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February 28, 2017

Wilberforce A!ert: Religious Freedom and National Security

Religious freedom is a national security and regional stability pre-requisite in the 21st Century. A lack of religious freedom increases risk of terrorism, war, and starvation.

Today we see this in Egypt, where The Economist reports that President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi is concerned that the thousand year old Muslim al-Azhar University is not doing enough to counter violent views of Islam. While the university espouses moderate views, it also tolerates violent voices that Sisi says are a rising, “source of worry, fear, danger, murder and destruction to all the world.”

But Sisi’s work is undermined by his own actions. According to The Economist, he has used the perceived legitimacy of the university to bolster his own claims to power, power that often uses authoritarianism when it is convenient to him. His hands are then relatively tied when members of the university file blasphemy lawsuits under laws which Sisi has allowed to stand and are often used to undermine religious freedom or propagate texts and curriculum used by extremists such as ISIS.

Another clear example where religious extremism threatens national and regional security is in Nigeria, where Boko Haram’s multi-year campaign against anyone without their views has sparked a famine. To escape the violence, families have fled their farms. These subsistence farmers need their crops to eat, and because of the violence, including a recent series of suicide bombings, humanitarian groups cannot reach starving people. A refugee crisis in Nigeria could dwarf the European one perpetuated by the civil war in Syria. As U2 lead singer Bono has warned, if Nigeria “were to fracture as a result of groups like Boko Haram, we are going to wish we had been thinking bigger before the storm.”

With increasing awareness of how religious freedom impacts America and her allies’ national security, it is vital to engage in new ways. We need the Trump Administration to acknowledge the link between national security and religious persecution. One way the Administration can do that is by honoring the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which states in Title III, “there should be within the staff of the National Security Council a Special Adviser to the President on International Religious Freedom.” 

Individuals can also take new action. We need leaders across this country to thank and encourage their congressional representatives for leadership on international religious freedom. Last week, 21CWI released a Congressional International Religious Freedom Scorecard, which tracks Senators and Representatives on their IRF work. Even if your legislators scored high grades, you can encourage them to do more, and the Scorecard is a fantastic launching pad for where to begin the conversation.

When considering the role religious freedom plays in keeping the U.S. and other countries safe, it is imperative we make this a foreign policy priority.

Take Action:

  1. Read  “US Foreign Policy and International Religious Freedom: Recommendations for the Next President” by the Religious Freedom Institute and the Institute for Global Engagement, which further explores the connection between national security and religious freedom.
  2. Become a leader by thanking your legislators for their leadership. Download the International Religious Freedom Scorecard to see how yours are doing.
  3. Empower emerging leaders by encouraging them to join 21CWI’s Emerging Leaders Conference. The deadline to apply is March 31, and details can be found here:
Region: Middle East & North Africa
Keywords: Al Azhar,Egypt,Nigeria,national security,IRF,religious freedom,21st Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Wilberforce,21CWI

Nathan Wineinger

Nathan comes to 21CWI from DAI, an international development firm. As the Director of Policy Relations, he brings 10 years of domestic and international policy, human rights, and coalition building experience working with government agencies, community service organizations, and public media. Nathan holds a Master’s of Public Policy degree from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in both Economics and Theatre from Washington University in St. Louis.

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