A debate on the treatment of Christians took place on May 24th in the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate, Westminster Hall. While much was said about the appalling way in which Christians are systematically persecuted throughout the world today, attention was also paid to the way in which citizens of the United Kingdom are maltreated due to their Christian faith.
David Simpson MP began the debate by announcing the issues being discussed: ‘the violent persecution of Christians internationally and restrictions on or the denial of civil and religious liberties for Christians in some parts of the world.’ Mr. Simpson then described some of the horrendous acts that have been committed against Christian victims on the African continent. In Nigeria, more than two thousand Christian men and women have been killed in ‘targeted violence’ in the last year alone. After the recent election in Nigeria, in which Muhammadu Buhari, an avowed Muslim and former military leader, was defeated at the ballot box by a margin of almost two to one by a Christian candidate, ‘massive simultaneous attacks against Christians’ were carried out throughout the north of the country, which is predominantly Muslim.
Mr. Simpson also spoke about the treatment of Christians in Pakistan, and the way blasphemy laws are used to justify the visiting of harm upon non-Muslims. David Burrowes MP raised the question of whether ‘Islamist threats’ in Pakistan and ‘Islamist governments’ elsewhere were causing or contributing to the persecution of Christians. Mr. Burrowes noted that the British government has made significant amounts of money available to fund education in Pakistan, and was concerned that ‘hate education’ in Pakistan is either causing or contributing to the hateful acts which occur in that country. Mr. Simpson responded by saying, ‘The rise of Islam is strong in these areas, which is a particular problem.’ He added, ‘We may not even have to go to other countries to see Christian persecution, but simply look to our own back door. In the United Kingdom, the policy seems to be that people can do whatever they like against Christianity – criticize it or blaspheme the name of Christ – as long as they do not insult Islam.’ (See Link.)
Is it true that here in the United Kingdom people can criticise Christianity or blaspheme the name of Christ, but may not insult Islam? This is an important question which every citizen of the UK ought to consider, not least because if the country we live in is heading down a slippery slope, we can look around the world quite easily, and see where we might end up.
Tony Baldry MP continued the debate by saying that what is happening in northern Nigeria is ‘frightening’. Mr. Baldry said, ‘A system of religious repression is developing in parts of northern and central Nigeria, and effectively there has been imposition of sharia law in those areas.’
Jim Shannon MP stated that in northern Nigeria, ‘deadly religious violence occurs with regularity, with the result that hundreds of people are killed at a time.’ Mr. Shannon provided details of some of these ‘horror stories’. In an attack on 17th March 2010, twelve Christians, including a pregnant woman, were ‘massacred.’ This ‘atrocity’ was carried out, according to several reports, by ‘Muslim herdsmen’ who entered the village of Byie armed with guns and machetes.
Mr. Shannon also cited an incident that happened ten days earlier, the details of which are horrifying. Some five hundred Christians were murdered in an outbreak of what one newspaper described as ‘Muslim fury’. Muslims living in Rastat, Dogo Nahawa and Zat, the villages that had been targeted, had already been warned to leave by the attackers. ‘The Muslims, I heard, had left the village,’ said Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi afterwards. Now the attackers set fire to the homes of their victims and lay in wait at the villages’s exit points. Some used animal traps and nets to catch their victims. The attackers murdered entire families while shouting out the takbir. Many children were ‘macheted in their necks, their heads’, at least one was scalped, and many were burned to death. Staff working for Christian Solidarity Worldwide counted the bodies of four babies and twenty eight children younger than five years old in just one of the villages.
Mr. Shannon then described the legal situation in Pakistan, a country which, as he too noted, receives substantial financial aid from the United Kingdom. Mr. Shannon stated that, ‘Pakistan’s blasphemy laws authorise government and societal persecution of Christians. Indeed, Pakistan absolutely refuses to progress towards being a religiously free society. According to Pakistani law, blasphemy against the name of Muhammad is a crime punishable by death, and desecrating the Koran warrants life imprisonment.’ Mr. Shannon reminded us that Christians in Pakistan need not actually do these things, they just have to be accused ‘and the retribution comes right away.’
Mr. Shannon also warned against complacency when it comes to religious freedom in the United Kingdom, citing the case of Dr. Richard Scott, who at the time of writing is being investigated by the GMC for offering to talk about Christianity with a patient, then doing so with that patient’s consent. (See Link.)
Several important issues have been brought forward in this debate in Westminster Hall, then. Firstly, there is the need to acknowledge that throughout the world, many people seek to deliver extreme violence upon Christians. And killing Christians is not always enough. Acts of almost incomprehensible cruelty are often committed prior to their victims’s eventual murder. Secondly there is the issue of ‘the denial of civil and religious liberties’ that we see throughout the world. Although I have focused here on conditions in Nigeria and Pakistan, during the debate several speakers also mentioned countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and North Korea, each of which have a dreadful record when it comes to allowing Christians to practice their faith openly within their borders. Thirdly, we cannot help but ask what the British government can do about any of this. Several speakers pointed out that we provide significant financial aid to countries like Pakistan and Nigeria, and wondered why we cannot make such aid contingent upon their treating their own citizens more humanely. And fourth, we ought to consider where the United Kingdom actually stands, both abroad and at home, when it comes to protecting Christians from persecution, and allowing them to practice their faith openly.
These crucially important issues can easily be researched using the internet. Each of us can power up a laptop, and watch the whole debate at Westminster Hall streaming to our screens from parliamentlive.tv. Each of us can spare an evening to find out more about the awful situation faced by many Christians right now around the world. And each of us can ask ourselves what we can do about it.
One might expect our government to tackle these problems head on; after all politicians have handed down many soundbites to us in recent years about the necessity of diversity, and protecting the rights of religious minorities. However, later in the debate at Westminster Hall, Edward Leigh MP talked about trying to get the British government to support Christian minorities. And Mr. Leigh paints a rather disappointing picture. Experience tells him that the British government might issue ‘soothing words’ to anyone bringing up the plight of Christians overseas, but in the final analysis they simply will not compromise the ideology which causes them to issue hundreds of millions of pounds in aid to countries like Nigeria and Pakistan. (See Link.)
If the British government is not prepared to use the leverage they have with such countries, then I suggest we remember who they work for. The situation might be grim for Christians around the world right now, but we need not resign ourselves to it. Each of us can exercise what influence we have, and let our politicians know what we expect of them. And we can write to politicians like Edward Leigh and let him know that we support his efforts. Politicians in the UK sometimes appear to be a pretty mercenary bunch, but there are a handful of morally sound, hard working people out there. They deserve our support.
Eight Christians burned alive in Punjab
Christian victims of the massacres in Gojra reported by police
False accusations allegedly made against Christians
Blasphemy laws allegedly used to persecute Pakistan’s religious minorities