Global Persecution of Christian Minorities

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Global Persecution of Christian Minorities

DATE: 6:00pm-7:00pm, 09/07/2019

VENUE: Committee Room 16, House of Commons

SPEAKERS: Dr Tim Stanley, Dr Matthew D. Rees and Dr Rakib Ehsan

EVENT CHAIR: Sir Gary Streeter MP

 

SIR GARY STREETER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, it is six o’clock so we will make a start. Welcome to this important discussion about the global persecution of Christian minorities, a subject which is increasingly attracting our attention here in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We have assembled for you at vast expense under the auspices of the henry Jackson society a very distinguished panel of speakers, who I will introduce in a second. And the plan is that they will speak for about ten minutes each and we’ll have plenty of opportunity for people to ask questions of the panel and to for us to have a conversation and we will be wrapping things up at about seven o clock so hopefully you will have a chance to participate. So let me quickly introduce the panel to you if I may. Our first speaker will be Dr Rakib Ehsan who’s a research fellow in the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society. He specialises in the socio-political behaviour and attitudes of British ethnic minorities with a particular focus on the UK’s Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups so Rakib we look forward to hear what you will say in a moment. He’ll be followed by Dr Matthew Rhees who has a PhD in international politics from Aberystwyth university and he works a t head of advocacy at Open Doors UK, which will be known to many of you an organisation which works with a number of Christian minorities in over sixty countries around the world. And with a shorter title, but nonetheless extremely important, the person to my right is Dr Tim Stanley, he’s a historian and leader writer for The Telegraph, a newspaper some of you will have heard of, possibly even read. Without further ado, Rakib over to you.

 

DR RAKIB EHSAN:

Well, first I’d like to thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for attending this event. It is on a topic that I am deeply passionate about even though I am of a British Muslim background. Now, in terms of organising this event I’ll say that it was very much based on the devastating Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in Sir Lanka this recent Easter Sunday. And if you look at that particular string of terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka it follows a general trend of when we’re seeing terrorist attacks around the world on Easter Sunday. If we go back to 2012, Easter Sunday there were terrorist attacks conducted by Boko Haram who claimed responsibility for those attacks in the Nigerian city of Kaduna. And then everywhere else if we’re looking at the subcontinent then if we go back to 2016 then there were Easter Sunday terrorist attacks conducted by the Islamist terrorist group Jamat-ul-Ahrar, which is affiliated with the Taliban, targeting a park in Lahore which killed more than seventy people. So this attack in Pakistan, we’re concentrating on Pakistan in particular, this was preceded by twin suicide bombings in 2013, in Peshawar which killed up to eighty Christian worshippers. So looking at the global persecution of Christian minorities I think it is very useful that Jeremy Hunt recently came out and said that this is a topic that hasn’t received the level of political attention that it deserves.

I would almost say that it almost tells us a story of a metropolitan main discomfort over Christianity, Christian values and I think that almost complicates the relationship between what we’d say is the metropolitan political liberal left and Christianity, and it almost creates a sense of uncertainty a confusion when it comes to reacting to global suffering of Christian minorities that we see today. And, if I could just make a comparison, looking at the reaction to the devastating terrorist attacks in Christchurch, you’d say that looking at the reaction of the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition, and also the Prime Minister Theresa May, if you actually look at their initial tweets to the terrorist attacks at Christchurch there was expressions of affection and solidarity with the global Islamic community discussing the dangers which are carried by white supremacist ideology. But then when I actually analysed the initial tweets of both politicians in response to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka there was a clear reluctance to mention the fact that we actually had Christians who were the target in that instance and there was also reluctance to mention the fact that this was an Islamist-inspired terrorist attack. And I think if you look across the board, when we look at politicians such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton they also expressed this solidarity with the global Islamic community in the event of Christchurch but when referring to the 250 Christian worshippers who were killed in the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka they were referred to as ‘Easter worshippers’, a term which I’m not particularly familiar with at all and there was also a reluctance to mention the source of terrorism in this instance by looking at the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.

I think it almost tells you this, it paints this picture of a liberal left on both sides of the pond which is increasingly indulging in identity politics and its problematic relationship with Christianity, you know almost this promotion, this celebration of a decline in Christian values, particularly looking at the British context. So as I said it creates this uncertainty, how do we react to the global persecution of Christian minorities when we’re celebrating the fact that, you know, the Judeo-Christian norms are in decline? And this is something which is celebrated, and widely celebrated by the metropolitan liberal left. I think we need to be frank and call out what the general trend is when it comes to discussing global persecution of Christian minorities, whether it is Boko Haram in Nigeria, the increase in the number of attacks on churches in its counterpart West African country Burkina Faso, the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks that I already mentioned in Pakistan and Sri Lanka or the May 2018 Surabaya church bombings in Indonesia, or as Tim recently wrote a column in The Telegraph on the persecution of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis as well. This is fundamentally, generally, Islamist-led persecution of Christian minorities.

So, if I’m looking particularly in the British context, why is there a reluctance to call this out? Now, the cynic in me feels that this is rooted in electoral calculation. I feel that people feel if they call out that this is primarily Islamist-led this will offend the sensitivities of British Muslim voters, strategically important sections of the British electorate. I call this a bigotry of low expectations. The reality of the matter is, British Muslims have a vested interest in calling out and pointing, identifying instances of persecution of religious minorities, particularly when we see what’s going on in Myanmar with the Rohingya Muslims and also the re-education internment camps which are being set up in China in East Turkestan which are targeting Uyghur Muslims. I think that ultimately, it’s a matter of fairness and that you have to point out, irrespective of your background, to call out the persecution of religious minorities, irrespective of the religious background of the perpetrators and the religious background of the victims. So, you know, while the easing of Judeo-Christian norms might be celebrated by some in British society and is viewed to be a positive development, the prioritisation of reason and evidence, I think that the most important thing really, one of the most important liberal democratic values, something which I hold very dear to me, is that people irrespective of their religious background, they have the right to practice their religion free from harassment, discrimination and persecution and I think that’s a liberal democratic principle that we should really protect and promote relentlessly all across the world in the spirit of fairness and good faith. Thank you for listening.

 

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you very much. Thank you very much, very stimulating, thank you. I’m looking forward to some questions on that later on. Matthew, over to you. Dr Matthew Rees.

 

DR MATTHEW REES:

Thank you very much. Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here this evening. At Open Doors we’ve been extremely heartened in recent months to see the traction, to some extent, that this issue of the persecution of Christians has begun to receive, amongst, sort of, in the political sphere and most notably, maybe, yesterday with the Bishop of Truro handing over his recommendations to the Foreign Office about what is his assessment of what can be done to better support persecuted Christians across the world, but also, I think, the fact that discussions such as this are taking place and the Henry Jackson Society is putting on discussions such as this is a positive thing. I really think, we really believe at Open Doors that the only way really we are going to be able to make a difference, to make a change is to take this issue off the sidelines and make it an issue that we are discussing in the political mainstream, which isn’t necessarily something that has been happening in recent years and is something that we at Open Doors will be continuing to push for and I’m sure that many of you here tonight are doing similar things.

Because the levels of Christian persecution, and we have already heard quite a few, sort of, examples and statistics on around the world are really quite egregious and are escalating. And I think that is the really worrying factor, is that they are growing year on year. At Open Doors you may have already heard the number 245 million Christians experiencing severe levels of persecution around the world and that’s a figure that went up from 215 million in 2018 to 245 million in 2019. And so this is an issue where we are, indeed, seeing escalation. Just to give you some context, maybe, to some of the more extreme persecution that we are seeing around the world, in 2014- Open Doors does a world watchlist annually which outlines the 50 countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian- and in 2014 only North Korea was designated on that list as a country of extreme persecution. That is, North Korea had over 81 persecution points out of a hundred. When we analysed church life, family life, community life, private life, public life and levels of violence only North Korea came out as a place of extreme persecution. In 2019, eleven countries are now designated on our list as countries of extreme persecution. That is, North Korea, still, but also Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan and Iran. North Korea, of course, extreme levels of state surveillance, and any sense that somebody is a Christian or is practicing their faith can lead to being sent to a gulag-style death camp and there are thousands of Christians in those camps today. Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, places where social and family control is such that examples do exist of family members murdering their own family on suspicion of conversion. Sudan, where Church leaders are incarcerated, where churches are demolished. Likewise in Pakistan, you are looking this year of course at the case of Asia Bibi who has now been released from prison, but was on death row for many years on an alleged case f blasphemy against the Prophet Mohamed. To Iran, again, a country, a mass incarcerator of religious leaders including church leaders.

Open Doors works in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Latin America and in Asia and this evening I want to focus, I think, on Asia, a place where we really are seeing escalating levels of persecution and many of the key cases that have actually already been mentioned this evening. It would seem that maybe as ISIS fighters- I say fighters because the ideology definitely still has a hold, unfortunately, in many Middle Eastern countries- combatants have kind of come out of the Middle East, many have found a home in ISIS groups in Asia and that’s been seen in the levels of violence that have increased in the last eighteen months really in Asia. The Surabaya church bombings where three churches were attacked in May 2018 have already been mentioned, but in the Philippines as well- a majority Christian country with some areas of minority Muslim populations- in Jolo, the bombing in February 2019 and then, of course, in Sri Lanka the Islamic-inspired Easter attacks. Many of course will have heard, in Myanmar, of the case of Rohingya Muslims who have been persecuted on the basis of their faith and ethnic identity by a Buddhist majority but fewer will have heard of the Kachin minority of northern Myanmar, an 85% Christian people who have been systematically attacked on the basis of their different religion too, their Christian religion. They have had their welfare services withheld from them, had their churches destroyed, been physically attacked, as well.

The Bishop of Truro yesterday, when he gave his recommendations to the Foreign Secretary, because the headline, in many cases, was that the push against Christians was an existential threat to human flourishing and to social cohesion worldwide. And I think, to kind of agree with that comment I guess, just to come back to this idea that this issue has been on the sidelines for too long, this issue can’t be an issue of one party, this issue can’t be an issue of one leader. It has to be an issue that comes into the political mainstream and a political consensus has to emerge around this issue. Another thing that the bishop said yesterday was he held up the persecution of Christians in the context of this existential threat alongside climate change. And I don’t want to get into a debate about whether this is as bad as climate change but I think one thing that is very interesting about the climate change debate in recent years is that particular aspects of it at least, for instance single-use plastics, has become a political consensus that we do as a society need to reduce waste, that we do need to reduce single use plastics etc. And many of you who have come this evening would have come because you have an interest in this issue and have an interest, maybe more than an interest, are active in speaking out about this issue. And I guess what I would like to say is the need for us to really be working, be creating a narrative around this issue that it cannot just remain on the sidelines but actually needs a narrative surrounding it which challenges this idea that this is a niche issue, maybe an issue for slightly odd people and it actually needs to be an issue that is in the political mainstream.

And I think we have already mentioned a little bit around some of the politics, maybe, that surrounds questions of why it’s not in the political mainstream, but I think one of the things that we really need to break down, one of the things that we really need to challenge is the idea that most Christians, the majority of Christians around the world do not look like me. They are not white, they are not privileged and they do not have the privilege that I have in terms of education or in terms of financial gain or in any of those things. They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world and I think it’s as we can start to make that argument and as we can start to change the way that persecuted Christians are perceived by our political society, by our political sphere but also by our society at large that we can start to make a real difference. So that’s why Open Doors has been, over the last few days really, has been making the case for a new narrative, really, to surround this but also there is some action to be taken.

Whoever the next Prime Minister is, that person could do some very simple things that would really start to make a difference in this respect. Something that we’ve been arguing for is the need for the Foreign Office to prioritise a small number of countries. We’ve been talking about Nigeria in particular due to the egregious levels of violence with 3000 people killed on the basis of their faith according to Open Doors research last year. And to look at how they can, how the full team at the Freedom of Religion and Belief Team at the Foreign Office can work alongside the Nigeria desk to look at creative ways of prioritising how we can really start to make a change in this area. And then the second is the need for the role of Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief to be made a permanent role but with an expanded brief, possibly with a role looking at future trade negotiators being involved in those discussions. There are examples where freedom of religion has been brought in to trade negotiations and places it could happen in the UK too. So this is just an overview of some of the trends, possibly, and some of the places where things are the most difficult but also what we can do to start binging this into the mainstream. Thank you.

 

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you very much.

 

DR TIM STANLEY:

Thank you, thank you very much. I am just back from Iraq so I am going to talk about that for the next ten minutes because I think it’s best if I give some concrete evidence of the persecution that Christian minorities meet. Everything that I am relaying is anecdotal in the sense that it is based on what I have seen and what people have told me so I have not yet verified some of this stuff. It’s coming completely raw. I was able to get into a part of Iraq called the Nineveh Plain, the capital of which is Mosul, which was recently under the control of Daesh. I was able to get in thanks to the support of Father Benedict Keely, who works for an organisation called Nazarene which provides money to Christians who are living on the Plain to set up small businesses: taxis, shops, things like that. He knows a guy, who knows a guy who was able to get me through the checkpoints. So that’s why I’m still alive, so I’m very grateful. The story of the Plain is an interesting one which illustrates the fate which has befallen Christians in Iraq and the persecution they face which has changed in nature but is ongoing. It began under Saddam Hussein in the late 90s when Christians noticed that a significant number of Sunnis started to attend educational training in Saudi Arabia. So the radicalisation of some Sunnis in the region was pre-war. Life then got a lot worse in 2003 with the Western invasion. There was then a long period of instability in which there was a sequence of essentially local Islamic governments which made life very difficult for the local Christians. These local Christians have been there by their own telling since the time of the Apostles. They have been there for roughly 2000 years, living in Mosul and townships around Mosul across the plain. For a sense of their antiquity, they speak conversational Aramaic, which is absolutely extraordinary. They are a mix of different types of Christian. The two dominant varieties are Syriac and Chaldean and a significant number of Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic.

Life was chaotic and anarchic but in 2014 things got much worse with the arrival into Mosul of Daesh. I’m using the word Daesh rather than Islamic State because it is the word used in the last for days and it’s become sort of stuck in my vocabulary. Daesh gave the Christian population of Mosul and the surrounding towns a choice: you can run, you can stay and convert or you can die. And I’ve interviewed people who fled and I’ve interviewed people who stayed and I shall write it down for The Telegraph. One problem, by the way, facing people who stayed, is that there’s indisputably some stigma in the Christian community towards those who chose to remain and convert to Islam. They didn’t really in their hearts convert but they did so to survive. Daesh’s rule in Mosul and then spreading across the Nineveh Plains as an absolute living hell. If you watch The Handmaid’s Tale, that literally happened. Somewhere in the world, it literally happened. Women were forced to stay indoors or where a full robe, men were banned from smoking. We passed the remains of the building which famously gay men were thrown off the top of. It’s now been destroyed, I suspect by Western bombers. And, in their particular hatred for churches and in a particularly perverse twist, Daesh converted the churches in the old city of Mosul into torture chambers. It’s actually very stressful to see. People were pushed out, and many of them resettled in Kurdistan and waited in refugee camps for Daesh to be beaten. After about two years, Daesh was beaten and they started to return to their homes. They found one interesting, curious thing in Mosul: piles of human hair, where Daesh in their panic had shaved off their beards so they could melt into the population, taking with them, by the way, 3000 Yazidi girls, the whereabouts of which we do not know. They were taken as sex slaves.

People returned to their homes, and they have tried to rebuild their lives but, and this is the next part of the story bringing us up to now, they have a new problem which is the growth of Shia militias. There is now a land-grab going on in Nineveh and Shia militias, sponsored no doubt by Iran- this is very complicated- now integrated into the Iran army are starting to take control of the Plain. And they are doing this in two particular ways. One is economic: they tell their people ‘You must not trade with Christians’ which makes it impossible for Christians to live there and to make money and to look after their families. The second is a visible process of religious cleansing. The Nineveh Plains, covered in Christian monuments, giant crosses, crucifixes, tombs, the Shia will construct large portraits of Shia heroes in front of them. They will put their megaphones facing the Christian parts of towns and will blast the call to prayer at them. In other words, life has become intimidating and many people want to leave.

Now the problem they face if they wish to leave is Western visa policy. The vast majority of Christians who have the opportunity to get out are going to Canada and Australia. Britain, they say- and I need to verify this with the Foreign Office- has not been accepting many visa applications. If so, that is tragic. America has changed its policy towards the Middle East visas with the consequence, which is surprising, you might think, that under Donald Trump fewer Christians are taken in from Iraq than under Barack Obama. But, in the Trump administration’s defence, they have poured a lot of money into the region and they say that the work they’re focused on doing is trying to help Christian communities who have been there for 2000 years to stay there. There is some tension between these two policies. To conclude, I’m not entirely sure- it’s more complicated than I thought- as to what the West could or should do. But when I spoke to Christians and Yazidis, I think one thing that I sensed, and I felt it from their remarks, was a frustration, a belief that the West won’t say what is happening to them for what it really is: ethnic cleansing, usually directed by Islamists. What I think they would like to hear is what one Yazidi phrased as ‘The West saying reality’. Because in a sense, I guess, if we don’t acknowledge this, then the people doing this, in some way, are not validated, but on some existential level they almost kind of get away with it.

Q&A:

SIR GARY STREETER:

Tim, thank you very much. Friends we’ve hear about the importance of calling out religious persecution wherever it is, whatever it looks like. We’ve heard about the fact that there are a number of countries across the world where persecution of Christians that is taking place has increased according to the calculation put out by Open Doors and now we’ve had this really harrowing story about the terrible things going on in the Plains of Nineveh. So that’s given plenty, I think, food for thought. We’re not going to solve all the world’s problems tonight but we’re going to have a jolly good conversation about them. Donald.

First Question:

The situation of Christians in Iraq obtaining visas, the situation in Syria is also relevant. The Barnabas Fund has sought freedom of information to find that in the first six months of last year we have not accepted one Christian and the Barnabas Fund is trying to find out what has happened since and the Home Office have stalled and refused to give information. So it’s clear that it is not just the liberal left, the government is (inaudible) acting politically in a way hostile to the Christians, claiming that the UNCTR has provided camps across the country. Christians are willing and able to go to camps anyway so it’s not a good record in Syria and you know as well that’s they’re position on Iraq and Yemen as well.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you I’m going to take questions. Actually I should say, first of all, could you just identify yourself. Donald could you do that as well. I just, if you could identify yourself could you do that as well?

(inaudible)

In groups of two or three and then we’ll get the panel to comment on each of them. The gentleman here.

Second Question:

My name is Fayed (inaudible) I’m a private individual but I am a Christian Copt so I have some skin in the game. I think, when I speak to friends the biggest issue is that nobody is aware that Christians actually exist in large parts of the world, certainly in the Middle East but also in Pakistan. So I think there’s an awareness issue that just needs to be raised, even before we can talk about persecution people need to know about Christians in those parts of the world. I think the second question is also low-level persecution. We mentioned some of it, but in Egypt some of the things that you mentioned are happening, people dying in ones and twos as opposed to (inaudible) land riots or water riots or whatever. So I think there is the big figures, there are the people that actually get killed which is of course persistent but there’s the low level of persecution which (inaudible) forces people to, as you say, to (inaudible)

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you. Gentleman there.

Third Question:

My name is Christopher, I’m a member of the Henry Jackson Society (inaudible) In the Asia Bibi case we have this lady that clearly would have required UK asylum from a country that is the highest recipient of UK foreign aid so do we have any leverage at the other end that, you know, this was, to capacitate the case, there couldn’t be an easier case. Do you think the government feared the blasphemy law would have been instated in this country by a British citizen who’d have killed her and then we would have had this huge, you know, potential disruption of society, seeing the foreign persecution taking place?

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you very much. Rakib, would you like to comment on all or any of those? About visas, about the issue of awareness, about low level persecution, or the quite well known case, and linked to the foreign aid.

DR RAKIB EHSAN:

I think with the refugee policy, I think the reality is that there’s a reluctance to discuss or even call out the global persecution of Christian minorities, a very little chance that the government is actually going to have an open approach when it comes to allowing Christian refugees from countries such as Syria and Iraq, which I do think is a shame, that they would allow that relocation. I do talk about the metropolitan liberals, and that might be talking about the liberal democrats all over. I mean that cuts through a number of parties and I think it is a shame that that situation has really come about and I think that the Asia Bibi case in particular, I think it is shameful that the government actually said that there was a security threat towards her, that that was the grounds to which they expressed their reluctance over allowing her to relocate to the UK and if that is the case then maybe they should be adopting a more robust approach towards Islamist-inspired extremism in the UK.

DR MATTHEW REES:

I think in the case of our understanding of how we receive these applications etc. in this country I think one of the things that we are definitely aware of is the problem with the UK not necessarily recognising faith identity as a specific vulnerability in terms of what has happened to somebody if it’s been done on the basis of one’s faith. Then that’s them being specifically vulnerable on that basis and I think that’s a question that stretches across a wide number of things in terms of aid and development funding and the way that we approach those types of things in the UK in terms of, you know, the Foreign Office has done great work on, sort of gender, on recognising gender as a specific vulnerability, disability as a specific vulnerability. It’ll be great if one’s faith identity, you know, if a lady in north Nigeria is specifically vulnerable because she’s a woman but also because she’s a Christian, like Leah Sharibu was taken because she was a girl, in many respects, you know, is still in captivity because she’s a Christian. So I think there’s a number of problems there, in that respect, but I pick up on the question around ‘How do we make people aware that persecuted Christians are not privileged people in the way that we are?’ It’s a really big task, I think, for us to try, to try and engage with them.

DR TIM STANLEY:

Yeah I agree entirely about the point about ignorance. For instance, I have not heard about the Kachin community until you mentioned it this evening. There’s lots that people don’t know including me. Many people have not even heard of the Coptic Church or know what their status is in Egypt. With regards to this issue of why more Christians don’t get visas, especially from Syria, I just don’t know the answer, there is no smoking gun. That’s the problem, I can’t point at particular officials, particular people or a particular regime within the government which is saying don’t take- it is very difficult to point the finger at precisely why this is happening. Sometimes they say because Christians don’t go to the camps- well that’s also just not true in the case of Iraq. They certainly do and many Christians who I’ve met have applied and have been turned down. I quoted in my column this morning one famous story which got attention because of their status, of three bishops who wanted to attend the consecration of a cathedral in London in 2016 and they were denied visas from Syria and Iraq because the Home Office said they were poor and it was worried they would end up staying. So it’s very difficult to try to get through with some, to work out exactly what’s motivating.

But finally on the Asia Bibi thing, the point about the whole West’s relationship to the rest of the world, the West has got to decide what it’s for. It keeps talking big about human rights but you’ve got to occasionally stand up for them, right, and take risks and call things out. Very often when it comes to debating foreign policy, of course, it’s not really about Pakistan, it’s not really about Iraq or Syria, it’s about Britain and it’s about British politicians talking to British domestic audiences. And when they talk about foreign policy they’re really calibrating what they say to a particular domestic audience, and sometimes that’s about not letting anyone in, in order to please the right, sometimes that’s a fear of offending those minorities in this country, if they think Britain is seen to be Christian chauvinist. It’s very annoying and it’s very provincial and it’s typically British. We’re so obsessed with ourselves and sometimes we need to remember that there are people in the rest of the world who are actually directly suffering. We have a responsibility to them not just as Britons or Christians but as human beings.

SIR GARY STREETER:

I’m going to make two comments myself if I may. I have been here 27 years. I think that government in terms of its officials, civil service and so on is instinctively uncomfortable about the whole issue of religion, especially Christianity. And therefore, as many of these decisions are made about religion in the FCO, Home Office, even DFID and I know people who work as ministers with DFID for many, many years trying to get some traction on partnering with Christian communities in some of these countries who may be the only people doing things but nonetheless, ‘Oh, it’s religion, we can’t.’ So there’s an issue there, and maybe religious literacy is something that at some stage we need to grapple with as a country. Secondly I think, in terms of, our democracy actually works quite well. If people put pressure on Members of Parliament, they will put pressure on governments to do more, to do better in areas. Therefore you as individuals, you as groups an churches and charities and so on, there is a job to be done and I think the door is ajar at the moment to put people like me under pressure to make sure the Home Office, DFID and FCO are doing better.

Now, another range of questions. Lord (inaudible) caught my eye.

Fourth Question:

Can I just, a little story? I was chairman of the Dome and of course we wanted to have something in the Dome, which represented Christ. Oddly enough the rabbis and imams we discussed with were perfectly understanding. The people who were almost impossible to deal with were the representatives of Lambeth House and they came in and they said ‘We don’ want any triumphalism, we can’t offend people you know (inaudible) Now, the point that this gentleman had made, because I know he did it quite well (inaudible) I spoke to Rowan Williams about exactly what we’re talking about and he said about the Copts, in Egypt ‘If I speak up their situation becomes worse.’ This was the point that was made to me, you see. I’m not sure if it’s actually like that. I would just like to say, I think there is a role for the Church there, I think there’s a role for the Bishop of Rome, if the clergy go and see their Members of Parliament, if the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church or whatever, I mean this is a thing where they go in, they say ‘Look, this is a problem, and we’re going to go on about this until you start reacting’, your point is entirely correct. And that may just begin, to change the particular culture.

SIR GARY STREETER:

And just to finish with your Dome story, the inscription with that we ended up with went something like ‘And this is the story of Jesus, who died tragically young at the age of 33’. Slightly missing the entire point of him coming.

The gentleman here and then at the back.

Fifth Question:

(inaudible) and I work at a law firm. First of all about the double standard from the British government. So it seems that we see, sanction and call out persecution if it’s the LGBT community, for example, but not when it’s against Christians. Of the two candidates for the next PM, who do you think is best placed to sort of change that double standard? (inaudible)

SIR GARY STREETER:

If only anyone in this room had a vote. Mervyn Thomas at the back.

Sixth Question:

Hi, I’m Mervyn Thomas, CSW. I’ve been around pursuing religious freedom for many years now and I can’t remember a time when there’s been more political awareness of religious freedom and the violations of religious freedom than there is today. These kind of meetings, full of people interested in the subject and politicians, every week in parliament there are questions, debates, big APPG parliament, ministerial in Washington DC next week, talking about advancing religious freedom and yet, I see no real change in the world. I see very few countries, apart from maybe Eastern Europe which are different to when I started on this road. So I have got a theory- I’d be interested in the panel’s view on this- I think the key to it is the media. I think the media- Tim is an exception- are just not speaking out about this issue, are not investigating. They are reporting on the Sri Lanka bombings, or whatever it is, for a couple of days and then it’s gone. Nobody is looking at what’s behind this. You know, how can we encourage the media to really take this on board so that we can make a difference in the world?

SIR GARY STREETER:

Ok, three cracking questions, thank you. We’ll start with you Tim.

DR TIM STANLEY:

On that point there are a lot of journalists who are working, who are doing excellent work, and they deserve to be acknowledged, for instance my colleague Josie Ensor who’s done an amazing piece about the treatment of Yazidis, the fate of Yazidi women in Syria but it is true that the subject isn’t always front page and doesn’t always catch the headlines and therefore it’s up to journalists who do care about it like me to push our colleagues and our editors to cover it so that’s really on us to do that. On the question of Hunt versus Boris that’s an interesting one. I don’t quite know the answer but I would say that I’m effectively already declared for Boris so that’s out there. But I have noticed that there was a tweet he put out in which he said, he talked about the report by the bishop on the persecution of Christians and then there was a classic British calibration, re-calibration. In the second half of the tweet he said ‘If I’m Prime Minister the persecution of Christian minorities will be one of my absolute priorities’ which sounds absolutely great and logical. ‘I read the thing about the Christians and in general I will feel very strongly and act on it’. And it’s not good enough because it sounds to me, I suspect, it sounds to me like you are flipping from ‘Here is this specific thing I’ve been told is going on’ to ‘And in general I’m against this sort of thing.’ And no, it’s got to be specific. Whoever is the next Prime Minister has actually got to be specific about who’s being persecuted and who is doing it and why.

DR MATTHEW REES:

Well I am more of a fresh face to this than you are. You’ve been doing it for many years and so unfortunately, maybe to come into this and to think ‘Well this isn’t good enough’ and I know you’re still raring in terms of not being good enough, I completely agree. Here I think it is down to us to find that narrative, I think, around this issue and I know that’s easy to say but in terms of pinpointing a narrative, but just back to what we’ve been hearing earlier, there must be some way of us thinking about the way we educate ourselves and our society about the world that we live in which helps people to understand that Christians are not these, sort of, around the world, you know the majority of Christians are living in the global South and these people are not like your average Church of England service goer on a Sunday. This is a totally different world and that they are very much entitled to support and I think there’s, in many countries that we work in there’s a connection between persecution and this sense that the Christians who live in those countries have, sort of, support or have, sort of, influence in the West, often, particularly from America because often, as you know, like particularly in North Korea it’s very much this idea that Christians are American spies or, you know, that they’re spies on behalf of America, and then in countries in Asia we regularly here of, precisely, of Christians not being real Indians, you know, being second class citizens, not having the rights as other members of their societies. And so there is this problem here that as you speak out, possibly, from the West sometimes they can appear Western puppets or they’re made out to be. So there is this dichotomy of how to rethink, in a way, sort of, in this world that we live in to support these people and to create a narrative to help people understand who they are, at the same time feeding into this narrative that the state is. It is very difficult but I will stay well away from your question as I representing a neutral charity so in terms of, yeah.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Rakib will you comment?

DR RAKIB EHSAN:

Hunt or Boris? I won’t really go too deeply into that but I think making the point about, you know, calling out discrimination towards LGBT community, I think in terms of that, I think people tend to focus on what’s more trendy, more stylish and calling out the global persecution of Christian minorities is not probably seen as particularly trendy and stylish in these times which, I think that’s why you see there is a strong focus- there’s no trivialising discrimination towards LGBT communities- but the cynic in me definitely sees that people do identify and they do see what will go down in terms of, you know, trendy, stylish pinpointing of these issues so that’s perhaps why, when you make that comparison, the global persecution of Christian minorities hasn’t received the political attention that I feel that it does deserve. I think in terms of the media I wrote an article for Spiked, you know, shortly after the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, and I think what was really warming about the piece was the fact that I’d written the piece firstly as a human being, but the fact that I was British Muslim, I think that really with, you know, followers of Christianity, you know I was receiving thanks from places such as Italy, Poland, Argentina so I think it’s just the matter that if you feel really passionate about something, even though you’re not very much with the times or what people tend to focus on you should really stand up and really write for what you believe in, as a journalist.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you, now, more questions, the lady over here has caught my eye.

Seventh Question:

I’d just like to develop tonight’s theme a little bit, actually.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Who are you please madam?

Seventh Question:

I’m sorry, I’m Sylvia Macdonald, mature student, Theology and Philosophy- and that is, the (inaudible) of Christianity really is the global elephant in the room and we seem to be missing clear opportunities to say so. We have the G20 summit recently, we saw King Salman, I believe it was, of Saudi Arabia who murdered, is alleged to have murdered, the journalist Salman Khashoggi, sitting around smiling with other global leaders. What a (inaudible), wasn’t it wonderful? So I think that we are really missing out opportunities at G20, G7 summits to actually push the point. I do realise that it is trade versus integrity and I think we need to say what we price the most in this situation a little more often. And the other thing is the United Nations, I find it very ineffective on this point. And thirdly the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury were very good at building mosques in this country. I believe there are even more mosques being built in Italy at the moment than anywhere else because of the refugee crisis. But how often does the Pope stand up for Christians in these Middle Eastern countries? So really I think we need to start lobbying-

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you, Sylvia, that’s great. Young man here.

Eighth Question:

Nigel Parker from the Catholic Union of Great Britain. (inaudible) Bishop Mounstephen’s review about changing the culture of the FCO. I had some thoughts about that, first of all if you want to see an example of the culture of the FCO, I’m very aware in the last month or so, a lot of interest in Pride, rainbow flags, badges, (inaudible) Is there something like that, something symbolic to represent the persecution of Christians. The one example of this is the campaign by the charity Aid to the Church in Need and Christian Solidarity Worldwide called Red Wednesday now running in its third or fourth year public buildings illuminated in red, people wear red, they have a service here at the Westminster Cathedral. That’s one example, wear red on 27 November this year. Are there other ways, symbolic ways that are eye-catching, that stick in the memory that could be used to actually effect this culture.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you Nigel. Yes, gentleman at the back.

Ninth Question:

My name’s Jonathan Wright, I’m here in a personal capacity. I would be interested in the panel’s views on if or when we might face the persecution of Christians in this country. How would one respond? And I ask that now because many people would be aware that a few weeks ago we were faced with the position of a Catholic woman in this country having to have a state-enforced abortion and I as a Catholic find that abhorrent. And I ask myself, how would society have reacted differently if something equally abhorrent had been enforced upon a member of a different faith. Because I think it’s a very quiet response from society as a whole to that sort of decision.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you.

Some very good points. Let’s have some quick answers, that’ll give us time, then, for another batch of questions. Matthew, would you like to go first?

DR MATTHEW REES:

In terms of the culture and changing culture, I think, obviously there’s many things that can be done, you know, we talked about religious literacy and that definitely could be expanded and not be as optional as maybe it currently is across the civil service, to be enforced and to be followed up on. I think that would be a really good start that it’s not just one training that is rolled out at the beginning of one’s career but actually something that’s followed up on. But in terms, then of, sort of, softer cultural things that you’ve mentioned, I did, ’cause actually freedom of religion or belief has been a priority at the Foreign Office for, actually, some time. So prior to the, sort of, commissioning of this review into the persecution of Christians, the FOR had been talked about in, sort of, priority terms for quite a while and, before the review, I guess my sentiment had been ‘Well, what does it mean to be a priority at the Foreign Office?’ to some extent. And I think you’re right- I don’t know in terms of Red Wednesday- you get parliamentary support, I know, but I don’t know if there’s any encouragement within the Foreign Office, for instance, for wearing red on that day, for instance. I know, things like that, they seem small I suppose, but they actually do go quite a long way in changing the way people think about- yeah.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Rakib?

DR RAKIB EHSAN:

So I think when you say there’s a trade off between our economic interests, our economic relations with Saudi Arabia or calling out the global persecution of Christian minorities I think it’s very clear, what my position would be, I think Britain needs to be more active. I don’t think there has to be a trade off as such, I think that through our international development programme, foreign aid, I think the gentleman here made a very good point that Pakistan receives a great deal of foreign aid from the United Kingdom. Well, frankly what does it do, you know? Because I think Pakistan’s record on protecting its Christian minorities, quite frankly, is absolutely woeful, so what is the foreign aid actually doing. So I think, we’re entitled to question that. I think, was there a question on- oh yes- there was a specific case, abortion. I think the one thing I would say is that, take for example Jacob Rees-Mogg. I think often when he speaks very passionately about this faith and his position, I think the level to which he’s vilified by the mainstream media is outrageous, to be honest, and I think that it’s something that, you know, to even express your religious faith or how important to you, particularly if you’re of a Catholic background, I think the way that’s greeted by, you know, large sections of our media, I think it’s quite shameful really.

SIR GARY STREETER:

When I was first elected, a thousand years ago, we used to link aid and trade, which was then decoupled by the Labour government, rightly, I think, in 1997, I think that quite a few of us now think that it’s time to couple aid with human rights or some kind of conditionality of that kind and we’ve been slow in doing so.

Tim?

DR TIM STANLEY:

I have to defend the work of Pope Francis on standing up for religious minorities across the world, I think he has done that and both he and other leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury are in a difficult position because sometimes when they take a very bold stand it could be their people in the field who then become a target which is why they can be very cautious or seem cautious. Remember when Pope Benedict gave the Ravensbruk address and then there was an outbreak of violence against Christians. So I take your point but I do think they are often generally doing their best. On the point about persecution in this country, there are two different kinds of persecution. One, which I don’t think Christians broadly face is violence everyday or everyday discrimination. That is overwhelmingly faced in the West either by Muslims in the problem of Islamophobia or, of course, by Jews because of the staggering rise of, you know, anti-Semitic crime across the West, very troubling. Where Christians might find they have difficulty in the future is actually with their own governments, with the national governments. It will be a tension between the state and the churches and the point that conceivably will be reached where what Christians is irreconcilable with state policy and I think that’s when we’ll start to see real tensions.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Young lady at the back, three very quick questions and then we must be- yes, you madam.

Ninth Question:

Judith Claire, Trustee for the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (inaudible) but it isn’t just the culture across the Foreign Office, it’s the culture across the government as a whole. There a number of officials here not least, we may have a policy in the Foreign Office but we cannot guarantee that the Home Office or DFID will actually agree with our policy and the way it works and I just know that (inaudible) but we are also talking about different types of persecution. Much of the persecution we’re talking about in the Middle East, on the whole, from radical supporters of another religion, mainly Islam but not only. But it’s also the increasing persecution that governments are now pursuing because they actually see Christianity particularly as a challenge to their very authoritarian control. And that’s a completely policy from what we need to be doing on the other side, which is where it’s communities turning on each other to a large extent and having a very different set of things that we need to be addressing. I don’t think we need to do it all in one go.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you very much. Two very quick questions now because that bell will go in about three minutes time and I will have to disappear. David (inaudible) at the back and then the gentleman here.

Tenth Question:

David (inaudible) from the Evangelical Alliance. I think we should build on this point here that you made. There was an article in UnHerd yesterday called ‘China’s War with Christianity’ which focused on what’s actually happening in Hong Kong and why it’s happening. We can talk about religious literacy in the media to only so much of an extent. How can we make the link in our culture to the media of the link between Christianity and our fundamental human rights and civil liberties.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Good point.

Tenth Question:

Where the Gospel is proclaimed and lived out it’s synonymous with freedom- how can we make that link again?

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you David. Final word to the gentleman.

Eleventh Question:

Richard Gulver, I’m not a Christian. Judeo-Chrisitianity, the belief in the Western world today has become very anti-cool. It’s just not cool.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Yeah.

Eleventh Question:

And the leadership of all the governments (inaudible) have found standing up for Christianity, anything which is religious is just put aside and the unless the West stands up for the Christians of the South and the East they’re going to disappear just like the Jews in the Middle East- there used to a million of them.

SIR GARY STREETER:

Thank you. A good place on which to- I’m going to disappear now, I have to do what you’re paying me for, go and vote on things that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Anyway Tim, Matthew and then Rakib will finish off and thank you all for being a wonderful audience, thank you. Tim?

DR TIM STANLEY:

Oh, ok well one final statement just to respond to those three questions because they’re really linked. Why, there are many reasons why Christians might face persecution: ethnicity, economic desire to grab land, all those sort of things, but one key reason which here in the West we don’t understand, is that Christianity is not conservative as it’s understood to be in the West. It’s not in the sense that it’s not necessarily about traditionalism or fossilised culture or anything like that. Christianity is radical and revolutionary and one thing that Christianity teaches that really irritates dictators is that you can say ‘I render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s, obey the laws of the government, but my real sense of authority lies with Christ, that’s who I’m really loyal to’ and dictatorships like China hate that. It’s a rebellion they cannot stand because they cannot crush it, and as one Yazidi said to me in Iraq, you can kill people but you can’t kill a belief, and that’s very often what these people persecuting Christians would like to think they can do by killing people, but they can’t because that’s the radical and revolutionary nature of Christianity. It’s a belief, for those of us who believe in it it’s a spirit.

DR MATTHEW REES:

Yeah, I think in terms of Christianity, Judaeo-Christian values are not cool, I don’t think we should be necessarily trying to make them cool but I think we should definitely be trying to do what we’ve done here and we should be connecting it to the idea that is often associated with that, you know, fundamental principle of freedom and human rights and I agree that that’s something- it could be part of this narrative that we need to be talking about in terms of these people’s rights.

DR RAKIB EHSAN:

I think that on a final note, I think it’s to point out that politicians, they’re selective in their outrage when it comes to the persecution of religious minorities across the world. There’s been lots of talk about, you know standing tall in the world, turbocharging the economy and all the rest of it but what I really want to see is a Prime Minister that really presses ahead and calls out the global persecution of Christian minorities wherever it’s found on this planet. Thank you.

HJS



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