Last week, a coalition of mostly far-right Christian organisations hosted a conference in Washington that claimed to be defending persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Given the very real threat facing vulnerable ancient religious communities at the hands of barbarous groups such as ISIL, one might be inclined to commend the organisers. However, an examination of the groups involved and the list of invited speakers shows that the conference’s purposes appear to be dangerously provocative.
Among the featured speakers are a handful of notorious Islamophobes and a strange collection of individuals who claim to have been “radical Muslims” of one stripe or another, all of whom say they have now converted to Christianity and have come forward to tell their conversion stories.
One of the listed headliners was Frank Gaffney who heads an organisation that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identifies as an “anti-Muslim hate group”. Mr Gaffney is one of the main propagators of the notion that president Barack Obama “may be a Muslim” and that a Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, is a secret operative of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another speaker representing an SPLC-listed hate group is retired general William Boykin, a Bush-era Pentagon official who gained notoriety when it was revealed that he had repeatedly compared the Iraq war to the Crusades, boasting that the US/Christian side was bound to win because “our God is bigger than theirs”. Gen Boykin has also said that “Islam is evil” and should not be protected by the First Amendment.
Among the others scheduled to address the event were a number of evangelical preachers, Donald Trump supporters, and Christian missionaries devoted to converting Muslims.
The organisers invited some converts to share their stories. One of them, Tass Saada, claims to have been a PLO sniper until he saw the light and converted to Christianity. He founded the Hope for Ishmael group to encourage other Muslims to convert. Another speaker, Daniel Shayesteh, is an Iranian American who claims to have been an Islamic extremist at the age of 9. He became a Christian and founded the group Exodus from Darkness.
It was especially troubling that a number of conservative Republican Members of Congress and State Department officials were scheduled.