- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

BELLPORT, N.Y. —The young barber in the village on Long Island waved me toward the chair, and when I sat down asked me if I accepted Jesus Christ.
At first I felt massive hurt because he did not know my name and picture in my column, on sale in the paper in the deli right next door that very moment.
I said I was a Jew, and figured that would end that. It didn't. He said every Jew or those who already considered themselves Christians without any more acceptance, must reach out for Jesus, each for himself. That was the gist of what lived in him.
I had spent almost all my life in America, where to mention religion socially is considered improper. Some reporting years were in countries where even to suggest conversion could get you tortured or executed. In Afghanistan, a madly Islamic government is considering what to do with at least 24 captives, including eight foreigners, among whom are two American women, accused of propagating Christianity — a death penalty crime.
In this lovely village where we have a house, I had ventured into the little shop for the first time. I discovered the barber's passion to bring people to Jesus was in his soul always. I think he understood I was not conversion material, but probably will never concede it to himself.
I have thought about him often in the weeks since the haircut (semi-mod art with a clipper). I think — how glorious it would be, how many millions of Christians around the world would suffer less, or would still live, if all Americans would mobilize religious freedom for themselves into the same for everybody. Families in China would be free of terror for praying in churches not officially approved by the government or of giving life to more than one child. In dozens of other countries, they could exist without the fear of harassment and pogrom.
It is the dictatorships that are to blame. But can we forgive ourselves if we keep electing presidents and congressional majorities who turn their backs on religious persecution as long as it happening far off someplace?
Of course, we have an excuse. Don't these officials and politicians keep telling us we cannot oppose violation of human rights like religious freedom or the Politburo will cut our trade? Have we gone sheerly mad? The greatest economic power in the world trembling before the nations who have already earned the titles of least likely to succeed?
Also I feel nasty about Americans — the majority — who placidly accept betrayal of religious freedom, now the disposable orphan of rights. Same goes for Europeans.
What honor would have been ours if we had used our economic strength to save the persecuted of all religions. No trade for you, communist or fascist Politburo, unless you open your concentration camps, repeal laws making it a crime to worship in a church not approved by the government, and the anti-human rules prohibiting parents from having more than one child, and punishing the whole family with hunger if they do.
If you do not also blame the press, do. Of any violation of the rights in our Constitution, our press has shown sickeningly least interest in religious freedoms — from murder on a genocidal scale to female genital mutilation.
Ask editors and publishers why they do not assign reporters to the biggest crime of our era, religious atrocities, as a permanent beat. Shift somebody good from food or football.
Those journalists who will not surrender our reporting on religious persecution get most of our leads from a handful of members of Congress and thousands of students and scholars using e-mail to pass on information.
But if you do not know what is going on, you don't care much. Work up some energy by getting hold of the book called "Religious Freedom in the World," published by Freedom House with Paul Marshall as general editor. You will have no further excuses about not knowing and will have to face the truth that you don't care, as in not caring that Vietnam, newly so lovable, is one of the world's very worst criminals against human rights. Stir your blood: get information yourself on Freedom House numbers in New York and Washington.
And fellow news people, you will find this billet-not- doux on page 7, from Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom of Freedom House:
"The national media continue to treat Christians with patronizing indifference and even outright hostility and tend to view Christians as zealots who partly bring persecution on themselves."
I guess the world's Christians just are not chic these days. Sound familiar, you Jews, blacks, barbers?

A.M. Rosenthal, former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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