As long as we're talking about religious zealotry and the death and destruction it inflicts....
The west African nation of Ivory Coast has been in turmoil ever since incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing an internationally certified election in late November. As forces loyal to Gbagbo have killed civilians and been accused of crimes against humanity, and as the number of refugees from the country has ballooned to as many as 1 million, observers have described the situation as worse than the Libyan conflict.
While the crisis has gotten substantial press attention, one aspect of Gbagbo's past -- and present -- has flown under the radar: his longtime ties to the Christian right in the United States, a movement in which he still finds at least some support.
That includes a U.S. senator and acquaintance of Gbagbo who declined to intervene in the crisis when asked by the State Department earlier this year, a former congressman who was hired by Gbagbo as a lobbyist, and a Christian right TV network that ran a fawning profile of Gbagbo, even as violence engulfed Ivory Coast. The senator, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, today released a letter to Hillary Clinton calling for new elections in Ivory Coast, putting him in direct opposition to the view of the Obama administration, the United Nations and the African Union that Gbagbo lost a fair election.
Gbagbo, along with his influential wife, Simone, are evangelical Christians who are known for lacing their speeches with religious rhetoric. "God is leading our fight. God has already given us the victory," Simone Gbagbo, who is both first lady and politician in her own right, said at a rally in January. Both Gbagbos have attended the National Prayer Breakfast, a big annual Washington event run by the secretive Christian group known as the Family, or the Fellowship.
Gbagbo has also found support in right-wing Christian media. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network has run multiple pieces supporting Gbagbo. A CBN reporter even traveled to Ivory Coast to look into claims of voter fraud and to conduct a friendly interview with Gbagbo, who is portrayed as a pious man deserving of admiration.
"Everybody says this man is an evil thug who needs to go," said Robertson introducing one segment in January. "That's not true. He's a Christian..."
The Fellowship, founded in 1935, cultivates relationships with people in positions of power in both the United States and abroad (it has long been active in Africa) to promote conservative evangelical values. It has drawn controversy for, among other things, running the C Street House, where several members of Congress live, and itsties to proposed legislation in Uganda that would provide for the death penalty for the "crime" of homosexuality.
Gbagbo's backing from the Christian right has come from a few sources, some of which share a common link to the Fellowship. The reasons for the support are not clear, though it may have to do with both long-standing relationships between Gbagbo and evangelicals active in Africa, and the fact that Gbagbo is Christian and his opponent, Alassane Ouattara -- the internationally recognized president of Ivory Coast -- is Muslim.
Anti-Muslim and pro-killing of gays. Good enough for me. And, evidently, American evangelicals.