Leading article

Why does Britain's fight for religious freedom stop at Dover?

Cameron's statements on the missing girls in Nigeria again show the government's blind spot on God

17 May 2014

9:00 AM

17 May 2014

9:00 AM

‘We don’t do God,’ was Alastair Campbell’s put-down when his charge, Tony Blair, was tempted to raise the issue of his faith. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the motto of David Cameron’s government. It is a month now since 276 girls were kidnapped from a school near the town of Chibok in northern Nigeria, and still the Foreign Office’s statements on the crisis read like a deliberate exercise in missing the point.

‘Continuing murders and abductions of schoolchildren, particularly girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, are a stark reminder of the threat faced by women and girls in conflict-prone areas,’ Mark Simmonds, minister for Africa, said this week. ‘Young children are being denied universal freedoms such as an education.’ That may be true for many girls in Africa, but not ones abducted from a school. What Mr Simmonds failed to say is that the girls were almost all Christian, kidnapped by Islamists who threatened to sell them into sexual slavery.

Why can’t our government make that point? It is not as if there were any doubt over the matter. Boko Haram is not shy about its objectives. It has been waging war against Christians in Nigeria for years. On Christmas Day 2011 it killed at least 50 and injured hundreds more in a series of attacks on churches. The toll would have been far higher if two bombs had not been successfully defused. The following May, a spokesman for the terrorists said: ‘We will create so much effort to have an Islamic state that Christians will not be able to stay.’ This is in Nigeria, the richest country in Africa.

This week Mr Simmonds flies to Abuja to join a team of Foreign Office staff who are offering their help to resolve the crisis. Perhaps someone there will explain to him its religious nature. Just as the British government was late to recognise the sectarian slaughter in Kosovo, it now seems un-able to comprehend what is happening across much of the world. For months after the Arab spring of 2011, ministers continued to hail the event purely in terms of a democratic rebellion against dictatorial regimes, without acknowledging that Islamist groups were taking advantage of the situation.

There has been no Arab spring if you are a Coptic Christian in Egypt. Churches have been burned, or daubed with graffiti stating that henceforth Egypt will be only a Muslim country. Three were gunned down at a Coptic wedding last October in Cairo, a city where Christian and Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries. Tunisia has gone from being a secular state where Christians could worship freely to one where a convert from Islam could be hacked to death in the street. Post-Gaddafi Libya is in danger of going down the same road.

When Hague visited Algeria recently, he did not mention its ban on any Christian activity outside state-licensed buildings. We hear plenty of protests about the lack of racial and gender equality in other countries, but our campaign for religious freedom seems to stop at Dover. The best the Foreign Office has managed is to set up an advisory group on freedom of religion or belief, which sits as a sub-group of the Human Rights Advisory Group. The group’s chairman, Baroness Warsi, seems to be the one Foreign Office minister who is licensed to speak out on religious freedom, which reveals something about the government’s approach to the subject. It takes a Muslim to speak out on behalf of Christians, and against their on-going persecution. But she seems to be fighting a one-woman campaign. The Foreign Office excuses its inaction by saying that speaking up for Christians abroad would worsen their plight. Against this, we must consider that if no one speaks up for religious freedom then the sectarian bloodshed will continue.

Canada has appointed an ambassador of religious freedom who acts as a roving advocate for minorities under threat. Canada’s government has not noticed any worsening of diplomatic relations — and sees religious freedom as an essential part of the human rights agenda. This leaves the Canadian government better able to engage with the modern world. Britain’s ministers, meanwhile, are unable to condemn the Chibok kidnappings for what they are.

The right of religious freedom is one the government ought to defend world-wide. Of course it should do so without favour to any particular religion or belief system — from the Baha’is in Iran to atheists in Saudi Arabia, there are all sorts of people facing religious persecution. For a variety of reasons, not least the global rise of Wahhabism, this has become the great battle of our times.

David Cameron said recently, ‘I hope we can do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians around the world.’ As Prime Minister, he should do more than just hope.

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  • Joe Connolly

    Cameron and Hague and the rest of the EU have looked the other way at the Islamist takeover in Turkey. People have the right to be secularists too–but apparently not if British exports could be at threat.

    • Bonkim

      Real-politic is not prying too deep into the politics of others. If Britain takes a pseudo-moralistic view on every country and their internal matters we will not do business with any. And who is to say our standards are any better looked through someone else’s eyes?

      • Warwick

        We should decide whether we really do have confidence in the rightness of our support for such things as religious freedom, the rights of the individual, the separation of church and state and the rights of individuals not to be arbitarily kidnapped, raped or murdered.
        Maybe we consider these things to be purely optional like fashions in clothing, like neckties and lipstick and handbags and fob pocket handkerchiefs.
        If this relativistic view is what we accept then we can easily accept that “our standards are no better than those of anyone else.’
        But if we are confident that our values have fundamental legitimacy then we can confidently apply them to other nations as well.

        • Bonkim

          Standards are for the internal regulation of a society – their application outside depends on whether we have control over processes existing elsewhere in the world – so from a practical point of view waste of time even discussing standards prevailing elsewhere except a smug feeling we are somehow doing what is right according to our definitions.

          • Warwick

            Mr Bonkin, you have a strange and very narrow view of the processes of journalism and relations between peoples.
            If we, in one country, were to discover that the rulers of another country were to be, for example, holding festivals in huge stadiums where they were unleashing attack dogs on unpopular members of their citizenry, then we would have a duty to let this knowledge be widely disseminated.
            We would have a duty to apply every possible diplomatic pressure on this regime.
            We would have a duty to shame the members of this regime using every avenue of publicity.
            And if this meant that we would be unable to sell to this regime, or to this country, large amounts of product X, we could well consider this to be small price to pay.

            Do you consider that displays of empathy to any members of humanity, apart from your own immediate family, to be nothing more smug exercises in one-upmanship?

          • Bonkim

            Seriously words of empathy with the sufferings of people around the world where injustice and exploitation is taking place in British media is for internal consumption – the people at the receiving end either have no access to British media or even if they had no recourse to changing their plight. High sounding words at the UN or other international fora or dishing out palliative aid or similar achieve nothing – apart from absolving our collective conscience. Trade sanctions – if Britain was to stop trading with every unjust and exploitative regime in the world for this or that transgression, our docks will grind to a halt and banking/insurance firms bankrupt.

            I have no problem reporting on world events and social and economic situations, but resist from sanctimonious commentary – Britain is or had been engaged in various activities in international situations and the point was we need to see ourself from how others view us before throwing stones around. Ultimately holier than thou words have no meaning if we are powerless to change the situation – British history is full of examples – no need to elaborate. Recent history in Afghanistan or Iraq have shown Britain has not learnt much from its long colonial history in these same locations – Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Burma, all show how impotent words can be in combating injustice and exploitation – in the old days a gun-boat or two would have done the trick.

            With world populations exploding and resources depleting fast people around the world are coming to realise that they can do what they want with impunity and that the systems set up to bring peace after WW2 with the US/Britain as world police is now past their sell by date.

            All that is happening is the the world is reverting back to its pre-WW2 condition with the fittest dictating terms and the modern economic order is too fragile for those that have benefited from starting to lop bombs around at every transgressor. You and I may not agree with the philosophies of some of the governments or criminal bands terrorising the world – there are too many – but can do sod all – the costs are too high for us to bear. Pragmatism prevails in politics.

          • LucieCabrol

            A sanctimonious tirade if ever I have heard one…unfortunately the world is rarely so childishly black and white…we do not know the full story in Nigeria , for instance…we definitely did not find out the full story in Syria, blasting both barrels of smug BBC indignation at Assad, until we found the other side was just as, if not even more, vicious…surely we can comment but a lot more care and our recent experience in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo must surely have taught us a lesson or two…part of our problems stem from the quality of employee’s at the foreign office which have declined dramatically over the last 15 years….

          • Warwick

            Lucie C,
            you are a semi- illiterate, and malevolent cow.
            I will bet that you have cesspool breath, because your post reeks of viciousness for the sake of viciousness.

            You begin your stupid rant with a purely personal attack.
            This is the metaphorical equivalent of someone opening his fly, pulling out his member and proclaiming, “I’m going to piss all over you!”

            If this were to mean anything it would be followed by a stream of powerful arguments rich with logic and fact.
            But what do you deliver? A foul smelling and toxic little squirt that simply dribbles down your leg, leaving a disgusting yellow stain. It is so weak that it utterly fails to reach its target. It is just meaningless cliches about …Them Ayrabs in Libya, Iraq, Syria … see how well informed I am, I can reel off the names, ..Kosovo, foreign office.

            LC, put your syphilitic tool away, do up your pants and slink away before too many people see how you have soiled yourself in public.

          • LucieCabrol

            What a pathetic little rant ; vitriol and no substance.
            What your confused…..girls don’t have members you abject loser……tirade failed to do was answer a single point…not one. Are you a crack addict or chugging down a little metholated spirits to pass the time?

            just to clarify the Nigerian situation , for your benefit, since you clearly get all your info from the guardian. It is a system of government where each side takes turn to govern and strip the economy of cash to the benefit of the ruling party. This was all going dandy until the muslim chief died three months in, and the christian deputy took up the batting…spoiling the fun. Mr Goodluck, in name and nature , has really played a blinder extracting literally billions from the exchequer…the muslims are pissed because its their turn.
            When the christians were out of power their lever was the delta people doing a bit of damage to the oil revenues; under the christians the attack dog is boko….just get the muslim lords to dial the leader on their mobiles, they know where their attack dog is….
            wheels within wheels my naive friend…
            don’t piss yourself unless you are wearing your adult nappy, you sad little battler.

          • Warwick

            You have just spewed up a mess of turgid gobbledegook that explains nothing. Misses the central point entirely.

            Every time you put your thought into words you reveal that your thoughts are like a Cambodian rubbish dump, a chaotic mess of toxic rubbish.

            This is to be expected from a retard who can’t even recognize metaphor. What ugly, vile, boring and repulsive garbage you produce.

            You are being advised; every time you post you are simply soiling yourself in public.

            You think that you can score points by using a bit of antiquated class warfare “He reads the Guardian!”
            As I said, your piss-dribble reaches no further than your own leg.
            There is something so intrinsically confused and shallow and nasty about your drivel that anyone reading it can see at once that it is being produced by the kind of miserable and malevolent being that makes children run to their mothers when they see you.

            You think that you can be a successful street fighter. Wrong; you are too weak, confused, ill co-ordinated and clumsy. And ugly, too.

          • LucieCabrol

            Still no answers; I did have a laugh at your bristling small town venom….i can just see you as a village poison pen screaming with internalised rage at perceived slights…It may help you to have a little counseling about your predilection for lavatorial issues.

          • Warwick

            “Still no answers.” maybe your daddy paid attention to your cute comments but this is the real world – your “points”, as you call them, are like the rantings of a fundamentalist Christian from the deep south, proclaiming the whole world is in the grip of Satan and no good can come of anything.

            You are a nay-saying harridan; your function is to pollute the waters of life whenever possible.
            I am sad if I have been unable to discourage you; you should be discouraged, for the health of society.

            So I give up; let others beat you down as the occasions arise.

          • LucieCabrol

            I win

          • LucieCabrol

            I win

          • “we do not know the full story in Nigeria”
            Indeed? What “other side” to the abduction of 276 young girls by Muslim extremists could there be, do you think?

          • LucieCabrol

            see my answer to the ‘dribbling fool Warwick’ below…it is tit for tat and about money.

          • Tit for tat? Hmmm – We must have missed the kidnapping of almost 300 young Muslim girls by Christians, their forced conversion to Christianity and the ensuing threat to sell them to Christians as sex slaves.
            Oh, wait a minute – that didn’t happen, did it?

          • LucieCabrol

            I think you got the wrong end of the stick…no muslim girls been kidnapped……this time it christians by muslims……oh dear!

          • Evidently, satire is lost on you…

          • LucieCabrol

            You have lost me Shimona…lost I am…

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I seriously that Britain is quite ready to accept an Atheist as prime minister. Cameron may well be sincere in his expressed Christian beliefs, but on my eyes it marks him down as either a gullible Muppet, or a self-serving hypocrite.

  • mariandavid

    There is nothing new in this – the Foreign Office has long been known for its utter unwillingness to state facts or opinions, no matter how accurate, with either precision or conviction. And because (for some abstruse reason bred in the deepest depths of the civil service) foreign office mandarins are given a degree of authority only matched by those of the treasury, their moral and intellectual cowardice is rarely checked. What is needed is a Foreign Minister with no ambition to be Prime Minister who is willing to over-ride the sanctimonious cant of his civil servants.

  • albertcooper

    Militant Secularism is todays Credo in England . anything else, and in particular the Roman Catholic Church which receives merciless,and vindictive comments !

    • LucieCabrol

      rightly so….keep the papists out.

      • albertcooper

        You see another vindictive post !

        • LucieCabrol

          Rightly so…you got history.

          • albertcooper

            Rightly ? what about a little charity ? I am a Roman Catholic and accept others points of view,and bear you no malice

          • LucieCabrol

            We had enough of paying RC charity to the papacy in 1500…10% of national income thank you very much…no need to go there again. there’s more cash tied up in the Vatican than bill gates’s holiday fund…very happy with the quietly declining C of E…as long as they don’t step out of line.

          • albertcooper

            Being you seems good fun !

          • LucieCabrol

            Its OK…actually don’t have too much of an axe to grind on the RC’s…times harsh grind stone, history’s lectern and the positive drive of humanity in general combined with a discipline for good is no bad thing…………just wouldn’t want to be there myself.

  • “‘Continuing murders and abductions of schoolchildren, particularly girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, are a stark reminder of the threat faced by women and girls in conflict-prone areas,’ Mark Simmonds, minister for Africa, said this week.”

    Has anyone noticed any Muslim girls being kidnapped by extremist Christians and threatened with forced baptism and/or sexual slavery?

    No, I didn’t think so…

  • “Why does Britain’s fight for religious freedom stop at Dover?”

    Why does Britain’s fight for religious freedom not extend to the so-called “no-go areas” of East London which local Muslim extremists consider “Sharia areas”?

  • Dutchnick

    Provided that the faiths followed by other does not impinge on my freedom or represent a threat to me that is fine. The Islamic faith is not only bad news for the UK and Europe but hardly does the greatest victims, the Muslims much good. It mandates death for non-believers and as an integral part of that faith you must accept that stricture. If I started a new faith enshrining the mandatory beliefs in the Koran I would be in court pretty fast.

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