Friday, July 20, 2012

Economics and human rights. Incl. "How is it possible?" by Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang (June 2004)

Boko Haram, the al Qaeda-link terrorist organisation that is traumatising Nigeria, has always been open about its Islamic agenda. The US administration, however, believes it knows better than the terrorists why terrorism happens. Refusing to take Boko Haram at its word, the US administration of President Obama insists that the root cause of Boko Haram terror is not Islamic fundamentalist political ideology, but frustration and grievance over poor living standards. The prescribed remedy, therefore, is socio-economic development.

See: U.S. State Department fails to designate Boko Haram as FTO
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 July 2012

Surely the hypothesis that improved living standards lead ipso facto to improved security and human rights has been tested long enough and proved false. Surely such thinking is both naive and a denial of reality.

As a supplement to the above Nigeria posting, I am republishing a piece written in June 2004 by persecuted Vietnamese Mennonite pastor Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang.

The full text of that WEA RLC News & Analysis posting (missing from my blog due to oversight) is available here (ASSIST).  It includes a report on the 8 June 2004 arrest of the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, the General Secretary of the Vietnam Mennonite Church; and a translation of a letter dated 21 May 2004 from the leaders of the Vietnam Mennonite Church to the Mennonite World Conference detailing the severe and ongoing persecution in Dong Nai Province.

As noted in that posting, one Western diplomat, when presented with information describing the violent persecution in Dong Nai, responded in virtual disbelief with the question, "How is it possible that a province which is growing economically and which enjoys a lot of foreign investment, and whose standard of living is rising, is not also advancing human rights but is on the contrary is said to be persecuting Christians?"

The June 2004 WEA RLC News & Analysis posting also includes Rev Quang's response to that question. It is a response that is worth republishing today, for it strikes at the West's false yet intransigent belief that human rights are achieved through economic development and modernisation, rather than by challenging the way people think / what people believe.

By the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang
(June 2004, full text)

"How is it possible?"  These are the words of a ranking foreign diplomat of a Western country when he heard the story of what happened in Dong Nai [in April-May 2004] and the various ways that Christians were oppressed.  This diplomat, who in many ways supports the bilateral relationship between our two countries and supports the development of Vietnam, was so sceptical that he blurted out, "How is it possible that a province which is growing economically and which enjoys a lot of foreign investment, and whose standard of living is rising, is not also advancing human rights but is on the contrary is said to be persecuting Christians?"

Confronted with such views and ideas from the diplomat, I was at once angry and sad.  I was angry because the people responsible for causing these events "live above the law" and have a low view of our citizens and of humanity in general in the 21st Century.  They do not value human beings, they violate the basic rights of people - the human rights that have been the desire of people for ages - and they have the power to deny the natural aspirations for freedom of the citizens of Vietnam.

I was sad because this country has heard too many politicians say we should serve the high calling of "freedom, democracy and independence", while hundreds of thousands of human beings have fallen in our homeland. At this time many suffer great hardships, even for simply trying to exercise the minimum right of "gathering to worship the Almighty" and are savagely beaten.  The world has been exploding with social aspirations and advanced technology. Huge changes are taking place all over, affecting many governments like a strong whirlwind, bringing some of them to an end.  The choice seems to be "develop, change and survive" or "disintegrate and fade away."

How is it possible?  Is it possible that the extreme confusion of the diplomat, when faced with the fact of this repression, is evidence that he does not want to admit such things happen?  His diplomatic work is to wholeheartedly foster relationships so that his country will understand and support Vietnam.  The diplomat seems to believe in the philosophy that says "Develop the economy and raise the standard of living, and the valuing of human rights and freedoms will inevitably follow."

He has his beliefs, and I have my belief that the Bible's teaching is accurate when it speaks on principles governing humanity. Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

If a country honours and places a higher value on things spiritual (as the Kingdom of God, righteousness, etc.) than on material matter and economics, then that country will enjoy peace, stability and development.  Compare the countries that respect the Creator and respect human rights, with countries which denigrate the Creator and trample on human rights. You will see clearly that those which respect the Creator and honour human rights are blessed, and those which disdain the Creator and flaunt human rights seem to be cursed. The difference between South and North Korea is a stark example. The South has a large section of the population that worships the Creator and the country respects human rights, while the North completely puts down the Creator and tramples on human rights is in an incredibly desperate condition.  (The two Germanys formerly and the two Koreas today are clear and concrete examples.)

The Bible teaches in Genesis that in the beginning was God and that the world, the atmosphere, plants, animals, people and other things were created later. To raise the creation higher than the Creator is contrary to the Bible, as is putting material things ahead of the freedom to worship, to enjoy authentic human dignity and democracy and other human rights.

If an evil person is very rich but lives an openly debauched life, then the morality of all society will suffer and a dictator who has in his hands the means, the authority and the power, will use them to strangle freedom, democracy, and faith and morality.

The bankrupt policy of promoting economic development ahead of the values of freedom, democracy and human rights, though it seems to have the advantage in the beginning of winning outside favour, is contrary to the laws of the Creator and so how can it be supported? We have had nearly two decades of so-called "renovation", and a decade without the US embargo, but the situation of human rights and religious freedom for us Vietnamese has gone nowhere.  Ask the Christians in Dong Nai.

So the prioritizing of what "seems right to man"-- that is putting a priority on promoting economic development and ties -- has worked out precisely contrary to the hopes and desires of the diplomacy of countries which enjoy democracy.

Evangelists Ms. Pham Thi Kim Huong, Ms. Trinh Thi Kim Phuong, Mr. Nguyen Thanh Trung, and Mr. Dang Dang Khoa are servants of the Lord who had their house of worship smashed. Then were cuffed and dragged away in front of their flock and before the villagers by Dong Nai security police and government officials on May 2, 2004. They were treated as criminals and thrown into a stinking vehicle used to transport pigs.  The humiliation which the Mennonite pastors, evangelists in Dong Nai had to endure was a great disgrace, but they bravely endured with dignity.

How many times have the faithful been trampled on in Dong Nai? Only the perpetrators know, but nothing is hidden from God - not one of the evil acts in Dong Nai province.

As for the diplomat, he may continue to ask incredulously, "How is it possible?" in reference to our struggle for religious freedom, and the efforts of our government which has recently cranked up its positive announcements and propaganda efforts whilst in actual practice continues it's dirty deeds in Dong Nai. Dong Nai province has given the diplomat a clear answer with its unreasonable and steady harassment and persecution of the believers continuously from Easter until now.  And this is but one small example of a widespread reality.

As a citizen of Vietnam I have a question.  "How is it possible that the government machinery in Dong Nai Province is unaware that it has broken the law according to Article 129 of the Criminal Code of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam?"  Local officials continue to deny the right of assembly and the right to worship God, giving orders to suppress Christianity, as has just happened again.  How is it possible that government officials in Dong Nai continue to treat Christianity as an enemy and no one takes any action at all?

Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang
(June 2004)