Steven Howard is the advocacy director for In Defense of Christians, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization advocating for the human rights of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
In today’s hyperpolarized environment, Beltway commentators and even think-tank scholars seem unable to resist the temptation to put a partisan twist on the most nonpartisan of causes. While some voices have attempted to politicize the issue of international religious freedom (IRF), the cause itself continues to attract wide bipartisan support.
While these reports are never perfect, their existence reflects how the US government is uniquely positioned to serve as a global leader in the promotion of human rights. USCIRF’s commissioners and staff deserve commendation for producing them.
When considering Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen many of these countries deserve commendation for participating in interfaith dialogues. However, they have made no significant progress in improving religious liberty within their borders.
Ignoring the democracy versus pluralism dilemma fails to address the core issue facing both communities at the onset and consequently will not yield a Middle East friendlier to human rights and religious liberty. This debate is one that governments and politicians themselves cannot lead. Civil society is where this discussion must take place, and believers themselves are the ones who should lead it.
Prioritizing human rights with the king, going to Morocco’s marginalized religious minority population, and calling upon the Church in Morocco truly to open its doors to Moroccans would make this apostolic visit a meaningful multifaith engagement.