As the violence in Ivory Coast continues to spiral out of control (to understand the conflict more fully, see my most recent update on the situation), it seems as though most Americans remain fairly ignorant about the power struggle between Ivory Coast’s incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power despite the fact that his rival, Alassane Ouattara, won a national election in November. Since then, Ouattara has been attempting to take over control of the country, while Gbagbo maintains that he is still the legitimate leader of Ivory Coast.
Although a recent massacre in an Ivory Coast town led UN leaders to question just how much control Ouattara has over his troops, he remains uniformly backed by the United Nations and most Western countries. However, forces loyal to Gbagbo have shown a much more ruthless tendency toward violence against civilians, and in any case, Gbagbo, having lost the election, needs to step down. Members of the American Christian Right, however, continue to support Gbagbo, not because he is the rightful leader of his country, but because he’s Christian. Foremost among these is Pat Robertson, who made waves when he backed Liberian President Charles Taylor in 2003, and is now urging Gbagbo to stay in office.
In January, Pat Robertson opened his TV show by commenting, “Everybody says this man [Gbagbo] is an evil thug who needs to go. That’s not true. He’s a Christian, he’s a nice person, and he’s run a fairly clean operation in the Ivory Coast.”
This is despite the fact that human rights abuses have been documented against Gbagbo (although, to be fair, Ouattara’s troops have not kept their hands clean either). But the reason that civilians are dying currently is because Gbagbo is refusing, after having lost an election, to step down. Needless to say, Robertson seems unwilling to grapple with these issues. Instead, the fact that Gbagbo is Christian and that Ouattara is Muslim seems much more salient. Robertson claimed that the UN is “controlled so much by Muslim countries” and, most recently, that Ouattara taking office would result in “one more Muslim nation that’s going to be building up that ring of Shari’a law around the Middle East.”
It may not seem to matter what Robertson thinks about this crisis, but the fact that the country is teetering on the brink of civil war should be of concern because of the connections between Gbagbo and Senator James Inhofe, who knows Gbagbo personally. Their shared evangelical Christianity is, according to Justin Elliot in a piece for Salon, a potential factor in Inhofe’s decision to release a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to reconsider the election dispute in favor of Gbagbo.
Whether the United States will or should intervene in this conflict is a question that I don’t feel qualified to answer. But I know one thing: I am very uncomfortable with the idea that control of Ivory Coast should be decided on the basis of the two rival leaders’ religions. And let’s face it – this is an area where Pat Robertson does not have a good track record.
Take Action: Sign the Care2 petition to protect the citizens of the Ivory Coast.
Photo from Flickr.