It was only a few weeks ago that much of the mainstream media was criticizing the Trump administration for the “Christianization” of US foreign policy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s evangelical faith was widely blamed for the increased focus of American diplomacy on combating the persecution of Christians at the hands of Muslim governments or Islamist terrorists, as well as for its support for Israel.
The administration’s interest in the subject — especially in contrast to the policies of the Obama administration — was denounced as a political payoff to Trump’s Christian conservative voters and an insult to the Muslim world. Such attention fueled, we were told, Islamophobia in the United States and elsewhere.
Some of the same sources were also quick to claim Trump’s focus on persecution of Christians and his so-called “Muslim ban” (which, in fact, only sought to restrict entry from five countries that were acknowledged terrorist hotbeds and did not ban all Muslims) was even somehow linked to last month’s horrifying terror attack at a New Zealand mosque by a lone extremist.
But the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks on hotels and churches across Sri Lanka that have been blamed on radical Islamist suicide bombers from the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group and that took the lives of 290 people and wounded 500 more is a reminder that most acts of international terrorism emanate from sources that can’t be blamed on Trump or isolated right-wingers.
The most pressing threat comes from an international movement that singles out Christians and other non-Muslims for persecution and terror.
Sri Lanka has an extensive recent history of violence and terror but not one that involved conflict between Muslims and Christians or the Buddhist majority in that island nation. But Islamism is a movement that stretches across borders and has the ability to both inspire and aid local terrorists to emulate other larger groups.
This crime bears all the hallmarks of other Islamist acts of mass terror that have taken place elsewhere, such as the 2017 Palm Sunday slaughter at churches in Egypt and the 2016 Easter Sunday massacre in Lahore, Pakistan — to name just two among many similar incidents.
Christians aren’t the only victims of persecution in the world, as the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and China’s oppression of Muslim Uighurs illustrates.
But there’s no denying that the rise of an intolerant extremist and violent strain of Islam — Islamism — has created a danger to the West, as well as to lives of religious minorities in much of the world.
At times, this threat has grabbed the attention of Americans, with 9/11 being the most obvious example and ISIS’ atrocities another.
But for the most part, the chattering classes and the foreign policy establishment have preferred to treat this ongoing global conflict as a series of isolated and distressing incidents that warrant our concern but not a coordinated and determined response rooted in an understanding that radical Islam is at the root of the problem.
President Barack Obama was too focused on apologizing for the past sins of the West and in signaling America’s willingness to be a friend to even hostile Islamist regimes, like the one in Iran, to pay the necessary attention to Muslim persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.
At the heart of this mindset is the way a belief in a mythical post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in this country has become the dominant narrative about Islamist terror for many on the left. It has shifted the focus of that episode and everything that followed from it from a radical Muslim attack on the West to an Islamophobic overreaction by bigoted Americans.
There’s no excuse for religious prejudice of any kind, and terror can come from a variety of sources, including far-right radicals.
But far from being Islamophobic or a hindrance to America’s ability to combat terror, the willingness of Trump and in particular Pompeo to prioritize the need to aid Christians under attack is a necessary first step toward rolling back this Islamist tide.
Sri Lanka is a wake-up call that makes it clear that Pompeo’s critics are blind to the reality of radical Islamic intolerance and terror and to the need to recognize the plight of persecuted Christians.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin
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