There is a logical reason why Taliban forces have not been accused of destroying churches in Afghanistan.
“It’s the dirty little secret: There were no churches before the Taliban returned to power,” said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and human rights activist. man for 30 years. “The Christians were already underground because of the constant threats to their lives, so they had no church buildings to blow up.”
Everyone remembers the shocking videos of desperate Afghans chasing a US military plane down a runway in Kabul, begging to be among those evacuated. At least two people have died after clinging to a plane during takeoff.
There have since been reports of the dangers facing those who remain, particularly Afghans with ties to the US military, the ousted government, or workers from secular or religious nonprofit groups who have remained behind to continue the humanitarian work.
Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis, Shia Muslims and members of other religious minorities also live in fear.
“They’re all on the run. They’re all in hiding,” Shea said. “People are hunted down, beaten and threatened with death if they do not betray their family members who are considered apostates” by the Taliban.
It is impossible not to discuss religious freedom during this crisis, she added. “Everything the Taliban do is about religion. Religion is implicated when they hang people for breaking their approach to Islamic law or when they attack women and girls who want to go to school. Taliban, it’s all connected.”
The problem is that religious freedom concerns are often drowned out in debates about politics, economics, climate change and other issues in hotbeds of violence around the world. Consider northern Nigeria, where the Islamic State and Boko Haram continue to slaughter Christian farmers, or Hong Kong, where Communist Party threats are mounting against pro-democracy leaders, such as imprisoned Catholic media mogul Jimmy Lai. and retired Cardinal Joseph Zen.
At present, it is also impossible for the global media to cover the Winter Olympics without discussing what the US government has called China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” against the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
However, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stressed that the State Department — fulfilling an earlier promise to “reject” the previous administration’s approach — will no longer insist that religious liberty issues receive a particular attention.
“Human rights are…equal. There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others,” he said at a press briefing in the spring. “If you cannot assemble peacefully, how can you organize a trade union or an opposition party, or exercise your freedom of religion or belief? If you are denied equal access to a job or an education because of the color of your skin or your gender identity, how can you achieve health and well-being for you and your family?
However, during a hearing in the US Senate this week, Shea and other human rights activists urged Blinken to ask diplomats to consider religious freedom concerns when dealing with frantic requests for visas of thousands of people trapped in Afghanistan or trying to leave the grounds of the International Humanitarian City in the United Arab Emirates. This prepared statement notes that the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Freedom has warned that the Taliban appear poised to commit genocide against believers of minority religions.
This coalition asked Blinken: “Specifically, will you grant a presumption of eligibility for admission to the United States based on proof of religious minority status, rather than the existing extremely unrealistic requirement to obtain the testimony of a third party on the personal threats?
Meanwhile, the reality is that the Afghan economy is collapsing, resulting in hellish conditions that demand attention. United Nations reports claim that half the population faces acute hunger, while a million children are at risk of dying from malnutrition. Devastating media reports have focused on parents selling children, or their own kidneys, for food money.
Behind the scenes, death threats against religious minorities remain “a huge problem in Afghanistan,” Shea said. “The magnitude of what is happening is so terrible that it will be impossible to hide it for long. … These religious freedom issues are real, and history shows us that they are not going away.”
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.