death. Afghanistan likewise enforces this law, with even more severity.
What can the democratic community of nations do to prevent such horrors? If the United Nations were to mandate human rights and personal liberties for all minorities, the action would, in effect, tell those oppressive governments they can't apply the religious law they have chosen.
However, decency requires the world community to do whatever it can to protect minorities from murder and oppression. Therefore, we hope the United Nations redoubles its efforts to shield underdogs. And we hope that Bush's speech signals increased U.S. backing for this cause.
©Copyright 2001, The Charleston Gazette