Main Site         

Religions need to be consistent and coherent on persecution whether in Iraq or elsewhere

2014 August 22
by Paul Vallely

Consider two statements. The hate that starts with Jews never ends there, said Rabbi Jonathan Sacks last week. The persecution of Christians in Iraq has been inexplicably neglected by the British government, said the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, in a letter to the prime minister. Both men were concerned with universal issues. Yet both highlighted specific concerns of their own faith communities.

Likewise Pope Francis this week stressed universality in his concern for Iraq. Members of religious minorities, “not just Christians”, are “all equal before God”  he said, suggesting that force could lawfully be used against the so-called Islamic State to end the beheadings and crucifixions of those who refuse to embrace its perverse view of Islam. Yet the Pope’s views stood in stark contrast to what he said when the US was threatening airstrikes on Syria last year.

Then he vehemently opposed military intervention. Cynics might observe that, at that point, the Christians were largely escaping the violence in Syria’s civil war. Today, by contrast, Christians are in the frontline of persecution and are being driven from places throughout the Middle East in which they have lived for 2,000 years.

Bishop Baines’s accusation against the David Cameron’s government was that its policy in the Middle East was incoherent, unstrategic and merely reactive. With an approach which seeks simultaneously to oppose both sides in Syria’s civil war, there is truth in that – as there is in the accusation that our government has turned a blind eye to the persecution of Christians round the world.

The International Society for Human Rights estimates that  80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Despite that Western elites are largely in thrall to an outdated notion that Christianity, with its colonial and ideologically-dominant past, is a perpetrator rather than a victim. Anyone writing, until recently, to the Foreign Office to complain about Britain’s failure to address this has been greeted to a pompous politically-correct reply implying that anyone concerned about the ill-treatment of Christians must be some kind of religious bigot unconcerned at the plight of other minorities.

Even so, it is important that religious leaders do not focus on persecution only when it is their own adherents – in Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Syria or wherever – who are under attack.

Criticism of Israel is not anti-semitism, says Lord Sacks, and yet he decries a “rush to judgement… that if people are killed it is Israel’s fault”. Bishop Baines laments the government’s lack of  “a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism… across the globe” yet it is unclear what he wants the broader strategy to be to curb jihadi terrorists in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and elsewhere. Pope Francis should consider whether earlier military action in Syria, or pressure on the Qataris and Saudi who fund salafi jihadism, might have prevented the spread of the savagery which now so repels him.  Coherence is not merely the province of governments.


from The Church Times

Comments are closed.