Fighting is raging in the Ivory Coast capital Abidjan today after forces loyal to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara — who won last year’s presidential election according to the U.N., the African Union, and other international observers — have pinned down Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president who refuses to relinquish power, in “a bunker beneath his residence.”
The international community and the U.S. government have been united against Gbagbo, who has been fighting tooth and nail to retain power, and is accused of committing numerous war crimes. Gbagbo has even attacked U.N. personnel and facilities, prompting the international body to launch a rare offensive against his beleaguered forces last night. Now, Gbagbo is reportedly negotiating a surrender and the conflict, which analysts just days ago feared could spin out of control, could now come to an end within “hours.”
That is, unless some in the American Christian right, who want to turn this into a religious battle, have their way. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) took to the Senate floor yesterday to give a lengthy speech in defense of incumbent Gbagbo and his powerful wife, whom Inhofe called “good friends.” Inhofe painted a picture of the conflict in polar opposition to the facts on the ground, accusing challenger Ouattara of “rigg[ing]” last November’s elections, and ludicrously claiming that Gbagbo’s forces “don’t have any weapons.” Thus, Inhofe demanded an immediate ceasefire in the conflict, even though Gbagbo’s forces have already been routed. Watch a portion of Inhofe’s speech:
Why would Inhofe defend a war criminal tyrant in contradiction to every international human rights organization and his own government? As Salon’s Justin Elliott reported last week, Gbagbo, an evangelical Christian, has “longtime ties to the Christian right in the United States,” in part through a secretive international network of powerful evangelical Christians known as the Fellowship. Inhofe and many of his colleagues have reportedly lived in the Fellowship’s congressional boarding house on C Street in Washington.
But Ouattara is Muslim. So last night, Fox News Host Glenn Beck defended “the current Christian president” Gbagbo, downplaying the atrocities he has committed, and excusing his refusal to leave office by saying that “he fears that [Ouattara] is going to round up all of [his] supporters and kill them all.” Beck also attacked President Obama for supporting Ouattara, noting the challenger is “a Muslim.”
And today, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, who has repeatedly defended the dictator, said that Gbagbo’s impending departure is a “great tragedy” because the country is now “going to be into the hands of Muslims.”
While it seems clear now that both sides in the Ivory Coast have some blood on their hands, according to human rights monitors, Gbagbo has much much more, and is clearly violating the will of his people. But to Inhofe, Beck, and Robertson, it seems this doesn’t really matter, as long as he’s not Muslim.