Want to protect Christians from persecution? Then ignore Douglas Alexander
Douglas Alexander, a frontbench member of Her Majesty’s Opposition, has got into the news by speaking out about the treatment of Christians in the Middle East, and saying that politicians should “do God”. He says lots of people this Christmas will be risking their lives if they attend a church service, and that is both wrong and something that politicians should be opposing.
It’s clear that Mr Alexander feels the plight of Christians in certain parts of the world very keenly, as his faith leads him to identify closely with them. I don’t blame him for that in any way, but his words run the risk of exacerbating the very situation he wishes to correct.
He’s right on the basic point that the religions involved shouldn’t affect how issues like this are dealt with, but his overall argument is somewhat confused and counterproductive. From what he says, it is highly unlikely that following his policies would do anything to improve the level of religious intolerance and persecution. They may even exacerbate the problem.
When Mr Alexander says that persecution of Christians should be treated in the same way as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, he is of course correct. In fact, he’s so obviously correct that it hardly seem worth saying. The flaw is in his assumption about what this would mean. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are deplorable, but how often do you hear any UK politician speaking out about either of these in general global terms, rather than relating to specific domestic matters? Very rarely, if ever.
Likewise, his association of the act of speaking out against persecution with an expression of personal faith frames this basic issue of personal freedom of conscience as one of creedal solidarity. Why else would he draw any connection between policy, public statements and personal beliefs? This is only likely to increase religious tensions.
By speaking about the situation faced by Christians in particular, and promoting their plight as deserving of greater attention, the situation is framed in sectarian terms. Why no complaint about the ignored persecution of Hindus, Sikhs or Baha’is? The implication, reinforced by Alexander’s own faith, is that British politicians should be speaking out about the treatment of Christians because they have a shared identity, “one of us” who we should be standing up for. I fundamentally disagree with that position.
If there is injustice or religious intolerance, it should be opposed regardless of the religions involved. The best way of ensuring this is to remove any mention of those religions from the discussion. Where people are being persecuted for their faith, that should be sufficient reason to speak out. It shouldn’t matter one bit whether that faith is one that’s common in this country or not. Nor should it have anything to do with politicians’ religious beliefs, openly stated or otherwise.
Rather than bickering over whose beliefs get the most protection, without offering any evidence to support the idea that Christianity is neglected in this department, is it too much to ask that we work to protect people’s rights based on their shared humanity, rather than their membership of a particular religion?
I shouldn’t have to sign up to a religion to make my rights worth defending.
Image courtesy of edudflog, used with permission