Saturday, 10 December 2011

Christians in the Middle East

I have just read all of yesterday's insightful, fascinating and thoughtful House of Lords debate on the situation of Christians in the Middle East (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/111209-0001.htm). Initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the debate comprised speeches by a wide range of peers of many faiths and of none. It also included practical suggestions of things that the British Government can actually do, as well as noting things that it is thankfully already doing.

While I do not 'agree' with some of the points that were made in some of the speeches, I overwhelmingly agree with the consensus that emerged on three principles in particular. One is that Christianity was born in the Middle East and has flourished there for centuries before and after the later birth of Islam, in contrast to suggestions that Christianity is an alien, Western import to the region. Another is that religious freedom (including being free to convert from one faith to another, and being free to have no faith) is a fundamental human right. The third is that a true democracy is one that accords as much importance to protecting minority rights as it accords to reflecting the democratically-expressed will of the majority.

These three principles are central to any consideration of the highly worrying situation of Christians across the Middle East and North Africa after the 'Arab Spring'. At stake are not the specific rights of Christians, but the rights of all people who live in the region, including Muslims. Many Christian Arabs are living in dire circumstances that reflect the plight of everyone who lives in the countries concerned; it is in the interest of all of those people (of all faiths and of none) for the region to become one in which there is equality before the law, pluralism and religious freedom.

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