Barnabas Edit: UK MP compares persecution in Middle East to holocaust

November 19, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

November 14, 2013: “We should be crying out with the same abhorrence and horror that we feel about the terrible atrocities towards Jews on Kristallnacht and on other occasions in Germany during the second world war.”

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton

This statement was made in the British House of Commons last week by Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, in a timely debate she had secured on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

I could not agree more and would like to thank Ms Bruce for raising this important subject that has for far too long been downplayed, disregarded and even denied by political leaders in the West.

This debate, which took place on 5 November, has given me heart that the plight of Christians in the Middle East is being noted by those in power, and it may result in some positive change for our brothers and sisters who have been left largely defenceless.

The British House of Lords has also taken up the issue recently, in a debate on 29 October on the situation of religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa after the events of the Arab Spring.

Barnabas Fund material was referred to in both debates. It is a great encouragement to me that our reports are being taken seriously by our political representatives.

I would also like to thank all those who have written to political leaders about the persecution of Christians; your letters have made a difference. During the debate a number of MPs mentioned the volume of letters they receive from constituents on this matter. Thank you for taking the time to speak out for your suffering brothers and sisters.

The MPs and Lords spoke with great knowledge and concern about the extent, nature and location of Christian persecution, presenting some eye-watering statistics to their colleagues.

David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield, Southgate, highlighted that 80% of all discrimination is against Christians.David Simpson of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), MP for Upper Bann, said:
It is estimated that 130 countries around the world persecute Christians. Every hour, a Christian is tortured and murdered somewhere in the world.

They discussed how the suffering of Christians has increased since the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt and Syria, and also covered their plight in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, noting how Christians are fleeing their ancient heartlands in droves.

“GREATEST STORY NEVER TOLD”

Debates took place in both Houses of Parliament

Debates took place in both Houses of Parliament

As well as recognition of the gravity of the situation, there was also acknowledgement that far too little has been made of it or done to address it.
Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Strangford, referred to a statement in the debate pack for the session that said, “The global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century.”

Ms Bruce questioned how long we can “remain apparently indifferent to regular reports of the abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Christian girls, and to the accompanying violence, rape, discrimination, beatings and abuse?”

In the Lords debate, Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour) said that “in this new secularism, Western governments are curiously reluctant to intervene on behalf of Christians and minorities”, while Ms Bruce offered in the Commons an insightful explanation for this. She said:

More than one person has commented to me that addressing the issue could be seen as promoting colonial or neo-colonial attitudes. I respectfully say that we really must get over that and find a way round it. It must not inhibit us from acting; millions of people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake here.

CONDITIONS ON AID

A ransacked church in Saddad, Syria, where dozens of Christians were killed

A ransacked church in Saddad, Syria, where dozens of Christians were killed

The MPs and Lords called on the government to take a number of practical steps to help persecuted Christian minorities.

Several raised the issue of financial aid from Britain to countries where Christians suffer grave violations. Lord Anderson said there should be “conditionality” with aid, “because it would be absurd if we continued to bankroll those countries which persecute their minorities, including Christian minorities”.

Sir Tony Baldry, Conservative MP for Banbury, likewise said:

Many of the countries that we are talking about are countries to which the UK gives significant amounts of bilateral aid. Pakistan is the largest recipient of UK bilateral aid. I do not think it unreasonable that, in discussions about what bilateral aid we give to countries, we consider this issue and ensure that those countries will give religious freedom to everyone, including Christians.

He also recommended the appointment of a special envoy for freedom of religion.

Ms Bruce questioned what actions the government is taking to hold other governments to account for the persecution of Christians and called for religious freedom to become a priority in British foreign policy and also in the work of the Department for International Development (DFID).

There are echoes in these comments of the calls that Barnabas Fund made in our Proclaim Freedom petition, which we presented to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and European Commission on 17 September. Nearly 36,000 people signed the British version of the petition, with thousands more putting their names to the equivalent campaign in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

The petition called on Western governments: to recognise that Christians around the world face unprecedented levels of persecution; to put the plight of Christians at the forefront of their relations with the countries concerned; to promote freedom of religion using diplomatic relations, bi-lateral ties, aid and agreed international obligations.

DISAPPOINTING RESPONSE

While being very encouraged by the MPs and Lords’ knowledge, concern and recommendations regarding the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the response of the government was disappointing to say the least.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Hugo Swire made many positive noises, expressing concern about the issue and condemning religiously-motivated violence, even acknowledging that since the Arab Spring, “the great majority of communities that are suffering are Christian”.

But his claim that “promoting human rights, including religious freedom, is an important part of British foreign policy” does not stand up to scrutiny. British foreign policy, along with that of Western allies, in the recent past and present has been a significant contributory factor to the increased marginalisation, persecution and eradication of Middle Eastern Christians.

There was no acknowledgment from Mr Swire that the UK has backed movements such as the Arab Spring and “sides” such as the rebels in Syria and Mohammad Morsi, the ousted Islamist president  of Egypt, that have increased the targeting of Christians.

Before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Christians and other minorities there enjoyed considerable religious freedom compared to their counterparts in neighbouring lands. But the harmonious relations between people of different faiths have been destroyed during the civil war as Islamist militants among the rebels have terrorised Christian communities, using rape, kidnap, torture and murder to force them to flee.

There was no mention of this by Mr Swire, who instead pinned the blame on President Assad:

We have serious concerns about rising sectarian tension and believe that President Assad is deliberately attempting to stir up such tensions in his efforts to hold on to power.

Notwithstanding all of Assad’s many grave failings as a leader, it is simply unfair to hold him solely responsible for stirring up sectarian tensions in Syria while Christians are being massacred, not by his troops, but by al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

Again, I commend the MPs and Lords for raising in their respective Houses of Parliament the plight of Christians in the Middle East. But the government’s response indicates a degree of contradiction, underpinned either by ignorance or indifference, that says on the one hand, we’re “deeply concerned about this issue”, while on the other pursuing policies that have consistently aggravated anti-Christian violence.

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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