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Rick Santorum and Christians in Peril

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Last week presidential hopeful Rick Santorum warned that President Obama and "other liberals" are leading people of faith down a path that ends at the guillotine. Santorum is right that Christians are facing imminent death. Right now, millions of Christians in Nigeria and Sudan are being bombed, starved, ethnically cleansed, or intimidated. Evidently Santorum wasn't referring to them, however, because they are black and African, and they don't have votes in the Republican primaries. Nor did he mean the Arab Christians in the Middle East who are being terrorized, threatened, and even assassinated in an atmosphere of increasing intolerance since the invasion of Iraq. Instead, Senator Santorum is highlighting the mortal danger posed to Americans of faith by the existence of gays, contraceptives, and Planned Parenthood, a far cry from the Sudanese armed forces going from door to door, forcing Christians onto trucks and driving them to mass graves at the edge of town, according to satellite images from Sudan. Sadly, Santorum joins other Western politicians like George W. Bush and Tony Blair who make much of how their profound religious faith defines their values, while doing little to help Christians in harm's way.

Right now, several hundred thousand Christians are hiding in caves in the Nuba mountains of Sudan. They have abandoned their villages because the Sudanese regime, based in Khartoum, has been systematically bombing them. Unable to get to their fields to farm, they are surviving on wild plants. Susan Rice, the U.S.'s ambassador to the U.N., has warned the Nuba people are "one step short of full-scale famine."

The State Department is threatening to flout international sovereignty to cross the border to deliver aid to the Nuba people without Khartoum's permission, an indication that President Obama is concerned about Christians in dire need. Even in the mountains the Nuba are tracked by helicopter gun ships, hunted like animals as they run between rocks, looking for shelter from the threat above. I find this especially distressing because my novel about Sudan, published as recently as April, opens with exactly this scene. When I wrote it, I had hoped I was describing an event that would not be repeated, rather than predicting the near future.

For the last six months the Nuba have been stalked by the extreme Islamist regime in Khartoum, but it isn't the first time they have endured President Bashir's attempts to destroy them. Half a million Nuba were killed in a previous jihad in the early 1990s. Last year the Sudanese leader warned "We will force them back into the mountains and prevent them from having food just as we did before."

The Nuba, being black, African, and mostly non-Muslim, do not fit into Bashir's grim vision for a nation that does not question the supreme authority of his ruling National Islamic Front (recently rebranded for Western donor consumption as the National Congress Party). The ruling ethnic groups, who consider themselves Arab and Muslim, seem not to consider the Nuba quite human. Winston Churchill describes visiting the area in the early 1900s and witnessing the troops from Khartoum using the Nuba for target practice.

In January the Sudanese armed forces bombed a Nuba Christian school funded by U.S. donors, and since last July churches and church staff have been deliberately targeted by Sudanese armed forces and their proxies. They are facing their "guillotine," in the form of shells and shrapnel, right now.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, Boko Haram, a violent Islamist group with links to al-Qaeda, is killing hundreds of black African Christians. On Jan. 20 a latest in a series of bombs in the Nigerian city of Kano left 185 dead. It is feared Boko Haram's war on Christian Nigerians may soon spread, putting the very future of this nation of 150 million souls at great risk.

One look at the website of Christian Solidarity Worldwide confirms that brave people of faith daily run a gauntlet of horror and oppression. Yet Senator Santorum evidently believes his efforts are better directed toward warning Americans of their impending rendezvous with a guillotine. The senator could redeem himself by pressing President Obama to work within the U.N. to enforce the many unenforced Security Council resolutions against the regime of President Bashir of Sudan. He could urge the Obama administration to use the various economic levers at its disposal to push Khartoum into allowing humanitarian aid groups to reach the soon-to-be-starving Nuba people. He could call for a no-fly zone over the disputed border between Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan, ensuring that all parties finally agree where the border will be, and guaranteeing rights for religious and ethnic minorities in both countries.

Jesus was always more interested in a person's acts rather than their hyperbole. I look forward to witnessing Senator Santorum's deeply held beliefs in action, helping Christians who are truly in peril.