Features

All politics is local

"All politics is local" Continued...

Issue: "Fighting words," Jan. 12, 2002

Even European allies are discovering political risks at home. Germany has arrested hundreds of suspects in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, but its war on terror forced Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder into a no-confidence vote late last year. A Social Democrat who depends on the leftist Green Party in his coalition, Mr. Schroeder lost its support after he activated 4,000 German soldiers for combat duty outside Europe for the first time since World War II. He won by just two votes.

Eager to show whose side they are on, army chiefs from Southeast Asia announced that they will hold multilateral war games as part of a coordinated response to a potential terrorist attack. They also signed a declaration on terrorism that for the first time binds them to share intelligence information.

These are the kinds of steps that earn brownie points in the war on terrorism. But they paper over problems at home. Half of the Association of Southeast Asian partners-Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar (also known as Burma), and Vietnam-are blacklisted by the U.S. International Religious Freedom Commission for their persecution of Christians.

Laos increased its own internal campaign against Christian believers just as the world turned its attention to terrorism. Local officials notified teachers last September that they must renounce Christianity in order to keep their jobs. Those who refused have been told to expect layoffs.

Indonesia attracted worldwide attention when Muslim fighters surrounded and attacked Christian communities in Sulawesi with threats of a "bloody Christmas." The confrontation cooled when an elite Indonesian army unit moved in and disarmed some of the fighters. Police forces once loath to crack down on the Muslim-led violence are under new pressure to isolate radical Islamic elements. Doing so without undermining political stability is the new challenge.

It is a challenge also confronting international peacekeepers in the Balkans. They have been reluctant to investigate recent fires that have destroyed at least 30 religious sites in Macedonia, including 14th-century frescoes. Brittle peace between Serbs and ethnic Albanians gained a new dimension after Sept. 11. There is at least some evidence that some of the mostly Muslim Albanians-defended by U.S. forces in Kosovo and now by international peacekeepers-received training and support from al-Qaeda.

Macedonia's Serb-led forces claim the ethnic Albanian fighters draw from mujahedeen troops who are veterans of conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya. During a guerrilla offensive last May, Macedonian forces say they came under fire from U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles the guerrillas acquired from Afghanistan.

Guerrilla forays post-9/11 are branded "terrorist attacks." But peacekeepers are also careful to put demands on the Serb authorities and to overlook religious strife. Defining the conflict on religious grounds risks reigniting it.

Those elements cannot be ignored, according to religious freedom advocates. "Religious freedom and human rights must be an essential part of any campaign against terror," said Larry Goodrich, spokesman for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "They are not luxuries to be dispensed with in this campaign."

Mr. Goodrich admits that the sweeping effort to bring nations into the anti-terror coalition "changes the equation." But it should not end scrutiny over other abuses. "It doesn't mean we suddenly forget about our values," he said. "But there are those in the administration who would argue that the war on terrorism trumps everything. We do not."

While fighting terror remains Job No. 1 everywhere, folks like Mr. Goodrich want to make sure other hot spots don't simply fade to gray.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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