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Minding the victims

Trump officials highlight religious freedom—and have work to do

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Nadia Murad moved quietly, almost invisibly through the crowd in Remembrance Hall at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. In a sea of heels and pencil skirts, she wore a khaki jacket over a black T-shirt and pants, her dark hair loosely pulled back.

Murad was among a gathering of modern-day holocaust survivors with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Sam Brownback for the opening of a three-day U.S. Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. I had looked for her among the lineup as Brownback spoke on July 23, and missed her. Murad’s story is so large in my mind I wasn’t prepared for how small she would appear.

We spoke, and at first Murad protested that her English was poor, but she warmed and gazed into the distance as she talked about her family. I had to remind myself she is 25 years old. She could be a girl, but her face wears more years. It registers something between anguish and surprise, like someone who has seen something terrible she cannot shake.

By the time ISIS completed its invasion of Iraq in 2014, Murad’s village was wiped out, six brothers killed, and every woman taken captive. Murad herself would be traded to multiple ISIS leaders and at one point locked in a room with six militants who “continued to commit crimes to my body until I became unconscious.”

The U.S. failure to grant safe haven to some of those who clearly can’t remain in their own country undermines the message on religious freedom.

You can read her story in her excellent 2017 book, The Last Girl. But when it was all over Murad was an exile in Germany, receiving a phone call from Iraq when the army discovered her mother’s body in one of dozens of mass graves.

Aug. 3 marks the fourth anniversary of the ISIS genocide of Yazidis in Iraq. Besides the thousands ISIS killed and enslaved, thousands remain missing, including some of Murad’s relatives. A Yazidi population of 400,000 before 2014 in Iraq has been obliterated.

One thing the State Department did right in the three-day July ministerial was focus not only on the big picture of global persecution, but highlight its faces. Besides Murad, moving testimonies from Uighur Muslims, Iranian Christians, Nicaraguans, and Tibetans gave voice to persecution’s real terror. I found Murad again on day two of the ministerial, speaking to officials in a small anteroom marked “Survivor Safe Space” in the State Department’s basement. The professionals in this arena must continually focus on the real lives, particularly the young ones.

Another thing the State Department did right was highlight not only Christian persecution but the persecution of Muslims in China, Jews in Europe, Yazidis in Iraq, and others. Christians are among the most persecuted, but they are not the only ones. We at WORLD also want to continue this focus—a reflection of humanity created in the image of God and religious liberty a universal right He gives.

Due credit goes to the State Department for highlighting religious freedom with a high-level event—one that included top government officials from 85 countries plus hundreds of civil society workers in the trenches. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo committed to holding such an event every year. The diminutive Murad receiving a standing ovation before such a crowd truly was moving.

But the Trump administration has more work to do. Nadia Murad may be welcome to the United States as a visitor, but not as a refugee. In 2016 the United States admitted 524 Yazidis from Iraq. In the 10 months of fiscal year 2018 it has admitted 0. Zero. From nearly 2,000 Iraqi Christians admitted in 2016, the number in FY2018 has fallen to 14.

When I asked Pompeo about this before the ministerial, he said, “Our preference is that we have ministerials like this one so they can experience religious freedom in their own countries. The objective is to create a capacity for every country to protect the religious freedom of its own citizens.”

To a watching world the U.S. failure to grant safe haven to some of those who clearly can’t remain in their own country undermines the message on religious freedom. Be assured, the left is not watching these numbers, is not standing up for persecution victims. It will fall to Christian believers to seize the moment created by the State Department.

Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine’s first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and now senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C.



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"It will fall to Christian believers to seize the moment created by the State Department."  Could you tell us ways we can do this?  Reading the article, I didn't see any ways open to help.