Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.
In a conference hall in Geneva on Friday, the world’s governments will send a fateful message about their views of prejudice against the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims. On that date, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) — consisting of 169 member governments — is scheduled to elect its new director general. The individual nominated by the Trump administration, Ken Isaacs, has an unfortunate record of bigoted statements against Islam.
The facts are not in dispute. As The Post and others have reported, Isaacs has in recent years repeatedly posted statements online reflecting the view that Islam is a religion that is inherently violent and inextricably linked to terrorism.
After the July 2016 terrorist attack in Nice, in which a Tunisian resident of France drove a truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 people, Isaacs tweeted that “Islam is not peaceful.” In September of that year, he tweeted that “Islam is 7th Century violence and bullying.” In a June 2017 tweet, he commented on a CNN International report quoting the bishop of Southwark Cathedral in London after terrorists killed eight people in that city. According to CNN, the bishop stated that the attack and the killings were “not what the Muslim faith asks people to do.” Isaacs responded, “Bishop, if you read the Quran you will know ‘this’ is exactly what the Muslim faith instructs the faithful to do.” And in Twitter replies to expressions of sorrow about the 2016 Orlando nightclub terrorist attack, he simply tweeted the hashtag #Islam.
There are more such tweets from Isaacs, as well as retweets of other condemnations of Islam for acts violence and terrorism, all of which fuel prejudice against Muslims.
The statements are appalling by themselves, but more so given the important position Isaacs is seeking. The director general of IOM oversees an institution that is playing a key role in meeting the growing challenges of global migration. With an annual budget of more than $1 billion and an international staff, IOM provides a broad menu of critical services both to governments and people on the move. This includes assistance to newly resettled refugees, voluntary repatriation of vulnerable migrants to countries of origin, shelter for individuals displaced by conflict, and programs to prevent human trafficking, among dozens of other valuable initiatives.
My concern about this issue is reinforced by my personal experiences with this important organization. As a former National Security Council official, as U.N. deputy envoy for tsunami recovery between 2005 and 2007, and as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration between 2009 and 2011, I witnessed firsthand critical IOM work on refugee resettlement and on an array of international shelter, health-care and other assistance initiatives.
IOM is very active in countries that are majority-Muslim, and Isaacs has understandably apologized for his unfortunate statements. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his apology, and we should welcome his renunciation of such noxious comments. Moreover, Isaacs, who has already had a long career in humanitarian service, will no doubt continue to make contributions to the field.
But he should not be elected to lead the world’s most important international migration agency. For that position, his regrettable statements must be disqualifying.
Imagine, for instance, had a candidate for this position made a similar succession of disparaging remarks about Jews, Catholics, evangelical Christians or any other religious group. Would anyone seriously suggest that such statements should not present a bar from assuming such an important office as director general of IOM? Of course not, because electing such an individual would be disrespectful, dispiriting and demoralizing to the victims of such expressions of bias.
Two other credible candidates, from Portugal and Costa Rica, provide real alternatives for IOM leadership, and one or the other should be chosen.
Some IOM members may be concerned that defeat of the American candidate could put at risk financial support from the United States, which provides the organization with about one-third of its budget. Such an aid cut would be unfortunate and disruptive, but such fears should not guide decision-making on such a fundamental issue of principle.
Expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment — or prejudice against any religious group — should be a source of profound concern for citizens and governments around the world. Now is a moment for world leaders to give voice to that concern and to avoid complicity in prejudice. The IOM mission, which includes upholding the human dignity and well-being of all migrants, demands no less.