As the national debt continues to spiral, now at more than $17 trillion, Congress should be commended for investigating wastes of tax payer money such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America — both media organizations shown to have clearly gone off the rails, either working against U.S. allies or directly supporting our nation’s enemies. Perhaps the next target for Congress’ cross hairs should be the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
For the second year in a row, the Republic of Azerbaijan has been listed on USCIRF’s tier two of “Countries of Particular Concern.” What exactly that means is unclear, as there is little information about the designation. Tier one designees, though, include, Iran, Burma and other seriously nasty folks. Again, there seems to be little information on what makes Iran and its ilk so bad, but others not so bad.
According to USCIRF’s website, they are “an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress . . . ”
At face value, this sounds worthy: “dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.” A closer look at USCIRF’s reports reveal an oddly simplistic and uninformed perspective, of course all at the tax payer’s expense.
According to USCIRF, Azerbaijan is not a very good place for Hare Krishnas and Muslims. Hare Krishnas? And, Muslims? The last time I checked Azerbaijan was a Muslim-majority nation. According to USCIRF’s own report, Azerbaijan is 35 percent Sunni with a majority of the nation being Shiite. It is important to note intra-Muslim tolerance and partnership is ubiquitous and Jewish–Muslim relations are strong and absent of anti-Semitism.
The realities, seeming lost upon USCIRF, is that, yes, Azerbaijan is a Muslim-Majority nation. In fact, Azerbaijan has sizable Christian communities and a large, prominent and many centuries old Jewish population. Christians and Jews serve in Azerbaijan’s parliament, as do Sunnis and Sh’ias. Members of these faith communities also serve in high offices throughout the various levels of government in Azerbaijan. They are civic, religious and business leaders, all. Ask any Jew in Azerbaijan, and I have, and they will readily tell you that they are all just Azerbaijani. Azerbaijani Jews will also enthusiastically volunteer that there is no anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan.
So why this U.S. government focus on such perceived religious ills in Azerbaijan?
According to USCIRF, Azerbaijan banned the wearing of the hijab. Indeed, they did — as part and parcel of the implementation of school uniforms. This policy was instituted to level the playing field amongst the various socio-economic levels of the children, much like many schools do in the U.S. and other nations. And, according to USCIRF, Azerbaijan closed mosques. Again, yes they did. Did USCIRF utilize what is sure to be a hefty budget of U.S. taxpayer dollars to check to see what mosques were closed? Did USCIRF investigate why the mosques were closed? Could these mosques have been funded by Iran and run by Iranian-paid clerics? In actuality, the answer is yes — enough said on that.
One of the recommendations USCIRF had to share was to task Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with reporting more on and investigating more in Azerbaijan. This is yet another odd oversight by USCIRF, as RFE/RL is another U.S. tax payer funded entity with an over-bloated budget and one that the media, as well as political and media experts have reported is extraordinarily and wholly anti-Azerbaijan.
The USCIRF reports went on to find more seemingly erroneous and ill-investigation religious ills of Azerbaijan. The reports also made more “weird” recommendations.
Perhaps, Congress would do well to provide some oversight to what the commissions it funds are doing? It seems to me that like RFE/RL, USCIRF has odd, self-serving and uninformed agendas. We all work hard to pay our taxes. Is it too much to ask Congress to ensure that money spent effectively and efficiently?
Gabriel Da Costa is an Argentinian born journalist and commentator with an expertise in international relations and ethnic and religious affairs. Want More Stories Like This? Subscribe to our Thought Leaders Newsletter.