An Anglican bishop in the Church of England has criticized the West’s reticence on violence against Christians and other minority communities in the Middle East, South Asia and other parts of the world.
Writing in the latest edition of Standpoint magazine, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said the United Nations had taken the necessary steps to protect people in Libya from attacks by their own government, but questioned why the United Nations or the West was “unable to tackle the widespread and growing persecution of Christians?”
He voiced particular concern over Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the Christian communities face regular attacks and harassment at the hands of Muslims.
“In the case of Iraq, why is there so much resistance to a declaration that Christians, Mandaeans, Yazidis and other minorities need to be protected and that, where necessary, their safety in certain zones will be guaranteed by the international community?” he said.
The bishop suggested that international guarantees would give Christians in Iraq greater confidence concerning their future in the country.
Without that, the only option available to them at present was to flee the country.
“If the continued presence of these ancient communities is to be safeguarded, the international community needs to act now.”
He warned that Christians were facing a similar situation in Pakistan but with the added difficulty of legally enshrined discrimination. The country’s controversial blasphemy law is an example of the “blatant intolerance” of religious minorities, he noted.
He suggested a rethink of Western aid to Pakistan to address extremism.
“Pakistan is the recipient of massive aid from Western countries. This is to assist with basic services and to prevent the spread of extremism. But why should it not be targeted, first and foremost, at those areas which are most susceptible to extremist influence?”
He said Western aid should be used to remove the teaching of hate from textbooks, to reform the education system, strengthen civil society and the role of women and non-Muslims, and to foster interfaith dialogue.
“Is there any reason why such aid cannot be linked with Pakistan’s performance, not only in how it deals with its minorities, but how it proposes to review and revise discriminatory legislation itself?” he said.
In Afghanistan, the bishop said that although girls and women had benefited from international intervention, this had not been the case for Christians.
Despite the constitution incorporating the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Christians in the country do not enjoy freedom of belief or expression.
“The explanation usually given is that sharia (Islamic law) will always ‘trump’ any constitutional guarantees in these areas,” he said.
“This must be a matter of huge concern to the taxpayers in this and other countries who are shouldering a massive burden in the belief that they are promoting freedom in Afghanistan.”
He said resurgent Islam was the common element in much of the turmoil in the Middle East, North and West Africa, and South Asia.
While some forms of resurgent Islam could be progressively reformist, he said that much of resurgent Islam was backward-looking, suspicious of religious plurality, and generally hostile to the West and to Israel.
He warned governments not to be complacent even towards movements claiming to be non-violent.
“Significant movements within this resurgence, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere or the pietistic Tablighi Jamaat in South Asia, either claim to be non-violent by nature or at least claim to have renounced the use of force in the achievement of their aims,” he said.
“Their advocacy of a ‘pure’ Islam, their aversion to any kind of constitutional equality for non-Muslims, their hostility to the West and to Israel and their antipathy towards other forms of Islam can, however, lead their followers to even more extreme forms of Islamism which do not eschew violence.
“For these reasons, extremist Islamism, even when it professes non-violence, cannot be viewed with complacency or approached with that naïve engagement which has characterised some of the Establishment’s overtures towards it.”
By joining in the current struggle for democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere, some of these movements could further a theocratic and pan-Islamic agenda, the bishop further warned.
He questioned the intentions of such movements and their commitment to democracy, particularly where their expressed aim is to establish a single Islamic world order.
“The acid test for a democratic society is whether a party or a movement is not only willing to take power to govern but whether it is also willing to relinquish it. In this matter, we must say that the jury is out on whether Islamist groups would be willing to give up power.”
Democracy by itself will not be enough, the bishop warned, and liberty for women and non-Muslims needs to be guaranteed.
Similarly, improving the economic situation in recruiting hotspots is only part of the answer to confronting extreme forms of Islamism.
“We need to engage with ideologies themselves in terms of their relationship to Islam’s foundational texts, to history, to traditional forms of decision-making and governance and to the present beliefs and values of the international community of nations,” he said.
The bishop warned that resurgent Islam was not only gaining ground in majority-Muslim countries but also within “isolated and segregated” communities of Muslims who were European or American-born.
Secularism provides only a “thin gruel for any attempts to check and reverse the trend to radicalization.”
In Britain, a strong emphasis on integration and common awareness of history and moral-spiritual traditions is necessary to meet the challenge of radical secularism or Islamism at the domestic level, he noted.
“Resurgent forms of Islam, leading to Islamist extremism, pose an international challenge which needs to be tackled in quite specific ways, depending on where it arises and its implications globally. Meanwhile, the domestic challenge must be met with a clear understanding and without compromise on the basic principles on which society is founded and which are needed for day to day decision-making.
“In the West, there is an urgent need for the renewal and the strengthening of the Judeo-Christian tradition and its role in public life, if the challenges and dangers of extremist ideology are to be addressed effectively.”