Monday, 18 August 2014

"Increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians" - letter to the Prime Minister

Over the weekend the (Church of England) Bishop of Leeds, it would seem with the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, has written to the Prime Minister with a scathing critique of British Government policy towards the Middle East, and particularly with regard to Islamic extremism and the plight of the Christian minorities. 

Today comes the news in an interview (courtesy of the BBC Today programme - here beginning at about 2 hours, 50 minutes) that those Syrian rebels who were to have received the backing of Western Governments have, in effect, ceased to be a significant force in that country, and that organised resistance to the Assad regime now lies either with Al Qaeda affiliates or with groups who have an even more extreme Islamic ideology. The choice all round in Syria seems to be between different kinds of barbarism. Perhaps the West should have thought more carefully before destabilising the undoubtedly unpleasant Assad Government, a regime which had the one merit of  encouraging its minorities to live together peaceably. 

Foreign policy, we have always been led to believe in Britain, is best - and is at its least destructive - when conducted pragmatically, rather than idealistically and ideologically without thought for the wider consequences. Unfortunately, following the United States all too slavishly, we have adopted over the last decades, a naively almost Wilsonian attitude to foreign affairs (paradoxically revived in the U.S. by those calling themselves 'neo-conservatives') with uniformly disastrous results. At least it is now very clear indeed, for those with eyes to see, that 'democracy', without an established societal tradition of restraint and equality under the law, rapidly turns either into a persecuting tyranny of the majority or complete and bloody anarchy: in either scenario it is minorities (and in the Islamic world, it is usually Christian minorities) who bear the brunt of violence and oppression.

The full text of  Bishop Baines' letter is available here at the Guardian website, but these are 
its salient points: 
"1. It appears that, in common with the United States and other partners, the UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this approach.
Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that holds together the UK government's response to both the humanitarian situation and what Islamic State is actually doing in Syria and Iraq? Behind this question is the serious concern that we do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon, and it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect. 
The Church internationally must be a primary partner in addressing this complexity. 
2. The focus by both politicians and media on the plight of the Yazidis has been notable and admirable. However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future. Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why. Does your government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?  
3. As yet, there appears to have been no response to pleas for asylum provision to be made for those Christians (and other minorities) needing sanctuary from Iraq in the UK. I recognise that we do not wish to encourage Christians or other displaced and suffering people to leave their homeland – the consequences for those cultures and nations would be extremely detrimental at every level – but for some of them this will be the only recourse. The French and German governments have already made provision, but there has so far been only silence from the UK government. Therefore, I ask for a response to the question of whether there is any intention to offer asylum to Iraqi migrants (as part of a holistic strategy
to addressing the challenges of Iraq)? 
4. Following on from this, I note that the bishop of Coventry tabled a series of questions to HM government in the House of Lords on Monday 28 July. All but two were answered on Monday 11 August. The outstanding questions included the following: "The lord bishop of Coventry to ask Her Majesty's government what consideration they have given to resettling here in the UK a fair proportion of those displaced from Isis controlled areas of northern Iraq." I would be grateful to know why this question has not so far been answered – something that causes me and colleagues some concern.
5. Underlying these concerns is the need for reassurance that a commitment to religious freedom will remain a priority for the government, given the departure of ministers who championed this. Will the foreign secretary's human rights advisory panel continue under the new foreign secretary? Is this not the time to appoint an ambassador at large for international religious freedom – which would demonstrate the government's serious commitment to developing an overarching strategy (backed by expertise) against Islamist extremism and violence?"
At The Spectator, however, Damian Thompson [here] - while broadly welcoming Bishop Baines' intervention-  adds this qualification. Reluctantly, one has to admit  he has a point: 
"...For decades, the Anglican and Catholic Churches have ignored the growth of the domestic Islamic extremism that has seen British Muslims travel to Syria and Iraq to fight for Isis. They have warned us (rightly) against Islamophobia without considering the possibility that many Muslims hate the Churches with unwavering intensity. Archbishop Rowan Williams supported the extension of Sharia in this country. His attitude was one factor in persuading the only C of E bishop who did draw attention to the Islamist threat, Michael Nazir-Ali, to resign the see of Rochester and work full-time to protect Christians abroad...." 

 to addressing the cha

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