- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

For years residents of the Myanmar village of Law Thi Hta lived in fear their government would find them. This spring the military arrived. Five villagers were captured a few miles away and forced to lead government troops into the village. The troops arrived during breakfast and immediately opened fire with automatic weapons. They then set fire to the place. The flames consumed everything, from makeshift houses built by the villagers to the hospital run by an American relief organization, Christian Freedom International. Even the log frame of the half-built school was burned.

The villagers fled, leaving everything, inching their way out of despair; now they are scattered, living in refugee camps in Thailand. They are victims of a long, stultifying civil war, a war where the government has tried to stamp out the Christian Karen and Karenni tribes. Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International, learned about the raid a day after it happened, in an e-mail only 277 words long. It was one of the longest e-mails he has ever had to read.

The raid was exactly the kind of story that should open the hearts and wallets of average Americans, that is if they only heard it. But how many Americans were aware that such things went on? The question prompted him to have John Zogby conduct a poll. The results were surprising.

Americans are not, as widely believed, ignorant of the religious persecution faced by many around the globe. Mr. Zogby found that 81.4 percent of Americans are aware of Christian persecution, but the majority see it as a problem for government to solve. When asked whose responsibility it is to help, 30.3 percent said the United Nations and 10.4 percent said international government organizations. That adds up to more than 40 percent who think some form of governmental agency, not them personally, is responsible for helping those facing persecution for their faith. Those who thought fellow Christians in free countries should step forward lagged behind at 23.8 percent which ran nearly even with the 22 percent who responded "other" and the 13.4 percent who were not sure who should help.

Americans are among the most generous people on earth, but they seem to have forgotten Galatians 6:10 "do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." Increasingly, American Christians are willing to abdicate to the government their responsibility to help those in the household of faith. One reason for that is the increased humanitarian role taken by the United States and the United Nations. Economists call this problem "moral hazard," and it occurs when Americans feel paying taxes to government fulfills the obligation to help the persecuted.

Unfortunately, international governmental agencies are just as prone to waste, fraud and abuse as the homegrown variety. Just look at the mistake about to be made in Thailand. The Thai government recently announced that it intends to repatriate the 102,000 Christian refugees living there. The repatriation will take place over the next three years. These Christians are mostly members of the Karen and Karenni tribes, who fled Burma after the military seized power, renamed the country Myanmar, and began killing them. The killing hasn't stopped. Just ask the villagers of Law Thi Hta. The Thai government is counting on help from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to carry out the repatriation plan and will likely bend only if Westerners break from their complacency. Thailand has provided humanitarian aid to these refugees for 15 years, and is tired of it. Without Western outrage, the recent round of peace negotiations in Myanmar will likely give Thailand the necessary cover to leverage the U.N. into helping with the repatriation.

This cycle of welfare-type aid followed by wrongheaded policies actually places more civilians in harm's way. Government-sponsored humanitarian aid does not foster a culture of self-reliance. Unless Americans realize paying taxes is not the same as personal involvement in helping those in need, international welfare programs will only lead to a culture of destitution, dependence and then destruction in Asia.

Brendan Miniter is an editor for the Commentary Page of The Washington Times.

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