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Ayatollahs of the World Unite


Bill Berkowitz

Don’t look now, but President Bush and his allies on the Christian-right are cozying up to two ‘axis of evil’ countries. The U.S. has joined forces with Iran and Iraq -- as well as Libya, Sudan, and a number of other Islamic states -- to form a ‘culture war’-voting bloc at the United Nations.

Despite being branded by the U.S. as sponsors of terrorism, Iran and Iraq have nevertheless become reliable partners in a number of battles over social issues at the UN. There is something very strange about the Bush Administration actively plotting the overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and yet counting on that country’s support for anti-abortion, abstinence-only sexuality education and anti-gay votes.

“The alliance of conservative Islamic states and Christian organizations,” writes the Washington Post’s Colum Lynch, “has placed the Bush administration in the awkward position of siding with some of its most reviled a cultural skirmish against its closest European allies, which broadly support expanding sexual and political rights.”

The newly developed relationship between Christian-right groups in the U.S. and Islamic governments could be put to the test over the latest in a series of bigoted remarks made about Islam by Christian leaders since September 11.

The most recent dust-up came in mid-June at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis. There, Pastor Jerry Vines delivered a speech saying that Christianity had been founded by the virgin-born Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that “Islam is not just as good as Christianity.” Islam was founded by Mohammed, who was “a demon-possessed pedophile who had twelve wives -- and his last one was a nine-year-old girl,” Vines pointed out.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Were Pastor Vines’ remarks a slip of the tongue, a momentary lapse in judgment? Not really: Vines meant every word of what he said. And, while several U.S. Islamic leaders called Vines’ remarks ‘ignorant’ and ‘outrageous,’ reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, SBC leaders rushed to Vines’ defense. SBC’s new president, Dr. Jack Graham, called Vines’ remarks completely accurate. And the outgoing SBC President, Dr. James Merritt, agreed, adding “that while Allah is a god of work and fear, the God of Christians is one of ‘grace, love, and mercy.’”

Strange Bedfellows

While remarks such as the Pastor Vines’ might put a slight dent in the U.S. government/Christian-right/Islamic coalition, it is unlikely to undo the alliance that has been growing over the past few years. According to the Washington Post, the coalition is concerned with “halt(ing) the expansion of sexual and political protections and rights for gays and women at United Nations conferences.”

Austin Ruse, founder and president of the New York-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, told the Washington Post that “We look at them [Islamic states] as allies, not necessarily as friends. We have realized that without countries like Sudan, abortion would have been recognized as a universal human right in a U.N. document.”

Sudan is one of 53 nations belonging to the Organization of Islamic Conferences at the United Nations. It has been on the U.S.’s list of countries supporting terrorism, although since September 11 it has helped the U.S. in its “war on terrorism.” But Sudan has also been singled out by a number of Christian organizations for supporting slavery within its borders.

Mokhtar Lamani, a Moroccan diplomat who represents the Organization of Islamic Conferences at the UN told the Washington Post that U.S. Christian non-governmental organizations approached him in June 2001 at a special session of the U.N. General Assembly on AIDS. At the time, “liberal Western activists” were asking for “explicit” language calling for the protection of prostitutes, intravenous drug users, and “men who have sex with men” from contracting AIDS. “It was totally unacceptable for us,” Lamani said. “The Vatican and so many NGOs came up to us saying this is exactly the same position we are defending.”

According to the Washington Post, “The Islamic-Christian alliance claimed an important victory at the UN children’s meeting [in May].” Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, executive director and senior fellow at Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, provided this report card on the role of the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Children’s Summit:

• “‘A’ on the abortion issue”: The U.S. delegation was able to exclude “any language about ‘reproductive health services’ -- which is code for ‘abortion.’” Dr. Crouse describes this issue as the “Energizer bunny” because it “pops up wherever the UN has a conference, whatever the topic.”

• “‘B’ on the family issue”: While the final documents “acknowledge the importance and centrality of the natural family” the U.S. delegation was forced to accept the adding of the phrase “various forms of the family.” Dr. Crouse said the U.S. objected to the phrase because “it opened the door to homosexual unions.”

• “‘A’ for its abstinence stances”: Despite what Dr. Crouse calls “fierce opposition” from the press and other countries, the U.S. delegation held firm in its advocacy of “abstinence as an essential element of sex education and the most effective means of reducing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

• “‘A’ for strong provisions protecting children from child pornography, armed conflict, preventable diseases, early death and child prostitution”: The U.S. delegation “concentrated on a wide range of issues necessary for protecting the world’s 2 billion children and making the ‘world fit for children.’”

• “‘A’ for standing up to the world regarding the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)”: The U.S. continues to remain isolated as one of the only countries not to ratify the 1989 CRC treaty. According to Dr. Crouse, the U.S. objects to the treaty because: “It makes children’s autonomy rights the universal standard by placing the rights of children over the rights of parents; it allows children to access health services in general and abortion in particular without the knowledge or consent of their parents; it outlaws the death penalty for anyone under 18 years of age.”

A Whole New World

Once the UN was hated and feared by Christian-right groups as a weapon of the New World Order. Now many Christian-right organizations believe that through their involvement in the Bush administration -- and with support from their Islamic allies -- they can exercise some modicum of control over social policy at the UN.

In July 2001, the National Catholic Register’s Joshua Mercer trumpeted the “whole new world at the United Nations.” It represented a “sea change now that Bush is in the White House. He has turned the United States delegation into a staunchly pro-life and pro-family force,” Mercer wrote.

The “sea change” happened darn quickly. In February 2001, AgapePress, a Christian news service, reported that the Heritage Foundation had issued a report “sharply criticiz[ing] United Nations policies which seeks to undermine the traditional family.”

But later that month in a column in the weekly National Catholic Register, Austin Ruse pointed out that the changeover at the UN was moving along nicely. The Clinton years, which was “a breeding ground for family-unfriendly initiatives masquerading as sound social policy,” had been replaced by a family-friendly Bush administration. Ruse noted that the changeover was aided by the inclusion of Christian-right activists in U.S. delegations.

Fast forward to the recently completed UN children’s meeting in May. The U.S. team, reports the Washington Post, included a number of longtime anti-abortion and anti-gay advocates -- John Klink, a former adviser to the Vatican at previous UN conferences; Dr. Janice Crouse; and Paul Bonicelli of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., a Christian institution “that requires its professors teach creationism.”

“This alliance shows the depths of perversity of the [U.S.] position,” Adrienne Germaine, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, told the Washington Post. “On the one hand we’re presumably blaming these countries for unspeakable acts of terrorism, and at the same time we are allying ourselves with them in the oppression of women.”

June, 2002


Copyright © 2004 by Jerome Doolittle