When altruism is wrongly used as a shield
Review by Steve Fouch - CMF Head of Allied Professions Ministries
Katherine Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty (1) is riding high in the aftermath of its Oscar nomination, it is interesting to reflect that the film got at least one thing wrong in its telling of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In 2011, Dr Shakil Afridi entered the alleged compound of bin Laden, ostensibly to take blood samples and administer a hepatitis B vaccination (not a polio vaccination as the film and indeed the Taliban both seem to think). The vaccination was a fake – the operation was a ruse to try to get genetic samples to prove this was bin Laden's household before a CIA strike force was sent in. (2)
The consequence has been all too tragic – murders of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan last year by the Taliban, (3) and in February this year, in Kano Nigeria. up to nine workers (all women) were gunned down, allegedly by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. (4) In a context of the long-held suspicion of some Nigerian, Pakistani and Afghan mullahs who claimed that global vaccination programmes were cover for a plot by the CIA to sterilise Muslims. This was reinforced with lethal effect by the hunt for bin Laden.
The horror is that these three nations are the only ones in the world where poliomyelitis has not yet been eradicated by vaccination. From over 350,000 cases worldwide a year in 1988 to barely 250 in 2012, the global eradication of polio has been a massive near success. Sadly, the final push may just have been delayed or even reversed by this ignominious episode, as polio rates in all three countries are now going up again. (5)
Zero Dark Thirty may be a Hollywood take on these events but it misses the wider consequences of the operation. Christians are working in all three countries to tackle the awful health problems afflicting their populations, and have faced harassment, persecution and even death in doing so. Christians are even more readily identified with the foreign policies of Western governments than most, because of the mistaken assumption that the West is Christian
There are CMF members and their families and colleagues very much in the way of harm as they seek to serve Christ in serving the poor. (6) We need to remember them in our prayers as global events like these affect their lives and ministries.
2. Walsh D, Fallout of Bin Laden Raid: Aid Groups in Pakistan Are Suspect, New York Times. 2 May 2012,
3. Walsh D & McNeil Jr. D G, Gunmen: in Pakistan Kill Women Who Were Giving Children Polio Vaccines, New York Times, 18 December 2012.
4. Smith D, Polio workers in Nigeria shot dead, The Guardian, 8 February 2013.
6. Matthew 25:31-46