Last week, David Cameron surprised a number of people when, during a pre-Easter gathering at Downing Street, he spoke about religion. Not religion in general, the all-faiths-and-none diversity-speak of the political class, but his own Christian faith. James Forsyth writes about the implications in this week’s magazine.
But what was most surprising was that the prime minister went further by saying that ‘our religion’ is the most persecuted in the world and that ‘I hope we can do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians’. He added: ‘We should stand up against the persecution of Christians and other religious groups wherever and whenever we can, and should be unashamed in doing so.’
This is quite a development. The prime minister has on a number of occasions spoken about Islamophobia, and about homophobia, he’s given his opinion on the price of England football tops and Nigella Lawson. But on one of the greatest events of our age – the persecution of Christians – he and his senior colleagues have had nothing to say.
By the best calculation, some 7-8,000 Christians are killed for their faith each year. But aside from China and North Korea, the epicentre of persecution is the greater Middle East, and it is a story in which Britain has been not just negligent but complicit.
This Easter the prime minister, like most of us, will be with his family, and we all wish him some peace and relaxation. For the Christians of Homs it will be a very different story. The ancient city, which dates back to 2300BC and was the site of a great chariot battle between the Pharaoh and the Hittites, was home to more than 50,000 Christians at the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Today there are an estimated two-dozen left in the old city.
Last week a 75-year-old Dutch priest, Fr Franz van der Lugt, was murdered in the besieged rebel-controlled old city, becoming the latest Christian martyr in this bloodstained region; one theory is that Fr Franz was shot by an Islamist militia as punishment for helping a group of 20 people to cross the lines.