August 21 & 22: Universal Days of Mourning

August 27, 2021

For the past week, the world’s attention has been focused on Afghanistan.  Hence, it is not surprising that many missed two annual commemorations.  The first is August 21st: International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism.  The second is August 22nd: International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. 

Of August 22nd, the UN states:

There are continuing acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals, including against persons belonging to religious communities and religious minorities around the world, and the number and intensity of such incidents, which are often of a criminal nature and may have international characteristics, are increasing.

That is why the General Assembly … strongly condemn[s] continuing violence and acts of terrorism targeting individuals, including persons belonging to religious minorities, on the basis of or in the name of religion or belief.

The Member States reaffirmed their unequivocal condemnation of all acts, methods and practices of terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, wherever and by whomsoever committed, regardless of their motivation, and reiterated that terrorism and violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.

Here are the facts in Afghanistan.  The Sunni Taliban has a long track-record of “intolerance and violence based on religion…” against religious minorities such as Afghanistan’s Shia Hazara population, whom they view as outside of true Islam.  What makes this even worse is ethnic chauvinism, as the Taliban are largely Pashtun and the Hazara are a distinct ethnic minority. In other words, Afghanistan also faces ethno-religious cleansing, similar to Burma’s expulsion of the Muslim Rohingya minority and China’s Muslim Uighur population. 

The UN statement is unfortunately also accurate about negative global trends: we are seeing an increase in such ethno-religious violence everywhere from Nigeria’s Middle Belt to Pakistan to the Far East.

The tiny populations of Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus all face possible extinction at the hands of the Taliban. Faith-based agencies that want to help Afghanistan’s poor and vulnerable are also at risk.  We have seen the escalation of terrorism outside of Kabul’s airport, including the murder of innocent civilians and U.S. military personnel.  Moreover, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and variants of the Islamic State all use religious justifications for violent repression of people of other faiths.

It is worth asking: just what is it that the Taliban fears?  In other words, what is it about basic pluralism and religious freedom that drives them to frenzied violence?  One must conclude that the Taliban is so restrictive on matters of faith and identity because they doubt the validity of their own position.  They must loudly assert their ideology because ultimately, it rests on sinking sand.  Those who are actually confident in Truth, on the other hand, have no need to violate their neighbors’ freedom through coercion and violence because they are assured that Truth will win out in the end. 

It is sometimes easy to regard UN commemorative dates only as occasions for vapid press releases and the droning speeches of bureaucrats.  However, as we watch the downward spiral of Afghanistan, we are reminded that the “victims of terrorism” and the “victims of acts of violence” are all human persons.  Each had a name.  They were sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and parents. They were all beloved of someone.  They all had a history and a future ahead of them.  All of this was stolen from them and their loved ones.

It should not be so.