Lord Alton has written a powerful (and moving) piece about the persecution of Christians across the world. He offers statistics and evidence to back up what those of us who take any interest in these things at all know – which is that across the glob, including in China, Christians are being persecuted, and that whatever academic arguments you want to have about ISIS, it is systematically trying to exterminate not only Christian and Yazidi communities, but to eradicate all traces of their past. This is ethnic cleansing and genocide on a grant scale. Yet where, Alton asks, is the UN taking action, where are the protests, where are the demonstrations? Despite Governments condemning what is happened and has happened, none of them is calling it genocide, and despite the rhetoric of ‘never again’, it is happening again.
In 1948,with the holocaust in mind, the United Nations promulgated the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR), Article 18 of which insists that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
We failed to enforce this at Srebrenica, as we have so often failed to to before and since, and we are failing yet again, And yet this declaration, this Article especially, is a fundamental value of our society. We are not saying we are perfect, but we are saying that we have learnt lessons from our own past. We don’t believe that treating women as second-class citizens is right, we don’t think it is right to throw gay people off buildings or stone them, and we don’t think that people should be killed because they do not conform to our way of thinking about God. We used to do some of these things, but we have learned better, and yes, we mean that word ‘better’. If that means asserting that these values are superior to those values which say otherwise, then we need to stop the cultural appeasement, we need to quit the relativising cringe that pretends that it is just a matter of ‘culture’. If your culture says that it is right to oppress others for their beliefs, we do indeed dare to talk the language of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. By all means, if in some strange way as a secular liberal, you find it useful to say that Christians have done these things in the past, say so, but ask yourself what signal you are sending to those who do them now? What matters most, your need to be critical of religion, or your need to protect the rights of those who are being persecuted because of their religion?
Lord Alton askes:
“Where are letters by their thousands to the Prime Minister, MPs, political leaders – urging them to do more? Where are the spontaneous grassroots campaigns that helped end apartheid and any number of injustices?
Here’s a challenge.
In November, ACN is arranging for Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey to be floodlit in red to commemorate the persecuted.
If every parish in the country did the same it might at last wake up our political classes to the scale of the suffering.”
It may only be a gesture, but it is better than the gesture of not seeming to care. We seem to lack the sense of outrage we should feel, which is an age when social justice warriors can summon up its language for things which seem less important to many of us, is a shame and a surprise.