Kicked ‘like a football’ were the words used by a Pakistani Christian to describe a brutal assault that left him unconscious outside a restaurant in Derby last month. The victim, Tajamal Amar, claims Muslim men singled him out for offence he’d caused by displaying a cross and two large red poppies on his car, and for being a Kaffir – a derogatory term for non-Muslims. As it happens, the attack occurred towards the end of National Hate Crime Awareness Week, and has been recorded as a hate crime. The British Pakistani Christian Association, a group who’ve been supporting Amar, inform me his wife and daughter have been moved to a new location; he remains in hospital. But is his case symptomatic of a broader anti-Christian sentiment brewing in Britain?
Persecution of Christians in Pakistan (from where Amar was forced to flee), the Middle East, China, Nigeria and Modi’s India is well documented. Isis has committed genocide in Iraq and Syria, edging Christianity towards extinction. The bloodletting of Egypt’s Copts continues. In Pakistan, blasphemy laws are enforced, as in the cause célèbre of Asia Bibi, who remains languishing on death row. But when the BBC asks whether it’s ‘inadvisable’ to display poppies or hang a crucifix from your rear view mirror – here in Britain – it makes it harder to ignore the echoes of intolerance reverberating in our midst. While liberals and interfaith interlocutors struggle to have honest conversations about doctrinally motived hate, the truth is people like Amar aren’t alone.
Last November, Nissar Hussain a Christian convert (from Islam) was forced to leave his Bradford home under armed police escort following years of persecution. His terrible ordeal culminated in 2015, with a sickening assault outside his family home (captured on CCTV) by two hooded thugs, one brandishing a pickaxe handle. Hussain suffered a shattered kneecap and broken hand. A softly spoken and intelligent man – Hussain tells me he suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and feels betrayed by both politicians and Anglican leaders. Apostates like Hussain are of course particularly vulnerable, because Islamists believe it’s their God given duty to kill them. But contempt for Christianity comes from many quarters, not just Islamists.
In fact, the government’s hate crime action plan from last year, Action Against Hate, points to the chilling case of a Christian teenager who faced physical abuse and a mock crucifixion by his coworkers. When Belfast bakers Ashers refused to make a cake with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’, they were subjected to arson and death threats by gay rights extremists. Is this not Christianophobia?
Following the jihadist murder of Father Jacques Hamal in France last year, the Home Office released a £2.4 million fund to enhance security for places of worship. Of the applicants there were 225 churches, 36 mosques, 11 gudwaras and three other places of worship (funding for synagogues is separate). Remarkably, many churches that bid successfully used funds to protect themselves from Satanists and witches. A middle-aged vicar I spoke with from South West England told me how a witch had cursed him in the expectation he’d ‘drop dead’. The drawing of pentagrams on the church’s walls was a regular occurrence. If he’d chosen to tell the police, I suppose a curse could be classified as hate crime.
But how big is the problem? I’ve had access to a fascinating response to freedom of information requests to 25 UK police forces (from 2014) by think tank Parliament Street. This unearthed 165 or so incidents affecting Britain’s clergy between 2008-13. Incidents range from robbery, assaults like grievous bodily harm (GBH), actual bodily harm (ABH), through to obsessive stalkers, and bites from dogs, and even humans. A record relating to an incident in Hertfordshire shockingly reads: ‘Offender approached the Injured Party and bit fingers.’ Serving the Son of God has its risks. However, complaints of Christianophobia are thin on the ground, despite media and politicians showing an indifference to Christian suffering.
Home Office statistics from last year on religious hate crimes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland indicate there were 316 incidents (out of a total of 4213) affecting Christians between March 2015 and March 2016. Organisations like National Churchwatch who describe themselves as a ‘leading organisation for security and advice in the Christian sector’, believe anti-Christian hate crime is significantly under-reported. Director Nick Tolson previously sat on a Home Office panel awarding security grants to places of worship. He said that, unlike anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, anti-Christian hate is predominantly a phenomenon seen in rural Britain, rather than in urban areas. Tolson, a former police officer told me, ‘National Churchwatch is working with True Vision to run four seminars around the country to tackle anti-Christian hate crime. The seminars will involve talking with clergy about how to keep safe and how to deal with crime should it occur.’
His organisation is collaborating with academics from Royal Holloway, University of London in developing a survey aimed at clergy from the Church of England, Church of Wales and the Roman Catholic Church. A snapshot into the sorts of crimes clergy experience, and if the context is anti-Christian, will no doubt help inform policy makers moving forwards.
Meanwhile, the investigation into Amar’s case continues and two men have been interviewed in connection with the assault on suspicion of causing GBH. It’s sobering to think that someone who fled religious persecution overseas now feels unsafe in Britain.