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August 12, 2014 11:41 AM Liberating Martyrs

By Ed Kilgore

Some who have read about Ted Cruz’s latest stock speech, featuring seven recent “conservative victories” that point the way forward to the Movement’s glorious future, may have been puzzled by this item, as described by Dave Weigel:

4. The liberation of Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim, which social conservatives prayed for. “President Obama somehow couldn’t bring himself to stand up and say to the government of Sudan, free Meriam Ibrahim.”

Until Ibrahim’s release, Cruz often shoehorned her with imprisoned Iranian-American Christian Saeed Abedini as people abandoned by Obama either because he didn’t care about them or was secretly hostile to Christianity. When Cruz spoke at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting in DC a couple weeks ago, these martyrs to the faith were an important part of his message, and Lou DuBose explained it all at the Washington Spectator:

While the president negotiates with the government of Iran, Cruz said, Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, is imprisoned in Tehran for the “crime of sharing the Christian faith.”
Cruz frames these stories much as televangelist Pat Robertson does, with anecdotal grace notes impossible to prove or disprove. In prison, Cruz says, Abedini has converted prisoners and prison guards to Christianity.
Meriam Ibrahim, a persistent preoccupation of the Christian right, was another meme worked by Cruz. He claimed Obama has made no effort to free the Sudanese-born American citizen from a prison in Khartoum, where the government of Sudan “has sentenced Meriam to 100 lashes, then to hang by the neck until dead.”
Ibrahim was told, Cruz said, that she would be spared “if only you will renounce Christ.”
The facts on the ground in Tehran and Khartoum are more complicated.
Abedini had entered Iran on several occasions and was building an orphanage when he was sentenced to eight years in prison for undermining the Iranian government and endangering national security by establishing home churches. As an Iranian-born Christian preacher, he was aware of the risks his work entailed in a country governed by Islamic extremists.
And Abedini wasn’t “abandoned.” He and another American imprisoned in Tehran were the only topic, other than Iran’s nuclear program, that Obama discussed when he spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in September 2013. Abedini has also been on the State Department’s agenda in every discussion the government has had with Iran since then.
Ibrahim became a victim of Sudan’s crude criminal-justice system when she married an American citizen and converted. Under Sudan’s penal code, Muslim women are forbidden to marry Christian men. While in prison, and in shackles, Ibrahim gave birth to her second child.
Ibrahim says she was brought up Christian. However, members of her family tipped off Sudanese authorities, saying she had converted from Islam, according to The Guardian, using her “apostasy” to take over her hair salon, farm and mini-market.
While Cruz accused Obama of abandoning a Christian woman in a Muslim prison, the State Department was working on her release.
Five days after Cruz spoke, Ibrahim arrived at the Khartoum airport in a bullet-proof car with an escort from the U.S. embassy. After she was detained at the airport and released for a second time, Ibrahim and her family were provided sanctuary in the U.S. embassy. (She has since arrived in New Hampshire to begin a new life.)

This is a pretty classic example of a conservative cause that simply can’t go away: if the martyrs are saved, it’s despite the covert opposition of the secular socialists in the White House, or because of conservative political pressure, or thanks to prayers. And if this or that example is no longer available, others can always be found. The main thing is to identify the oppression of Christians by authoritarian Islamic regimes with the alleged oppression of Christians here by Barack Obama, who is complicit in both. This gives well-fed white American conservative Christians the thrill of vicarious suffering in the hands of the wicked, and helps them see in things like health insurance regulations the shadow of the rack and the stake.

So we’ll probably hear some version of such stories in Cruz’s speeches for the foreseeable future. It’s part of how he manages to secure a strong footing among Christian Right foot soldiers without the kind of wilder gesticulations (he leaves those to his father, Rafael) that might disturb less religiously inclined conservatives.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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