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You have to admire the chutzpah of the Saudis in protesting religious intolerance

12 December 2013

5:12 PM

12 December 2013

5:12 PM

Further to yesterday’s post on Britain’s apathy about Christian persecution, the main question people asked in response was: what can Britain do, without military means?

Taking aside that our military power helped to bring about persecution in Iraq and almost certainly would have done in Syria had this government got its way, there are lots of ways you can peacefully influence a country’s politics, including financial and moral pressure. That is what Saudi Arabia does, after all.

The Organisation Islamic Co-operation (OIC), for example, a bloc of 57 Muslim countries dominated by the Saudis, has just released the latest edition of its annual ‘Islamophobia report’.

It states that in the West Islamophobia:

‘…has become increasingly widespread, which, in turn, has caused an increase in the actual number of hate crimes committed against Muslims. These crimes range from the usual verbal abuse and discrimination, particularly in the fields of education and employment, to other acts of violence and vandalism, including physical assaults, attacks on Islamic centers and the desecration of mosques and cemeteries.

‘In this context, acceptance of various forms of intolerance, including hate speech and the propagation of negative stereotypes against Islam and Muslims in some western countries contribute towards proliferation of intolerant societies. This process is further supported by… the exploitation of freedom of expression and perpetuation of an ideological context advocating an inescapable conflict of civilizations.’

There is nothing wrong with Muslim countries keeping abreast of anti-Muslim prejudice or violence outside their borders. But, as the Gatestone Institute report states:

‘Chapter 4 of the report, “OIC Initiatives and Activities to Counter Islamophobia,” focused on the OIC’s ongoing efforts to promote the so-called Istanbul Process, an aggressive effort by Muslim countries to make it an international crime to criticize Islam. The explicit aim of the Istanbul Process is to enshrine in international law a global ban on all critical scrutiny of Islam and Islamic Sharia law.’

You have to admire the sheer chutzpah of the OIC in monitoring Islamophobia in western Europe where, without exception, Muslims of all kinds have full civil rights. Compare this to Saudi Arabia, where Shia and other Muslim minorities are persecuted along with all other religious groups who don’t conform.

Yet the Foreign Office seems pretty happy to engage with the OIC, and in February Baroness Warsi told them:

‘And the foundation has already been laid. UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance, now under the umbrella of the Istanbul process, provides a strong basis from which to work. UN member states have all jointly signed up to a call to action to implement the resolution.’ 

While Foreign Office officials talk to our friends in the OIC about supporting ‘freedom of religion’ and combating ‘intolerance’, the OIC clearly see those phrases in a rather different way to us; the former means the right to freedom of worship, so long as you don’t recruit members from Sunni Islam, insult that religion, leave it, seek equality or any of the things we define as religious freedom. Combating tolerance, in effect, means combating blasphemy. There is a fine line between protecting religion from hatred and protecting it from criticism, and unfortunately the new ‘pro-faith’ British government seems to be doing the latter.

This is what I find strange about interfaith politics in the West; unless you’re living in a godless dictatorship along North Korean lines, and none of us do, the best way to protect religious freedom is through secularism, since religious freedom is most commonly threatened by other religions.

Of course it can go too far, like any other good thing, yet the Church leadership in Britain is far more reluctant to talk about serious anti-Christian violence abroad than it is to address ‘militant secularism’; much as I disagree with many of Britain’s recent discrimination laws, Stonewall and the National Secular Society do not burn down churches.

Britain doesn’t rule the waves, of course, but military power isn’t the only kind: the least Britain could do is to use its influence to draw up an annual report of Christianophobia, and to promote secularism, the best way of ensuring religious freedom.

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