By Tim Montgomerie
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Islamic persecution of Christians is a massive global issue. It has grown with instability across the Middle East. The Middle East Forum's record of violence and intolerance in November alone includes:
- In Nigeria, "Islamic militants shouting "Allahu Akbar" carried out coordinated attacks on churches and police stations, including opening fire on a congregation of "mostly women and children," killing dozens";
- Also in Nigeria, "the Muslim militant group, Boko Haram, executed two children of an ex-terrorist and "murderer" because he converted to Christianity";
- In Ethiopia more than 500 Muslim students assisted by Muslim police burned down a church, while screaming "Allahu Akbar";
- In Algeria five Christians were jailed for "worshiping in an unregistered location";
- In Kashmir "Muslim police arrested and beat seven converts from Islam in an attempt to obtain a confession against the priest who baptized them";
- In Kenya, "suspected Islamic extremists, apparently angered at the use of wine during communion—Islam forbids alcohol—threw a grenade near a church compound killing two, including an 8-year-old girl, and critically wounding three others"…
Fraser Nelson took up the issue for Christmas in a powerful piece in last Friday's Telegraph. Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt MP (himself a Christian) has responded but Fraser is not satisfied with the response. Nor, some months ago, was the leader of Scotland's Catholics.
If Mr Burt and William Hague are looking for a model of how to respond they might look to Canada's Conservative government. During this year's election campaign Stephen Harper promised that religious freedom would become "a key pillar of Canadian foreign policy" and next month an Office for International Religious Freedom will be established inside the Department of Foreign Affairs, based on the US equivalent.
At the recent Deauville Summit Harper succeeded in inserting three references to Christian persecution in Arab states into the final communique. My source in Ottawa says the UK was not "terribly helpful" in assisting him in this. Most significantly Canada has also refocused refugee programmes on persecuted Christians. This has included accepting 20,000 Iraqi refugees over the last five years.
A commitment to appoint a full-time UK envoy on religious freedom was part of William Hague's 2001 Tory manifesto. The problem, as Ann Widdecombe recently noted, is out of control. We need a response from the Foreign Secretary that is as big as the challenge.