A Further Perspective

The Weaknesses of Hashtag Diplomacy

Feel-good tweets won’t save the day in Sudan either.

By 6.10.14

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Social media is buzzing; demonstrations are being held across the U.S.; petitions abound, and outrage is growing toward the government of Sudan because of the death penalty against Dr. Mariam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag (age 27) who is subject to death by stoning as soon as she weans her newborn daughter. In the meantime, she will receive “only 100 lashes” in punishment while she nurses her baby. Her crime? Dr. Ibrahim is accused of apostasy because she married a Christian man after being born to a Muslim father who abandoned his family when she was a child and was raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian mother, who is an Orthodox Christian. Ironically, Muslim men may marry non-Muslims, but Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslim men. She refuses to denounce her faith and thus was turned in to the Sudanese authorities by her brothers who claimed that her marriage is invalid because she was “born a Muslim.”

The Ibrahim case — while not as dramatic as the kidnapping of 300 Nigerian schoolgirls — is another heartbreaking example of the harsh inhumanity of Islamic jihad. Further, it shows the glaring hypocrisy of Sudan’s claims of religious freedom. Britain’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonda, issued a statement that laments the realities of Sudanese “justice”: “This barbaric sentence highlights the stark divide between the practices of the Sudanese courts and the country’s international human rights obligations.”

While the international outcry is gratifying in its endorsement of human rights and its outrage at the Islamic jihad and Sharia law, hashtag diplomacy has distinct limitations; it may serve as a starting point provided it doesn’t merely fade away after serving only to vent emotion, and it is no substitute for action. Dr. Ibrahim is the wife of an American citizen; her children are American citizens; it is only a matter of time before she will have American citizenship.

Yet, Dr. Ibrahim remains imprisoned, along with her two-year-old son and newborn daughter, who was born while Dr. Ibrahim was chained to her prison bed. Dr. Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, who was subsequently allowed to visit his family in prison and who is seeking the release of his wife and children, complained of the harsh conditions of his family’s imprisonment in Khartoum.

The governments of the United Kingdom and the European Union have publicly condemned Sudan; the Dutch and Canadian governments have also expressed concern, Several embassies — the U.S., Canada, U.K, Netherlands embassies — issued a joint statement: “We call upon the government of the Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs.” Dr. Robert P. George, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said, “Mrs. Ibrahim should be released immediately and all charges dropped. This case and the sentencing are a travesty for religious freedom and human rights in Sudan.” British Prime Minister David Cameron said the treatment of 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim “is barbaric and has no place in today’s world.” Former British leader Tony Blair, described the case as a "brutal and sickening distortion of faith.”

In the face of the international outcry over both Dr. Ibriham and the Boko Haram’s hideous kidnapping of the Nigerian school girls — America’s mainstream media remains placidly unconcerned. Hashtag diplomacy via social media is about all that continues even though Boko Haram continues its anti-Christian rampage in the backcountry areas and the Islamic jihad continues its brutal policies against Christians in Sudan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Strangely, the President of the United States is mum about these injustices while he announces the release — amid Rose Garden fanfare — of a reported military deserter from captivity and opens wide the borders of the U.S. for floods of illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, the first lady tweets out a solemn picture of herself holding a sign with a hashtag about bringing the kidnapped girls home.

It’s not enough to express outrage at the lack of basic human rights in Sudan and to express concerns about the injustice of Sharia law; something must be done. High-level involvement is required; action must be taken. Just as the United States’ failure to respond to the 1994 Rwandan genocide under President Clinton will forever besmirch America’s honor, the U.S. will again dishonor itself if it stands idly by while human rights, religious freedom, and life itself are blatantly abused, with segments of the population in Africa and the Middle East being victimized by barbaric practices. Tweeting away with ineffectual hashtag diplomacy in the end is mere sloganeering that does no more than cover over a lack of action to make the tweeter feel good and look involved. Such tokenism in the place of effective action is a travesty and makes a mockery of those American ideals that once were the inspiration of the world. At this time of remembrance of D-Day and the sacrifices that America once made to free the world of tyranny, it is particularly heartbreaking to think that today we cannot be moved to action by the heartless oppression of innocents by these petty savage tyrants.

 

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About the Author

Janice Shaw Crouse, author of Children at Risk and Marriage Matters, is executive director and senior fellow at Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute. She received an “Abolitionist” award from the U.S. State Department and a Global Leadership Award for her work on international issues.