22 December 2013, The Tablet

British MPs 'forsaking' cause of Middle Eastern Christians

The shadow foreign secretary has accused British politicians of having “forsaken” speaking out about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, who are being deliberately targeted for their faith. 

Douglas Alexander, who is an active member of the Church of Scotland, made his comments in the Sunday Telegraph days after Pope Francis Tweeted that “cannot resign ourselves to think of a Middle East without Christians” and the Prince of Wales voiced his concern that ancient Middle Eastern communities’ very existence was being threatened by Islamist militants. 

The Labour politician said his party would be prepared to support the coalition Government on the issue as part of Britain's membership the UN Human Rights Council. 

“Why, when popes and princes are speaking up, have so many politicians here in the UK forsaken speaking out?” he asked.  

Mr Alexander, Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, said that many politicians seem to fear discussing any matters related to faith either through “a misplaced sense of political correctness, or some sense of embarrassment at ‘doing God’ in an age when secularism is more common. 

He lamented that a proper discussion of the complex roots and causes behind the persecution of Christians, which include secular ideologies as well as religious intolerance, has not taken place. 

“In this twenty-first century, we should be supporting the building of societies that respect human rights and the rule of law, and make clear that freedom of religion or belief is a universal concern,” he stressed.

Mr Alexander listed recent attacks on Christians in Syria, Egypt, Nigerian and Pakistan.

He praised as “lone voices” two politicians who have raised the issue: the Conservative Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi, for comments in a speech she gave in the US last month warning about the possible extinction of Christians in the Middle East, and the DUP MP Jim Shannon, who secured a debate in the House of Commons about the persecution of Christians.

In March, the UK will assume its place on the UN Human Rights Council, Mr Alexander noted, adding that this will offer the UK Government “a unique and timely opportunity to use this platform to speak up for religious freedom as a fundamental human right and speak out against the persecution of Christians.”

“If the UK Government does so, we, as the Opposition, will support them,” he added.

People of all faiths and none should be horrified by this persecution, and British politicians “cannot, and … must not, stand by on the other side in silence for fear of offence”, he wrote, adding that anti-Christian persecution was “an evil” just like anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, he said. 

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