Barnabas Editorial: Persecution of Christians “a global crisis” says UK Govt

November 26, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

 

Baroness Warsi, UK Minister for Faith

Baroness Warsi, UK Minister for Faith

November 21, 2013: The UK’s first Minister for Faith, Baroness Warsi, a Muslim, has become the most senior British politician to speak out against the persecution of Christians.

It is a subject that finally seems to be gathering some momentum after having been ignored for many years.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how moderateMuslims have been risking their safety in speaking out against Islamic extremism and condemning acts of violence against Christians and other non-Muslims.

Last week I focused on debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

And this week, I am pleased to be able to continue the theme thanks to Lady Warsi’s speech, which, because of the seniority of her position, has attracted a considerable amount of media attention.

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington DC on Saturday (16 November), Britain’s first Muslim cabinet minister said that the persecution of Christians “has become a global crisis” that requires an international response. She described it as “the biggest challenge we face in this young century”.

Lady Warsi focused on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, noting how militant violence is driving them out of their homelands in droves. She said:

These communities have lived in these regions for centuries, in places where their faith was born. Yet some are portrayed as newcomers … are increasingly treated as outsiders. These minority populations have co-existed with the majority for generations. Yet a mass exodus is taking place, on a Biblical scale. In some places, there is real danger that Christianity will become extinct.

DIAGNOSING THE PROBLEM

Lady Warsi’s assessment of the underlying cause of anti-Christian persecution was insightful and accurate but, I would argue, only part of the picture.

US drone strikes in Pakistan were used by militants to justify a church bombing

US drone strikes in Pakistan were used by militants to justify a church bombing

She said that faith is now “forming the fault lines” in which “my ally and my enemy are determined not by geography or politics or colour, but more and more so by religion”.

Lady Warsi identified the perpetrators of anti-Christian violence as ranging from states to militant groups, and even to a person’s own family, with the concept of “collective punishment” as the link in many different cases. This happens when a person or group of people is held responsible for the actions of their co-religionists, sometimes elsewhere in the world.

Lady Warsi referred to the example of the suicide bombing at All Saints Church in Pakistan, the worst-ever attack on the country’s Christians:

The attackers’ illogical logic being that America is a Christian nation, to attack local Christians is somehow retaliation.

Indeed, the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said that they would continue to “strike foreigners and non-Muslims” until US drone attacks in the north-west province of Pakistan stopped.

We have seen similar retaliatory violence against Christians elsewhere, for example in Iraq following the US-led invasion of 2003. Iraqi Christians were associated with the Western invaders because of their faith and suffered merciless and brutal attacks by Islamic extremists, which forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

So “collective punishment” is undoubtedly a factor, and it is a side-effect that Western governments must be aware of when considering intervention in countries with vulnerable Christian minorities.

But Christians are often attacked, especially in Muslim-majority contexts, simply because they are Christians. And this is not always retaliation, either for the actions of Christians elsewhere or for those of local Christians. It is often driven by a particular interpretation of Islam that views Christian and other non-Muslims as infidels who must, in accordance with sharia, convert to Islam or else be expelled, killed or subjugated as second-class citizens.

We are seeing this in places such as Nigeria, where Islamist militant group Boko Haram are killing Christians in their fight to create an Islamic state in the North, and Somalia, where al-Shabaab has vowed to rid the country of Christianity and is tracking down and murdering converts from Islam.

A desire to uphold a particular brand of Islamic theology likewise underpins the actions of states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, which doggedly impose their strict values on every citizen, denying basic rights and freedoms.

TREATING THE PROBLEM

Lady Warsi’s approach to overcoming the problem of anti-Christian hostility is one that I would advocate: tackling the ideology that drives it. But as with any problem, if one does not fully diagnose its root cause(s), one cannot fully treat it. So in as much as Lady Warsi’s diagnosis does not go far enough, neither does her proposed treatment. She did nevertheless make a number of constructive points.

The minister recognised that laws are often inadequate, citing the fact that many of the countries that protect freedom of religion in their constitution or other legislation do not do so in practice.

Calling for a cross-faith and cross-continent response, Lady Warsi said that the argument needed to be won on a number of fronts:

Firstly, making clear the facts of history to overcome people who distort it for divisive ends, “like those who try to portray Christianity as a Western import in the Middle East”.

Secondly, demonstrating that “the presence of other faiths does not threaten the identity of a religion or a state or a culture”. She said that in some Muslim-majority countries, extremists turn on their minorities “because they think it makes them stronger and more powerful in their Islamic identity to reject the other”.

Thirdly, making the case for the benefits of religious freedom by proving the link between religious freedom and a society’s ability to flourish socially, economically and politically.

These are important points to make, but what was lacking in her war on ideas  – because lacking in her diagnosis – is the need also to confront the kind of Islamic ideology that drives extremists to commit acts of violence against Christians and states to restrict their rights.

Until and unless this is tackled head on, Christians and other non-Muslims will continue to suffer.

In the New Year, Lady Warsi will host an international summit to draw up a plan to end violence against Christians. I commend her for this initiative and am extremely grateful that this escalating problem is being taken up at the highest level; I hope that Barnabas Fund may be able to be involved.

But I would urge her and others who may be participating to address the root causes in full. It is very difficult in this politically correct age to challenge controversial Islamic teaching, but the lives of Christians and future of the Church in its ancient lands depend on it.

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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