Sunday, July 13, 2003

Just shut up, Pat
That Pat Roberson is an annoying, self-righteous hypocrite is not news and the fact that it is not must explain the free ride he usually gets for his outrageous statements and behavior. Most of the time, reporting that he has said something offensive would be a ho-hum affair akin to saying the Israelis and Palestinians can’t agree on the final status of Jerusalem, Seattle will have a wet winter, and the White Socks didn’t make it to the World Series. None of these things happening are news; one of them not happening would be news.

If this sounds like I’m leading up to complimenting Roberson for saying something wise and reasoned, you can stop holding your breath. He hasn’t. In fact, he has reached a new level of vile and self-serving behavior. That’s quite an accomplishment for an Evangelical Protestant who excused China’s policy of forced abortions and a flag waving patriot who blamed 9/11 on the American people for annoying God.

It seems Robertson is outraged by the situation in Liberia and the reaction of our government to it. Most of us are. Liberia is a mess.

Liberia is not just part of the maelstrom of civil wars, failed states, child warriors, and genocide in West Africa; it is the source of much of that chaos. Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the nineteenth century and has always had a special relationship with the United States (for better or worse). In 1989 Charles Taylor raised a banner of rebellion against the brutal junta that had run the country for the previous eight years. Since then, Taylor has raged across Liberia and exported his war to Sierra Leone and Guinea leading to an estimated 200,000 deaths and countless injuries and mutilations. In 1997 he managed to get himself elected president of Liberia.

Human rights groups regularly condemn Taylor as one of the most brutal dictators in Africa. He is only the second sitting president to be indicted by a war crimes tribunal (Slobodan Milosevic was the first).

On Monday, Roberson commented to the estimated one million viewers of his cable TV show The 700 Club, "So we're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country. And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down.' " Charles Taylor doesn’t have many high profile supporters in this country. But then, not many people in this country have invested eight million dollars in a business partnership with Taylor.

Since April 1999, a Robertson-owned company, Freedom Gold Ltd., which lists Robertson as its president and sole director, has held the concession to mine for gold in the Bokon Jideh region of Liberia. Ten percent of the profits of the operation go to the Republic of Liberia, which till now has meant in effect Charles Taylor.

Robertson appears to be alone among Evangelicals in his enthusiasm for Taylor. Some Evangelicals are openly critical of him. Richard Land, public policy head of the Southern Baptist Convention says: "I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one."

Serge Duss, of the Christian relief group World Vision, called Robertson’s portrayal of the Liberian civil war as a fight between Christians and Muslims a gross oversimplification. It’s worse than that. Taylor has been linked to Osama bin Laden. They are both believed to be part of a network that launders conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone. In addition, Taylor has been accused of sheltering bin Laden agents in the weeks following 9/11.

Robertson has a history of entering into business deals with tyrants and acting as apologists for them in the US media. In his book The Most Dangerous man in America? Pat Roberson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition, Robert Boston documents some of Robertson’s partnerships. When Robertson was in the diamond mining business with Mobutu Sese Seko he lobbied the State Department to lift a travel ban on the Zairian dictator. When he gained a cable concession in China, he suddenly understood their need for a policy of forced abortions, despite his being on record opposing the availability of voluntary abortion anywhere else on the planet.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has kept tabs on Robertson’s business dealings for years (mostly through Boston’s reporting). AU director Barry Lynn gets right to the point: “Robertson would have his viewers believe that his interest in Liberia is purely humanitarian. In fact, he’s become partners with a dictator in the hopes of making money, and now he needs to prop that man up no matter what. Robertson ought to be ashamed of himself.” Sadly, shame seems to an emotion Robertson does not know.

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