Ed West

Britain’s refusal to defend Christians in the Middle East is shameful

Britain’s refusal to defend Christians in the Middle East is shameful
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I have an ebook published next Thursday, called The Silence of Our Friends, on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the apathy of the West about this tragic and historic event. (A link will appear at the top of this page next week – in the meantime please spread the word.)

I say apathy, but lots of people are concerned, and in the past year and a half such books as Christianophobia, Persecuted and The Global War on Christians have tackled worldwide persecution; there has also been increasing awareness following violence in Syria and Egypt over the summer, and last month Baroness Warsi became the first minister to raise the subject.

Not that the British Government will actually do anything, as was made clear last week when Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds told MPs that Britain will not defend persecuted Christians. Responding to backbenchers who said that Christians were being singled out for attack, the minister said that all groups were suffering under intolerant regimes, a logic Alan Johnson of the Telegraph calls ‘universalise-to-minimise’. The less you specifically focus on an issue, the easier it is to ignore.

Simmonds stated that ‘our response to the persecution of Christians should not be sectarian. We should not be standing up for … Christians in particular, we should be supporting the right to freedom of religion.’

He also argued that ‘there is a risk of isolating them from the wider populations, identifying them as something of a fifth column and even exacerbating the persecution’, which has been the line used by Britain and America for many years.

Taking aside the issue of ‘freedom of religion’, which is interpreted very differently by the Foreign Office’s friends in the Organisation of the Islamic Conferences to how it is by westerners, this argument doesn’t really stand up.

Islamists see Christians as a fifth column, whatever the West does, because that’s their mindset. Anti-Islamist Muslims meanwhile have an active personal interest in preventing Christian persecution and expulsion, since it will make life worse for them too.

But Muslims of all shades, who see western Christian leaders abandoning Christian minorities before discriminatory laws and state-inspired violence, aren’t going to think ‘oh wonderful, the British don’t believe in discrimination’; they are going to think that these people have no faith, no courage and no decency – in short, they’re decadent. And they would not be wrong.

The British and Americans have been doing this ‘let’s not be seen to take sides’ act since the invasion of Iraq. When the bombing of churches escalated in 2004, and when the Baghdad government denied basic services to Christian villages, religious freedom advocates like Nina Shea pressed the Americans to do something.

As Shea told me, ‘A number of us tried to bring it to their attention, and basically Condi Rice told me that the US just did not want to appear sectarian… Yet of course they removed a Sunni government and helped the Shia, and then championed Sunni appointments because they didn’t want Sunnis left out. But they said nothing about smaller, less violent minority religions, they just didn’t count.’ That has been repeated with US policy towards Egypt.

What a ‘non-sectarian policy’ therefore entails is discrimination in favour of the strongest and most aggressive groups. Iraq’s pre-war Christian population of 1 million has now fallen to 150,000, many of them elderly; still, the Foreign Office tells us, this issue is being taken very seriously and the issue is raised through the appropriate channels etc etc.

There’s an old saying attributed to the Arabs – better to be the enemy of the English, for that way they will buy you, for if you are their friends they will most certainly sell you. In its foreign policy, Albion remains as perfidious as ever.