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The Left's Evangelical Equivocation By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 14, 2008

Striving to turn evangelicals against the Republican Party, the Evangelical Left has argued for a wider “basket” of issues that ought to concern conservative Protestants.  In this equation, marriage and abortion are no more important, and perhaps less urgent, than Global Warming, expanding the Welfare State, and opposing the Iraq War (or at least U.S. participation in it).  This argument is similar to, but less sophisticated than the late Catholic Cardinal Bernardin’s advocacy in the 1980’s of a “seamless” garment of life, that equated abortion with capital punishment and [U.S.] possession of nuclear weapons.

In fact, these “seamless” arguments, while appealing to liberal audiences, ignore or minimize historical Christian teaching. Nearly all branches of Christianity have common and ancient teachings about marriage and abortion.  There are not similarly unshakeable church traditions about contemporary U.S. foreign and domestic policies, despite the Religious Left’s assertions and hopes for replacing Christian orthodoxy with the its own politics du jour.  

Writing for Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, United Methodist minister Omar Al-Rikabi made the latest attempt to seamlessly equate abortion with the Iraq War.  Himself part Iraqi, and now a pastor in Texas, Al-Rikabi compared a photo of his Iraqi cousin, since killed in the war, with a sonogram of his own unborn child in the U.S.  

“On one side, so-called ‘values voters’ rally for the right to life of the baby,” Al-Rikabi noted of pro-life Evangelicals in the U.S.  “But they see my cousin’s death and the displacement of his family as ‘collateral damage’ in a war for freedom and their own security.”

Al-Rikabi provided no details of his cousin’s death.  Was he killed by U.S. forces?  If so, was he felled inadvertently?  Or was he killed by sectarian Iraqi forces or by allies of al-Qaeda?  And do not these questions need answers before cavalierly comparing his demise to a cosmetic abortion in the U.S.?  Or does Al-Rikabi, like others on the Evangelical Left, sweepingly fault ALL deaths in Iraq upon the U.S.?

“When I look at the reality of my family in light of a consistent ethic of life, all I hear from most politicians and preachers are inconsistencies,” Al-Rikabi complained.  “Both sides argue freedom for a way of life. But is any of this really about freedom, or just misplaced selfishness? Could it be as Bono once sang that, ‘what you thought was freedom was just greed.’”

The U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein was “selfish?”  Al-Rikabi did not elaborate in his short column.  Perhaps he thought the assertion was simply self-evident.   His blog includes an ostensible “Iraq body count,” that numbers between 88 and 97 thousand civilian deaths in Iraq, since the U.S.-led invasion.  Each of those civilian deaths naturally is horrible.  But why no reference to the numbers of Iraqis killed by their own government BEFORE the U.S.-led invasion to remove Saddam?   Or does Iraqi history before 2003 not matter?

Saddam’s murdered Iraqi civilian victims number in the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps more than 1 million.  They include tens of thousands of Kurds and Shiites massacred en masse, not to mention thousands of regime opponents executed more selectively, often preceded by excruciating torture.  Add to that figure hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died needlessly during the UN sanctions regime, because Saddam preferred to spend his billions in oil profits on palaces and self-aggrandizement than on hospitals and medicine.  During the UN sanctions imposed during the 1990’s to inhibit Saddam’s endless thirst for weaponry, leftist critics exclusively faulted the U.S. for Iraqi civilian suffering.  But those critics lost interest in the sanctions’ impact after 2003, when Saddam’s monstrous manipulation of the sanctions regime, in cahoots with profiteering war opponents in Europe, was exposed.  Likewise, the “no-fly zones” protecting Iraq’s Kurdish and Shiite populations, courtesy of the U.S. and British air forces, maintained across more than a decade, and almost certainly sparing hundreds of thousands of more lives from Saddam’s murderous ambitions, are now largely forgotten.

For much of the world, mass killing does not politically register unless filmed and televised by Western media, to which Saddam’s victims lacked access, regrettably.  And for the international Left, no killing is politically interesting unless it can be faulted directly or indirectly on America.  Saddam ranks with Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and the Rwandan genocidalists as one of the 20th century’s greatest killers.  But the mass graves of Saddam’s victims, or the scholarly chronicling of the true totality of his genocides, do not currently merit fashionable attention.  It’s more politically expedient simply to ascribe Iraqi suffering to American “greed,” as Rev. Al-Rikabi seems to prefer.

How or whether Saddam’s massive crimes would have been stopped, absent the U.S.-led intervention, is not explained by war critics such as Rev. Al-Rikabi.  Neither are they typically interested in distinguishing between the tragic but accidental civilian deaths caused by the U.S. military, versus the very deliberate mayhem of sectarian militias or al Qaeda, with their suicide bombs, beheadings, and child friendly booby traps.  Acknowledging the atrocities of Iraqi insurgents whom the U.S. military has now largely suppressed or co-opted would not jive with Rev. Al-Rikabi’s personal spiritual growth narrative.

Claiming that his previous mind-numbing evangelical church virtually brainwashed him into voting Republican, Al-Rikabi blogged about escaping his supposed evangelical naiveté (http://www.firstbornstories.com/).  “How was Clinton’s lying to get into an intern’s pants worse than Bush’s lying to get into war?” he wondered, with sophistic analysis.  “I became disillusioned sitting in church services where the pastor preached against the horrors of abortion, but supported the horrors of destruction in the Middle East and the innocent children who suffer there.”

Rev. Al-Rikabi proudly recounted that last year he apologized to his Iraqi father for having voted for George W. Bush, never having imagined that his “vote would support the death and destruction of your homeland of Iraq.”  But what about the death and destruction in Iraq before 2003?  For the Evangelical Left, along with other unthinking war critics, the hundreds of thousands of Saddam’s voiceless victims merit no attention because they offer no utility for the Evangelical Left’s political agenda in America. 

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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