24 July 2014, The Tablet

Shameful apathy over Christians’ plight

David Cameron caused consternation among the secular intelligentsia in 2011 when he declared, in a speech to a church audience, “We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so.” The evidence that was subsequently much argued over related almost wholly to domestic policy and the state of public opinion in Britain. Nothing the Prime Minister said then referred to foreign policy where, despite the occasional mention of human rights, Britain’s preference has usually been to pursue its interests rather than its principles. There is hardly a glimpse of what might be called a Christian foreign policy, such as would be recognisable to, say, Gladstone or Palmerston.

For instance, can a “Christian country”, or at least a Government thereof which sees itself in such terms, ignore what is happening to Christians overseas? Francis Campbell, a distinguished holder of the post of British Ambassador to the Holy See, has challenged the Prime Minister via social media about his apparent indifference to what is happening to Christian communities in Iraq. The entire Christian population of Mosul, a presence there for at least 1,600 years, has been driven out by the Islamist fanatics of ISIS under the threat of death or forced conversion. “A culture and civilisation is being destroyed and our political leaders are silent,”

Mr Campbell said. “Why is the UK silent on the ethnic cleansing of Christians from Mosul?”

This is not the worst humanitarian outrage attributable to ISIS, whose aim is the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Its primary enemy appears to be the entire Shia population both of Iraq and Syria. The rise of Sunni jihadism is one of the most alarming side effects of the instability across the Arab world that interventionist Western policy has aggravated if not actually caused. In Iraq and Syria the Arab “spring” has quickly turned, for Arab Christians, into the deepest and darkest Arab winter. Almost everywhere, ancient Christian villages were dotted across the mainly Muslim landscape. Now whole areas have been emptied of a faith that had been present far longer than Islam. But what has happened in Mosul adds a new and horrific dimension – Christian properties  marked with the letter “N” for “Nazarene” to single them out; churches converted to mosques, or burnt.

For centuries Islam proved a tolerant majority religion and the Qur’an offered a framework for co-existence. But something fundamental has changed, and the West needs to change its policy accordingly.

It has a shameful history of indifference to the persecution of Christians, preferring trade and armaments deals with repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and indicating to its rulers that the West has become devoid of moral principles. If Isis wins in Syria and Iraq, how long before the West starts selling it armaments and buying its oil? Greater solidarity with Middle East Christians has been shown by the Jews of Israel and the Kurds in Iraq. By and large, Western governments treat them as an inconvenience or embarrassment – or worse, as potential “asylum seekers” to be held at bay at almost any cost.

What do you think?


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