Nigeria & International Religious Freedom
(Congressman Frank Wolf, August 16, 2016)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
Congressman Frank Wolf was widely acknowledged as the “conscience” of the Congress during his long service in the House of Representatives. First elected in 1980, he left Congress at the end of his 17th term in 2015 to focus exclusively on human rights and religious freedom.
Long before the “Arab Spring” turned into an “Arab Winter,” Congressman Wolf sounded the alarm about the worsening plight of religious minorities, notably the ancient Christian communities in both Iraq and Egypt.
He has recently returned from a trip to Nigeria. Nigeria is on the verge of fracturing along religious fault lines. Ethnic and religious minorities in northern Nigeria face systemic and systematic discrimination. Muslims and Christians in northeastern Nigeria are profoundly and negatively impacted by the terrorist violence pursued by Boko Haram. Christians risk extinction in Nigeria’s northeast.
Congressman Wolf continues to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. In January 2015, he was appointed the first-ever Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University. That same month he joined the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a newly created religious freedom group, as Distinguished Senior Fellow.
He is the author of the International Religious Freedom Act, which infused America’s first freedom – religious freedom – into U.S. foreign policy by creating the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department.
Robert R. Reilly:
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I am Robert Reilly, Director of the Westminster Institute. I am so delighted to have you here. As we begin every one of these sessions, asking you to please turn off the ringers on your cellphones. Otherwise, the ringtone will be immortalized, which is broadcasting our presentation tonight live.
Before I introduce our speaker, I just want to call your attention to several upcoming events. After tonight you get the rest of August off, but then in September the first two speakers will be Muslims who are going to help us understand how within the Muslim frame of mind, Islam can be defeated and the first speaker is going to be Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, of whom I am sure many of you have heard, who is going to be joining us from Phoenix, Arizona to talk about, “Fighting for Victory Against Islamism: A Muslim Blueprint”. That is on September 8th. On September 14th from Sudan is Gamal al Arabi, who will be speaking about how you diagnose the Islamist ideology. Later in September, Suzanne Scholte on September 28th will be talking to us about North Korea, human rights, and religion.
Well, tonight I am so thrilled and privileged to be able to introduce to you the honorable Frank Wolf, who needs no introduction. I just want to tell you two quick things. Out on the table is some literature from the Wilberforce Initiative, and there you can sign up for a weekly newsletter written by Congressman Wolf on the subjects of religious freedom and also there is a flyer on “Nigeria, Fractured and Forgotten,” and of course, we will hear about that subject tonight, but this gives you the locale of many of the documents and information on the subject of Nigeria.
Now, as you know, Congressman Wolf was widely acknowledged as the conscience of Congress during his long service in the House of Representatives. First elected in 1980, he left Congress at the end of his seventeenth term in 2015 to focus exclusively on human rights and religious freedom. He has recently returned from a trip to Nigeria.
As you will now hear, Congressman Wolf continues to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. In January 2015, he was appointed the first ever Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University. The same month he joined the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a newly created religious freedom group, as distinguished senior fellow. Notably, Congressman Wolf was the author of the International Religious Freedom Act. Please join me in welcoming Congressman Wolf, who is going to talk to us about Nigeria and religious freedom.
Congressman Frank Wolf:
Well, thank you very much and thank you very much for the invitation and thank you for having me here. The Bible has much to say about oppression and freedom. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus is reading from Isaiah at the Synagogue in Nazareth and he says the spirit of the Lord is on me because he has appointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and the recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed. And in Ecclesiastes 4:1 in the Old Testament it said again, I looked, I saw all of the oppression that was taking place under the sun. I saw the of the tears of the oppressed and they have no comforter. Power was on the side of their oppressors.
It is undeniable that religious liberty domestically is under assault. When I speak of religious liberty, I do so believing that this foundational right is not to be confused with the 21st century notion of mere toleration or limit to freedom of worship. Rather, it is the ability to peacefully live out our faith in every aspect of our lives. And it is on this issue that sands are shifting so quickly that it can be seen like those who hold this first freedom dear are perpetually playing catchup, always on the defensive, constantly ceding ground. Such realities are disheartening and if left unchecked, have grave implications.
While the main subject of my talk tonight will be about international religious freedom, we do our nation a disservice if we ignore what is happening in America. During my time in Congress, I often reached out to Chuck Colson at Prison Fellowship for his wise advice and counsel. In a book entitled My Final Word, which is the collection of previously unpublished material from notes and memos Chuck wrote over the years, I am struck by Chuck’s foresight on the erosion of religious liberty.
Here is an excerpt in this book, and I urge you to get the book if you want to, if you can. He said, “I believe we are heading for a New Dark Ages with persecution coming to the church soon. Now, it would be foolishness to suggest that the people of faith in America are even experiencing a modicum of the persecution faced abroad. That being said, despite the constitutional protections religious freedom has historically enjoyed, its sacred standing in the American experiment is daily being encroached upon.”
Cardinal Francis George, former President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, in 2010 predicted, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square,” a sober thought. And I would also say as I get into the international aspect, we are seeing growing antisemitism around the world, and we are seeing growing antisemitism even on American college campuses. Today, people of faith are under assault around the world from China to Iran, to Egypt, from Pakistan, to Vietnam. The face of repression varies, but the outcome is the same, harassment, fear, imprisonment, and even death simply because of what a person believes.
This reality hit home during the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative trip that I took to northern Iraq last year with their president, Randall Everett, who founded our organization. The team went with the aim of reporting on the plight of Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities, notably Yazidis. We had a number of Christians and Yazidis in my office today, thousands of whom were forcibly displaced during the Islamic State’s murderous march across Iraq.
The summer of 2014 was marked by the swift and largely unanticipated rise of ISIS. In a matter of days, Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit fell. Unspeakable brutality followed. A Caliphate was declared. Christians were told to leave, and if they stayed, to convert, pay, or die. Yazidi men were killed, and Yazidi women and children were bought, sold, raped, and tortured. Religious freedom suffered a devastating blow.
The people in the office today told me of a number of Yazidi girls who have been sold by Americans who are now fighting for ISIS. And a young a Yazidi girl came into my office and said the person who had bought her was an American citizen called Abdullah Amriki, who used to show her pictures of his wife and children back in the States.
The August heat, their enemy during the forced march from their homes, faded to a winter cold. Christmas was not celebrated in ancient churches and monasteries and convents of the Nineveh Plains as it had been for millennia. Rather, it was in makeshift camps, abandoned buildings, and unfinished walls as one of the world’s oldest Christian communities marked this holy day.
It is worth noting, as we think in terms of Iraq, the rich biblical heritage contained in these lands. With the exception of Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions, and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country in the world, again, except for Israel. The patriarch Abraham came from Ur in southern Iraq.
On my first trip there during the war, we went to Nasiriyah, and they said this is the site of Abraham’s village. And they took us to the village, which is called a ziggurat, which [dates to] 2200 years BC. Isaac’s bride, Rebecca, came from northwest Iraq. Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq, and his sons, the 12 tribes of Israel, were born in northwest Iraq.
A remarkable spiritual revival told in the Book of Jonah occurred in Nineveh, present day Mosul, now held by ISIS. And about a year ago you probably saw the pictures of Joseph’s tomb that was blown up by ISIS. The events of the Book of Esther took place in Iraq, as did the account of Daniel in the lion’s den. Both Daniel and Ezekiel are buried in Iraq. And the Apostle Thomas is believed to have brought Christianity to the land. And when we were there, we actually went to a little village and saw Nahum’s tomb.
A phrase not often heard outside the Middle East is, “First the Saturday people, and then the Sunday people.” The Jewish community in Iraq numbered 150,000, 150,000 in 1948. Now when I asked, we were told there are fewer than ten elderly Jewish individuals living there, and one person said perhaps only four Jewish individuals left.
In 2003, Iraq’s Christian population numbered 1.5 million. Today, roughly 250,000 – and the Catholic priest [who visited my office as part of the Iraqi Christian delegation] today told me perhaps only 200,000 – remain. Some fled to neighboring countries, including Syria, only to be uprooted once again in the current bloody conflict.
Others emigrated to the West. 17 Christian families leave Iraq every day. In six years, a report came in England that said if the West does not do anything, there will be no Christians left in the cradle of Christendom. Many of those who remain have become involuntary nomads in their own land, displaced one, two, or even three times.
The Nineveh Plains has been one of the last relatively safe havens for Christians, and Yazidis, and other minority groups, but with the fall of Mosul and surrounding areas, Iraqi Christians have nowhere else to run. With some notable exceptions, the Church in the West has not been seized with the crisis facing the Church in Iraq or in the Middle East, in Syria, or in Egypt. Cardinal Dolan has spoken out very strongly, and I appreciate it. Cardinal Wuerl has spoken out very strongly, and I appreciate it. Russell Morris spoke out. Rick Warren has spoken out. Franklin Graham has spoken out, but overall there has been a relative silence on the part of the Church in the West.
When asked, every Christian we met with in Iraq expressed the pervasive sense of abandonment. We were with one Dominican Sister, Sister Diana. She said Mr. Wolf, does the Church in the West care about us? These courageous men and women of faith cannot comprehend why burning churches, forced conversions, and the emergence of a Caliphate in the cradle of Christendom is not being met with urgency and action by the fellow believers in the West.
The Congress passed a resolution calling it a genocide. Secretary Kerry has called it a genocide, and yet almost nothing has been done since. When we were in Iraq, we met with a man whose wife had had breast cancer in a little camp in a little school. And he had had two young boys. One had gone to San Diego, and one was living in Turkey.
He told the story that his wife had had breast cancer. And when ISIS came in and took over his village, and took over Mosul, a week or two later they went to Mosul for treatment for his wife’s breast cancer. They, ISIS, told him, we will not give your wife treatment for breast cancer unless she converts, unless she denies Christ.
And it struck me. Here are a man and a woman who will not deny Christ.[They went] back to the village and she dies. We all know the story of Peter. When you go to Israel, you can go to Capernaum. You can look down and see Peter’s house. Peter ate with Jesus there. Peter saw Jesus walk on the water. Peter saw the miracles of Jesus, and yet Peter denied Jesus three times, and a construction worker and his wife in Iraq do not deny [Christ], and the wife dies.
They spoke with great conviction about their abiding belief in God’s goodness and faithfulness despite the suffering. And most at that time, I cannot say it is true today, [but] most wanted to stay in Iraq. With evil unleashed in the land, they remain true disciples.
Jesus of Nazareth had much to say about the persecuted, the oppressed, and the imprisoned, but is the West today burdened by this great injustice of religious persecution? Does our government care, not because we are driven by guilt, but because we are motivated by our concern for people, by our faith, not because of some tired obligation but because of a vibrant mandate that we have always as a nation cared for people who are being persecuted of all different denominations, of all faiths?
Central to a person’s dignity is their ability to worship according to the dictates of their conscience. As such where religious freedom comes under attack, I believe God’s law itself is violated.
Nigeria is the most populated nation in Africa. In February of this year, four of us from Wilberforce traveled to Nigeria. Lou Ann Sabatier was on the trip. She is here. [She] set the trip up for us and [she] was with us. You can find our report. Four of us went. The report is on our webpage, StandWithNigeria.org, [which is now IconHelp.org].
In June of this year, we brought to America one of the mothers of one of the Chibok girls who was kidnapped by Boko Haram. We traveled to three states with representatives from the Stefanos Foundation, a Nigerian nonprofit that has worked for 14 years in relief, restoration, and rebuilding lives in communities ravished by silence, by violence, and persecution in northern Nigeria.
We spoke with the American Embassy, but we did not use the American Embassy to travel through the country. We met with representatives from nine states in the north who traveled to spend several hours with us, sharing stories and documentations of persecution. Much of the time was spent in Jos and the surrounding areas often referred to as the Middle Belt. We listened to hundreds of individuals in small villages in remote areas miles and miles off of the main roads. We talked to tribal leaders, pastors, mothers and fathers, as well as government officials, and at the end, our own American Embassy. We heard about the pain, the suffering, and the agony that the people of northern and Central Nigeria have faced and continue at this very time to face.
Many believe, there in central and northern Nigeria, that the world is not concerned with their problems. It is clear that the crisis plaguing Nigeria is multifaceted, but one that must be addressed obviously by the Nigerian government, but also by our government, and by Western governments, and the entire international community.
Corruption in Nigeria
One significant issue that we saw everywhere was corruption. It is in the government at the federal level [and] at the state level. It is in the businesses. It is in the military. One cannot enter or leave the country without raising its insidious head. Transparency International ranks Nigeria 136 out of 168 countries. That is in the bottom 20 percent of all nations. It is a very, very corrupt place. Given the population size and economic output this means that a vast number of people have to suffer the cost and the injustice of corruption.
Despite the fact that according to the latest available data from the World Bank, Nigeria is the richest country in Africa, yet there is immense poverty. Unemployment is a huge issue. It has been increasing since 2005, and now stands well over 20 percent, and the falling oil prices are hitting the economy broadly, and the percentage of people living in poverty at less than $1.90 day is 53 percent in year 2009, the last time they checked, and it has clearly increased since then.
According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index, more than half, 51 percent, of all global deaths attributed to terrorist groups were committed by either Boko Haram or the Islamic State. Nigeria has experienced the largest increase in deaths due attributed to terrorist attacks, a more than 300 percent [increase between] 2014 [and] 2015. Nine of the top twenty most fatal terrorist attacks in 2014 occurred in Nigeria.
The deadliest terrorist organization in the world according to the number [of victims] killed is number one Boko Haram, [which] operates in central and northern Nigeria. Number two is the Islamic State, which is in Iraq and Syria and now twenty to twenty-two other countries. Boko Haram and ISIS have signed an agreement with each other. Number three is Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and number four is the Fulani militant herdsmen in central Nigeria, so the first most dangerous and the fourth most dangerous are in Iraq. And the first most dangerous has an agreement and allegiance to the second most dangerous, ISIS.
Boko Haram terrorism and violence continue [to plague Nigeria. Their] name means Western education is forbidden. According to the Global Terrorism Index of 2015 from the Institute of Economics and Peace at the University of Maryland, Boko Haram killed 6,664 Nigerians in 2014, more than ISIS anywhere else in the world. That makes them, Boko Haram, the single deadliest terror organization in the world.
In a recent report by Refugees International, they indicate that reportedly 20,000 have been killed in total as a result of the insurgency. In 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS. This affiliation means that Boko Haram is now part of that organization’s declaration of war against both the Nigerian government and the American government. Boko Haram attacks villages, conducts drive-by shootings, and uses young girls as suicide bombers. They target politicians and clerics for assassination, focusing on the symbols of Western advancement such as schools, and hospitals, and churches, and also mosques.
Bring Back Our Girls
While no one has an exact number, thousands of young girls have been abducted by Boko Haram. According to The Washington Post, young girls and women who have been raped but released by Boko Haram faced extreme stigmatizing from their communities where many label them as Boko Haram wives, and fear that they have been radicalized and will eventually become potential attackers. They are thus victims twice, when captured and when they are released, and when they try to return to their community.
In April this year, we commemorated the two-year anniversary of the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. And despite the loud protest in the West and the Bring Back Our Girls campaign championed by the White House and Prime Minister [David] Cameron in England, it is extremely doubtful that any of the girls have been released.
About a month and a half ago, one walked away and she explained what was taking place, but in some respects, and I know the attention was well-meaning, #BringBackOurGirls has probably hurt because what #BringBackOurGirls did is it basically put a price on the heads of these girls. It would have been better to have said almost nothing, or perform a statement, and then done everything you possibly can to find them, rather than putting [out] a #BringBackOurGirls and not doing much to bring them back.
One counselor with whom we spoke on the ground told us that the girls who have been captured may never return without a major concerted effort by the Nigerian government and the West. And when they do, they will have been the victims of sexual violence, and they are oftentimes pregnant or will have a child, and all will have been forced to convert to Islam. Only one has returned, and she said six have died and the rest are alive. And we brought one of the moms here. We brought her up on Capitol Hill to explain and to plead for the Western governments to do something with regard to bringing back the girls.
The militant Fulani herdsmen
Unfortunately, Boko Haram is not the only violent organization that plagues Nigeria. There are also militant Fulani, who I honestly had heard almost nothing about before visiting Nigeria. The Fulani herdsmen are a large tribal grouping that stretch over many northwestern African countries and follow migratory grazing patterns.
Some of these herdsmen adhere to a more radicalized version of Islam. This is having a significant and devastating impact on predominantly Christian farming communities in the Middle Belt. The Global Terrorism Index has identified them as the fourth deadliest terror organization in the world. That means Nigeria has the first and the fourth most dangerous terrorist groups impacting the people of Nigeria, particularly the Middle Belt in northern Nigeria.
While we were in Nigeria, the Agatu village was attacked, and 200 to 300 people were killed over a sustained two to three-day attack. And the attackers did not move on, but rather occupied homes within the village. And the reports from on the ground indicate that sophisticated resupply systems were used. They said they used helicopters. Two helicopters came in. They had motorized boats, so attacks like this go well beyond the so-called settler-herder conflict. There has been an obvious increase in violence. In 2013, the Fulani militants killed 63 [people]. In 2014, they killed 1,229 [people].
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
Due to the violence from groups like Boko Haram and the Fulani militants, there are thousands of internally displaced people scattered across the country. The living conditions that I saw from the displaced people, the IDPs, was the worst that I have seen in any country. According to recent estimates, there are 2.1 million people who are internally displaced, and more have fled to neighboring countries.
Unofficially, however, there are about five million [people] or [maybe] even more who have been displaced. We have been told that 90 percent of the IDPs are dispersed among villages and are outside official camps. [They] therefore are unable to access even limited government services. In the Refugee International report, a senior UN official was quoted as stating, “Nigeria is our biggest failure.” This aligns with the stories that we heard on the ground.
A Special Envoy
I believe that a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region could be a strategic benefit because many of the problems involving Nigeria also involve the surrounding countries. Such a position could be modeled after Senator Danforth, [who] former President Bush appointed with regard to Sudan, or Knox Thames, who is the special envoy on religious minorities in the Middle East and South/Central Asia. I think what Danforth did and Knox Thames is doing is an indication of what a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad [region] could do.
Our organization, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, has taken the lead and asked the President and Secretary Kerry to appoint a special envoy. We have even recommended an individual, former Congressman Tony Hall, a Democratic member of the House who served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. [He] was well followed by members of both sides of the aisle. [He] was an ambassador. [He] has been in almost all the countries of Africa.
And I fear that if something dramatic like this is not done come September, it will not be done because you know in the close of any administration, people are beginning to look for other jobs. The buildings begin to empty out. So I think it is important that the President appoints somebody like this. 42 groups and individuals joined us in the letter for the International Religious Freedom roundtable.
Now, we are grateful. We are grateful to the International Religious Freedom roundtable for their help, and we are grateful for every group that took the time to sign this, and many more have done additional letters after they saw the interview with the Chibok girl’s mother that was in The New York Times on Sunday.
The issue of Boko Haram and the Middle [Belt] Fulani herdsmen are not localized in Nigeria but transcend the bordering countries, so a special envoy could also help coordinate the necessary assistance throughout the region for Cameroon, Chad, Benin, and other countries in the region. There will be a one-stop place.[We need this] because what people say [is] we want to come to the West to talk about terrorism. Okay, you go here. But we want to talk about aid, where do we go? When we want to talk about the IDPs, where do we go? When we want to talk about transportation, where do we go? And to have a one-stop would help us coordinate, but it would also help the people of Nigeria have a contact point in our government.
The U.S. military and other Western nations should use all possible assistance to help the Nigerian government combat terrorism and help with training the military and police on human rights. It kind of reminded me of being in Colombia. When we were in Colombia, we would hear stories of abuse by the military. And our military did an excellent job if you recall the battle with FARC and training. We need our military, who do a great job, to train the Nigerian military on human rights and religious freedom.
The challenges that face Nigeria are great. However, I believe, it is my belief, that the United States and other Western nations have a vested interest in confronting one of the worst crises of our day. People have said to me since we returned, why do we care about Nigeria? I mean we hear about people, Mr. Wolf, but why Nigeria?
Well, the people of Nigeria are suffering. They are facing some of the most unbelievable terrorist attacks. But if you saw on television about two or three months ago, Bono, the Irish singer, acknowledged that the situation in Africa and Nigeria if it continues to devolve, Bono said it will prove to be an existential threat to Europe. And what he was saying is basically if you have been to Europe lately and saw the impact that the refugees have had on certain parts of Europe, Germany, France, and other parts, there were 25 million people in Syria, and we have seen the impact [of that refugee crisis].
The population of Nigeria is 180 million. We are already seeing reports of refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Nigeria, from Benin, from Cameroon, and other places. If a quarter of 180 million or more, not counting in the surrounding countries, pour out and pour north to Europe, it will be, I agree with Bono, an existential threat to that continent.
Nigeria has been fractured and forgotten, and it is my hope that this crisis would be elevated to the place that it deserves. In many other countries, there are human rights violations and persecution of people because of their faith.
A Christian woman, Asia Bibi, has been sentenced to death, not charged with death, sentenced to death, and has been in prison for six years for blasphemy, for taking a drink of water out of a cup. And the West is just silent. A friend of mine, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was a Catholic member of the parliament, who we tried to urge our government and their government to give a bulletproof car, advocated for Christians, for Ahmadis, for all denominations. He was a Catholic member, the only Christian member of the cabinet. He was gunned down coming out of his mother’s house, and the West was just relatively silent.
In China, we see the recent NBA decision to cancel the All-Star Game in Charlotte over North Carolina’s bathroom law, yet the NBA plays basketball games in Beijing and Shanghai. There are Catholic Bishops under house arrest. Chris Smith, one of the finest congressmen in Congress, took Holy Communion from Bishop Su. Bishop Su has not been seen since. Protestant pastors are being arrested and taken away to jail. Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Prize winner, who won the Nobel [Peace] Prize, his wife was not allowed to leave China to go to Norway to collect the prize. Chinese lawyers have been arrested in droves. You must have seen the editorials in The Washington Post and The New York Times. And the Falun Gong is suffering and being persecuted and hammered down over and over and over.
In the late ’90s, I snuck into Tibet, and have a warm part of my heart for Tibet. Well, you see what they have done by repressing. And there is a prison there called the Drapchi prison, and a number of Tibetan monks have been sent to prison. 130 Tibetan monks and nuns in the last year have poured kerosene on their bodies and have set themselves a flame in protest to the Chinese government, and yet the NBA is going to continue to have the games in Beijing.
The Sales of Organs
For $50,000-60,000 dollars, the People’s Liberation Army sells [access to] an organ donor program whereby you can go over to stay in a three-star hotel. They take your blood type. They then go into the prison, and they test others, and they find somebody with your blood type, and they kill them. And I have pictures where they put the bed in the back, brace them up, and after they shoot them, they put them in the ambulance. And as you are going away, they take out the kidney because the closer the transplantation takes. And the NBA is going to continue games in Beijing and Shanghai?
The number of companies in this region and in this country who are being hit by cyberattacks [is astonishing]. I would venture to guess the NBA’s website and computers have also been attacked. OPM, for anyone who has ever worked at federal government since 1980, the Chinese have all of your records from 1980 up until last year.
And then we see the Chinese purchasing movie theaters, AMC, and Hollywood production film places in Hollywood. As they are purchasing these, do you think that Richard Gere will ever be able to do a movie again about the persecution in China? Do you think they will ever be able to do Seven Years in Tibet? No, the Chinese government will shut them down. And when asked, the head of the NBA said it is just a business deal.
So as I said earlier, it would be foolishness to suggest that people of faith in America are experiencing even a modicum, even a modicum, of the persecution I have just described in places like Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, China. That said, despite the constitutional protection religious freedom has historically enjoyed, its sacred standing in the American experiment is daily being encroached upon.
Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters around the world of all denominations, of all faiths, are facing existential threats to their very survival. I am convinced that as they became more than faceless, nameless victims in distant wars and hard to pronounce prison cells, and that as we commit to know their stories, weeping at their wounds, and interceding on their behalf through prayer and advocacy, that we will find ourselves, we will find Americans shaped by these men and women, these giants of the faith. And if we are clear-eyed about the times in which we live, I believe that these encounters will make our own faith, our own beliefs, our own feelings more robust, and strengthen us for the days ahead.
Dr. Martin Luther King
And if you have not read it lately, reading Dr. King’s A Letter From the Birmingham Jail is one of the most powerful [experiences]. It should be mandatory reading for every high school student and every college student. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Are we not the friends of those who are being persecuted of all denominations, of all faiths around the world?
The German Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.” He said, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” I think we should speak. I think we should act.
Now I am going to show you two very short films. One [on] Nigeria and the other on a broader basis.
In northern and central Nigeria, terrorists burn villages to the ground, destroy churches, and mutilate men, women, and children in the name of their God.
They became more aggressive by killing our children.
Discrimination against religious minorities grows, distrust breeds, and violence goes unpunished. Since 2010, Boko Haram has targeted schools, killing hundreds of students. Fulani militants force Christians from their land, surround their villages, and make them prisoners who cannot leave home without risk of being murdered.
No one can go out of Sho. Men, women, and children, they kill them straight.
One million people are in displaced persons camps, and 4 million others, more than the number of people in Los Angeles, are simply displaced. In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from the Chibok school, and almost all are still missing. Boko Haram has caused 1,500 schools to close, and 950,000 children are without an education, which perpetuates the cycle of violence and threatens the future.
Different types of terrorism have happened in Nigeria, and the bulk of the people that have been used are youths, youths that have not gone to school, youths that do not know their left from their right, and an empty head is the devil’s workshop. They have virtually nothing to do, so they are on their own, pawns in the hands of whosoever wants to use them.
All of this has created one of the world’s most neglected humanitarian crises. 21st century Wilberforce Initiative sent a team to document the atrocities and raise awareness with churches in the West.
We wanted to come here and hear from you what your situation is.
In the presence of the security personnel, our people were cut with machete.
We have nowhere to go.
They just entered the city and destroyed everything there, so everybody ran away.
We have over 70 Sho people hacked down and killed violently.
When the killings took place in Paris, the whole world listened, but when killings are taking place in northern Nigeria, it is just one little blip on the news.
Our people’s lives are not worth more than animals. That is why if we are killed, nobody will talk.
The people depend on the security network of the government to protect them, and at most times, those who come to attack sometimes appear like the military. They are dressed in military uniforms, and they also come with military hardware. And at the end of the day, you are a victim to your enemy, who is dressed like the military.
You can imagine a woman will run to a soldier, and a soldier will destroy her life. Our people have lost hope and will not trust soldiers again.
If you do not help them with their education, then these things you are seeing will become a recipe for social unrest in the future.
A senior UN official was quoted as saying, “Nigeria is our biggest failure.” This aligns with the stories that we heard when we were on the ground.
I want to pray for us because I want peace for my village.
They found that among all the hopelessness is hope. Leaders such as Benjamin and Gloria Kwashi, organizations like Stefanos Foundation and Education Must Continue! are standing in the gap. Will you stand with Nigeria? Find out more. Go to StandWithNigeria.org, [which is now IconHelp.org].
Sing a Little Louder
This next film is a true story, and I think it will be clear what it is about, but it is a true story that I think sort of sums up.
This dream has haunted me for decades. There are some things that time does not erase. Sometimes the only way forward is by facing the past. This is my story. I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning at the exact same time, we heard the whistle from a distance, then the clacking off the wheel moving over the track. It was at the same time every Sunday we felt the rattling from the trail of cattle cars accompanied by the screeching of metal that could echo through our church walls.
It was a Sunday in the Spring that would change my life forever.
Jesus said do not resist an evildoer, but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other, also. Loving your enemy, this is a far better way. This is how we were called to live. To understand this unnatural virtue, we must look to Jesus Christ as our model and our guide. His meekness was his strength. His silence, his statement to the world. We must pray for those who persecute us. Prayer is the mechanism that reaches heaven and moves mankind. Prayer, it is easy to underestimate.
Christ is a prince of peace, and as we better come to know Jesus, we will learn to choose as he chooses. We learn to love our enemies and allow God’s peace to rule within our hearts.
Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore. I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them, crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.
Do believe me when I tell you the reality was indescribably worse than these pictures. You cannot photograph suffering, only its results.
News report, Rwanda, 1994:
In just the last 24 hours, more than a quarter of a million people have fled Rwanda and its terror. Lines at some border crossing stretch for 5 miles.
News report, Bosnian Genocide, 1992-1995:
Anyone who ventures outdoors is fair game. Red Cross and UN relief convoys, even men and women in bread lines are targeted.
What is this? Are we a joke now, we the Christians?
Robert R. Reilly:
I think Congressman Wolf will take some questions now.
Although I am not a Christian, I am a practicing Hindu, but one of my interests for many years has been to follow the atrocities against the Christians, especially in majority Muslim countries. With all that the U.S. government does, has these hearings, and all of these commissions, and all these talks and papers, the end result is still that more Christians are being killed, persecuted, and the end result is not any better than it was ten years ago. In fact, it has gotten worse, so my question to you, sir, is what will motivate the Western countries, especially the U.S., to start reversing the trend?
I think we have a moral obligation to advocate for any group that is being persecuted because of their beliefs.
I was the chairman of the Ahmadi Muslim Caucus up on Capitol Hill. I, with Steny Hoyer, led the effort to lift the arms embargo for the Muslims in Sarajevo. When war [broke out in 1991], I went down to Chechnya to advocate for people. I think we have seen two things, the breakdown [in relations between the two political parties amid an increase in political partisanship and public disinterest in the popular culture]. This used to be a very bipartisan issue. You had President Reagan and you had Scoop Jackson, you had Henry Hyde and you had Tom Lantos.
You know, President Reagan said that the words in the Constitution and the words in the Declaration of Independence were a covenant, a covenant not only with the people in Philadelphia in 1776 and 1787, but a covenant with the entire world. That covenant has been relatively shredded.
Secondly, everything that takes place in government, particularly in Congress, is downstream from culture, and if the Congress is not hearing from the culture, from the public, about this issue, it ceases to be an issue.
The genocide resolution passed. It was wonderful. I appreciate Secretary Kerry speaking out, but since that time, nothing has been done, so I think the Church needs to advocate, all denominations have to advocate. That is why I made the comment earlier. It is hard to believe some of the antisemitism that we are now seeing around the world.
We, I think, in the West are just singing a little louder and are singing and drowning out the cries of those who are persecuted, [like] the Baháʼí in Iran (you could just [down] through the [list]), the Uyghurs in China, but I think the [the problem is the] fact that the culture and the public is not rising up and we do not have Ronald Reagans and Scoop Jacksons and Tom Lantos and Henry Hydes.
You did not mention the effects if any from the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom. What are they doing?
I think they are doing a good job, and I think Ambassador Saperstein is one of the finest appointments that you could possibly have. I strongly supported his appointment. When we put together the Commission back in the 1990s, Rabbi Saperstein was part of the group. Rabbi Saperstein, Cardinal Mccarrick, Chuck Colson, Don Argue had a National Association of Evangelicals to put this together. Once the bill passed and the Commission was set up, Ambassador Saperstein was actually on the Commission, so it is probably the best appointment that could possibly be made.
Unfortunately, they had other ones in there that were not very good, and then you had a long period of time that nobody was in the office. There was a bill that has passed the House [and] stalled in the Senate. I do not know why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has stalled in the Senate [a bill] that beefs up and gives Ambassador Saperstein more staff, more power, more authority, makes his credentials greater in the State Department. But I think the commission and Ambassador Saperstein have done a relatively good job. They need more power.
Well, we heard from them, you know, five or six years ago, but I have not heard anything or seen anything in the press about any of their actions.
They just put out a report three days ago and the former chairman, Robbie George, who is probably one of the finest guys you could have, [and] Katrina Swett, who is the daughter of Tom Lantos, have spoken out. They have advocated. I think part of the problem is there has not been [attention and interest] in the culture. The average member of Congress is not getting telephone calls, and letters, and emails about this issue. That is why [it is necessary] for the Church to speak out and motivate the culture to move the Congress and also the administration. But the Commission and I think Ambassador Saperstein are both good people.
Lou Ann Sabatier:
The commission, USCIRF, has a newsletter. If you go to their website, [you can read it], and it is daily, and they are doing actually tremendous things, seeding in the press. They probably have five to eight stories daily around the world. It is just The New York Times and The Washington Post are not covering it, but I would encourage everyone to Google USCIRF. It is free to sign up, and it is one of the best things you can do to keep abreast of all of these things.
In many ways, the Pope has not always spoken out, although he has done some things, he has not spoken out against the genocides as much as other Popes have, and much of the Church in the Western world seems to be asleep. There are sometimes what are called Great Awakenings, as well, in history, particularly of the church here in America, but what does it take to do that change to the culture? What is the next step that can make that happen?
Well, Pope Francis did that. In fact, Pope Francis was one of the first to speak out and call what is taking place in Iraq genocide. Every time we go into the villages, they always said pray for us. I think you just need an awakening in the church. When I see that film, I have seen that film now 25 times, I get emotional when I see the film, when I walk in the camps, when I am with Sister Diana and I think, you know, the media is not covering it, the people [are not covering it].
I think [about] the church leadership we need. In the church today, we need more Martin Luther Kings. We need more Dietrich Bonhoeffers. We need more people like this. And if you read Chuck Colson’s book, he sort of lays out kind of where this thing is going, but I think the Church has to provide the leadership.
And I think whether it is a great public opinion idea, I think the American people are good people, and if they just see this information and hear [about it], they would be motivated, but the Church has been relatively silent. It is kind of like do you remember the song that Simon and Garfunkel sang in Central Park called The Boxer? It says man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. We are disregarding the rest and the Church in the West is silent.
Robert R. Reilly:
Could I ask you, Congressman, in northern Nigeria or any of the other places in the Muslim areas of the world that you have visited, did you hear about Saudi influences in the madrasas and the mosques?
Absolutely. If you read the book Looming Tower, in the book Looming Tower, he, the writer, I think Wright points out that the Saudis funded all of the madrasas up on the Afghan-Pakistan border. I have been up on that border and have seen [it]. If you read The New York Times, taking it from that point to where we are now, if you read The New York Times about six weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof, one of my favorite columnists – I think politically we would never vote for the same candidate, but Kristof goes places that no one else would go.
He talked about the Saudi influence. You now see the Saudi influence in Sarajevo. You see the Saudi influence in Kosovo, which was so modern. You see the Saudi influence in Albania. You are seeing the Saudi influence, and quite frankly, you have the Saudi Academy out here in Northern Virginia, [which] for the longest period of time had anti-Christian and antisemitic texts in the textbook, and so yeah, I think the Saudis have been the creators of a lot of these problems, so yes. And it came up when we were there.
When I was in Iraq, at the end of every meeting, I would always ask the same question. I would say who is helping ISIS? I got the same answer every meeting. “Three.” They said the Saudis, they said Qatar, and they said Turkey because Turkey was not allowing in the Istanbul airport – you can fly to Istanbul airport, reposition, and go south, and the Turks were allowing people to come in through all over the world, all over Europe in order to cross the border to come in and fight with ISIS. So yeah, the Saudis are really [a problem].
But look and see who the Saudis have on the representation here in Washington. They have some of the most powerful interests representing [them]. I personally believe that what you need is a major study, I think the information is there, to allow the American people to know what the Saudis are doing and to educate the Congress, so they know [what the Saudis are doing]. And quite frankly, I think the Saudis’ string is running out because they are beginning to have some really deep, deep problem. But yes, the Saudis have come up over and over. And read Looming Tower. It even begins [with the fact that] Mullah Omar went to madrasas that the Saudis funded.
Lou Ann Sabatier:
If I can circle back on your comment there, I think one of the challenges is you do not have too many Martin Luthers or Dietrich Bonhoeffers. It is not normal to be leaders like that. The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, who Congressman Wolf is [affiliated] with, on the Stand With Nigeria site, we have spent four months creating action packs for churches. We actually have sermon outlines. We have resources. We have books. We have handouts they can photocopy. It is a 58-page, free downloadable, and we are asking people to share that.
It is not really a plug for us, but to your point, most people do not know how to bridge. When you say the church needs to rise, we try to give them some of the messages to do that, and we would encourage all of you to go down the path. It is on StandWithNigeria.org, [which is now IconHelp.org], and it says what you can do, [whether you are] individuals [or] churches.
Hi, I want to ask, we heard some rather disturbing reports recently of the treatment of Christians in the Kurdish area of Iraq by Kurdish groups, seemingly with the okay from Kurdish authorities. Can you comment on that?
Yes, we had, in fact, as a subject of the meeting today we had a – I do not want to mention them because they live in a rough neighborhood, but we had somebody from the Christian community and somebody from the Yazidi community, and yes, they are being pressured by the Kurds. It is not a black-and-white issue. I can say something critical of the Kurds. The Kurds really took the weapons away from the Yazidis. The Yazidis woke up on Sinjar Mountain. They woke up and thought the Kurds were going to defend them, the Peshmerga, and they were gone.
The other side of the coin, and there is always another side of the coin, [is that] the Peshmerga is the point of the spear over there now and we have fundamentally failed the Peshmerga because we are not giving them aid, their weapons. We went up to the front lines with them. They show us ISIS. We looked at and saw a tile factory where ISIS [operated]. Their weapons are old, their equipment is old, their training [is inadequate], so America has not really kind of embraced and come [to deal with the fact that] they are the point of the spear.
They, I think, are looking [for help], so I think had we, or if we now, provide more training, more assistance, and more weapons assistance, and more human rights training, that is like with the FARC and the military down in Colombia. Our military did a tremendous job in human rights training. I think we have to do the same thing with our people embed with the Peshmerga.
But there are two sides of the coin. In fairness to the Kurds, they have done some amazing things. It is a dangerous neighborhood, but yes, they have done some things to the Christians, and they have done some things to the Yazidis that are not very good.
Saudi Arabia has built a wall around the country, and yet they are not taking any Muslim immigrants that are having the issues because I guess they are the wrong Muslims, but it is so interesting because you cannot go over there with crucifix on your neck, or with a Bible, or build a church there. It is all one hundred percent Muslim, and yet they are building these huge mosques here, and who knows what they are doing inside, but just through some infiltration. I mean they are just going against our government, and they want Sharia law.
And there are some reports of, without getting into detail, of Saudi money coming in, helping certain segments here in the United States.
They give to Georgetown University and Catholic University. The Saudis have so much money in there.
Thank you all for coming and thank you for having me.
Robert R. Reilly:
Thank you, Congressman Wolf. It was a great honor and pleasure to have you here and to hear those very moving words. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming and please join us on September 8th for Dr. Zuhdi Jasser. Good night.