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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Quiet diplomacy?

Christians aren't the only ones who pay for Afghanistan's lack of religious freedom?

Issue: "On the rails," Oct. 9, 2010

There are two ways we journalists digest and retell the often cruel and besetting news of this world: We wall off our hearts, perhaps hoping to leave a working passageway for stuff that might somehow affect us personally; or we let the bad stuff have its way. We may cope by distraction-submersing ourselves in cigarettes, booze, late-night reruns, pet grooming, Facebook, shopping, model train collecting, or other. We may manage the horrors of life by returning to the scene of the crime, or otherwise living dangerously, or by looking to someone mighty enough to save.

I never get my walls built high enough. I'm weak and want to indulge distracting habits when I learn (as I did this week) of Christian workers overseas kidnapped, tortured, and raped, so traumatized they were unable to speak once released. I confess that looking to someone mighty enough to save is sometimes my last resort. The bad actors of the world seem too wicked. But the persecuted Christians usually bring me up short, because they are living this battle I only write about; they have counted the cost of following Christ and have decided to go all the way.

So I return to the scene of the crime, in this, another report on the state of religious freedom in Afghanistan. A number of people I respect and trust have asked me not to write on the topic, as they believe quiet diplomacy alone may work, and they say they have evidence to back up that belief.

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Since Afghan Christians were arrested over the summer after a nationwide broadcast showed Muslim converts to Christianity being baptized, several have been released. Several were escorted across the border to Pakistan to safety-hardly a long-term solution. But several remain in jail-also quietly: They have not been charged with crimes nor have their cases received diplomatic or other public attention, though some have been beaten and tortured. So a climate of fear remains, as Christians in Afghanistan do not know what their enemies-either in or outside the government-will do next.

The situation is serious enough that religious freedom advocates in Congress will formally address U.S. diplomats on it for at least a second time this month. Their letter will call it "particularly troubling" since American taxpayers have poured billions in aid into Afghanistan to ensure, in their words, "that the country is no longer an incubator for terrorist groups that can attack us, but rather a stable democratic society where fundamental freedoms are respected." It will warn Afghan leaders that the lawmakers "cannot justify taxpayer dollars going to a government that allows the same restrictions on basic human rights that existed under the Taliban."

The lack of religious freedom and the idea of quiet and semi-private diplomacy may be hard to swallow for the families of young American men and women who are fighting in Afghanistan and dying at a current rate of 1.3 per day. And it may turn out to be a disservice to Afghan Muslims who have lived for decades under similar quiet tyranny. Nameless Muslims far outnumber the Afghan Christians in Kabul's jails. We want equal protection under the law for them, too. Yet all may remain there, if President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite numerous communiqués, do not bring to bear the weight of their offices while Afghan officials-not nameless thugs-arrest Christians. A year from now it's hard to know what weight they, or others now involved in quiet diplomacy, will have in Afghanistan.

Watchmen on the walls are unpopular figures. Yet the Lord sends them, like Ezekiel, with trumpets when swords are unsheathed. And He sends them to warn not only the seemingly innocent-but also those who are causing trouble, who might otherwise die in their iniquity (Ezekiel 33:8). In the end it is not only persecuted believers in Jesus Christ but everyone who needs someone mighty enough to save.
Email Mindy Belz


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