Tyranny and Liberty

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On the international stage this past week we saw on display two visions for the world and its people: a vision of tyranny, a vision of freedom.

First at Columbia University, and later at the UN, we had a preening and blustering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the apocalyptically minded president of Iran.

While the invitation to speak at Columbia was outrageous, I do credit the students for asking the right questions. They forced attention on Ahmadinejad's crimes, present and planned: the dream of an exterminated Israel; the death penalty for homosexuals; oppression of women and persecution for Iran's Christian population; the quashing of political dissent; and the funding of regional terrorism.

Ahmadinejad crossed paths with President Bush at the UN on Tuesday, where both leaders spoke. President Bush revealed—in the presence of the Iranian leader—the ruthlessness of Ahmadinejad's ideology without actually mentioning him by name.

Bush reminded the General Assembly that the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims "the inherent dignity" and the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as "the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." That Declaration, by the way, was drafted—not surprisingly—by Ambassador Charles Malik of Lebanon, a strong Christian.

The mission of the United Nations, Bush continued, "requires liberating people from tyranny and violence." And he added: "Every civilized nation . . . has a responsibility to stand up for the people suffering under dictatorship. In Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration."

In the long run, he said, "The best way to defeat extremists is to defeat their dark ideology with a more hopeful vision—the vision of liberty that founded this body."

Ahmadinejad would, I am sure, claim that the UN has no business interfering with Iran's internal affairs. He would not be the first tyrant to make this claim.

In 1973, President Nixon sent me to Moscow to negotiate for the release of Soviet Jews. I told Vasily Kuznetsov, the hard-line Soviet deputy foreign minister, that if the Soviets did not allows Jews to emigrate, Congress would not pass the trade treaty, which the Soviets desperately needed to get grain.

Kuznetsov pounded the table and shouted, "You have no right to interfere in our internal affairs!"

I told him, "These aren't your internal affairs. Human rights are not conferred by government, and they cannot be denied by government. They are God-given to everyone."

Kuznetsov finally backed down, and that year 35,000 Jews were released—and the grain was shipped.

This vision of human rights is only possible in a Christian worldview—the one that shaped the founding of our own nation, one that sees man as made in the image of God and, thus, with certain inalienable rights, as our Declaration of Independence puts it. It stands in stark contrast to worldviews whose followers, like Ahmadinejad, are bent on destroying freedom.

Those speeches this past week put the different worldviews of radical Islam and the Christian West in sharp relief. They remind us what a dangerous world we live in—dangers that cannot be wished away. We must pray that our leaders, now and in the years to come, will do what Bush did this past week: uphold the Christian view and denounce ideologies that offer, not life and liberty, but slavery and death.


From BreakPoint®, September 28, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship