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On Thursday in the House of Lords the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, described the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world as "one of the crimes against humanity of our time", adding that he was "appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked". Speaking in a debate on religious freedom organised by Catholic peer Lord Alton, he also expressed his sorrow at the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. "Forgive me if I say that I did not expect, 120 years after the Dreyfus case and 70 years after the Holocaust, that the cry of “Death to the Jews” would be heard again in the streets of France and Germany," he said.
My Lords, I, too, am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us this opportunity to share our concerns about one of the most profoundly disturbing developments in our time. Seldom have I heard a more searing and devastating set of testimonies than I have heard today of the evils currently being committed in the name of the God of love and peace and compassion.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1989, Soviet communism collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War came to an end. Many believed that we were about to witness throughout the world the spread of market economics, liberal democracy and the kind of tolerances we associate with both. Today, we know it did not happen that way. We have seen instead a new tribalism, leading to massacres in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, the division and balkanisation of societies along religious lines, and the return of the one thing that could take humanity back to the dark ages, namely the use of religion as the robe of sanctity to disguise and legitimate the naked pursuit of power.
The persecution of Christians throughout much of the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I am appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked. We have heard about this from many eloquent speakers today. What is happening to Christians in these places is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. We must not forget either, as others have said, that the vast majority of victims of Islamist violence and terror are Muslim, and our hearts go out to them too, as they do to members of all other persecuted groups such as the Baha’i in Iran, and so many others.
I wish I did not have to speak about the position of Jewish communities throughout the world but, sadly, I do. In the past few weeks mobs have assaulted Jews in France, attacking synagogues and setting fire to Jewish-owned shops. There were attacks in Berlin. In November 2013, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published a report showing that two-thirds of the Jews in Europe regard anti-Semitism as a significant factor in their lives, three-quarters believe that it has worsened significantly in the past five years, one-third have personally experienced some form of harassment, and they are deeply afraid for the future. Forgive me if I say that I did not expect, 120 years after the Dreyfus case and 70 years after the Holocaust, that the cry of “Death to the Jews” would be heard again in the streets of France and Germany.
In all this we recognise the power of the internet and social media to turn any local conflict into a global one. We see how the wilful confusion of religion and politics allows soluble political problems to be turned into insoluble religious ones. We witness the ignorance that allows people to mistake one strand within a faith for the whole of that faith, and we pay a high price for our fascination with extremists. It is the worst, not the best, who know how to capture the attention of a troubled and confused world.
That people in the 21st century are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated and robbed of their liberties because of the way they worship God is a moral outrage, a political scandal and a desecration of faith itself. I believe that God himself weeps at the evils being committed in His name. Let us urge, as strongly as we can, the worldwide implementation of Article 18 as one of the great challenges of our time so that we can all exercise our fundamental right to live our faith without fear.
Courtesy of the Office of Lord Sacks