It hasn’t been for the want of trying. Numerous blog posts have been written, emails and DMs exchanged, and meeting with senior ministers held. This blog has been at the forefront. But still the Government refused to see what just about every Christian in the country had eyes to see: that David Cameron said nothing and did even less while tens of thousands of Iraq’s Christians were summarily slaughtered or driven from their ancient homelands. But the moment the Yazidis were stranded up Mt Sinjar, the Prime Minister was convening his Cobra emergency committee and announcing to the world that Britain would play a leading role in their rescue and relief. We even sent the SAS.
What is this incoherent foreign policy? Who determines this hierarchy of suffering?
It is as though the Government couldn’t give a damn about Iraqi Christians. But the Yazidis are a syncretic Zoroastrian tribe. They are mysterious and cool, and there is kudos to be had in saving the exotic minority. The Christians are knowable and familiar. And therein lies the contempt.
So today’s headlines are wholly justified: “Church launches bitter attack on PM’s ‘incoherent’ Middle East policy‘. The story has been picked up by the BBC, ITV and Sky, and is slowly reverberating around the world. Here is the incisive letter dispatched to the Prime Minister by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines. Please note that it was sent in the full knowledge and approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury:
Dear Prime Minister,
Iraq and the Islamic State
I am conscious of the speed at which events are moving in Iraq and Syria, and write recognising the complexity and interconnectedness of the challenges faced by the international community in responding to the crises in Syria and Iraq.
However, in common with many bishops and other correspondents here in the UK, I remain very concerned about the Government’s response to several issues. I write with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury to put these questions to you.
1. It appears that, in common with the United States and other partners, the UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this approach. Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that holds together the UK Government’s response to both the humanitarian situation and what IS is actually doing in Syria and Iraq? Behind this question is the serious concern that we do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon, and it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect. The Church internationally must be a primary partner in addressing this complexity.
2. The focus by both politicians and media on the plight of the Yezidis has been notable and admirable. However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future. Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why. Does your Government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?
3. As yet, there appears to have been no response to pleas for asylum provision to be made for those Christians (and other minorities) needing sanctuary from Iraq in the UK. I recognise that we do not wish to encourage Christians or other displaced and suffering people to leave their homeland – the consequences for those cultures and nations would be extremely detrimental at every level – but for some of them this will be the only recourse. The French and German governments have already made provision, but there has so far been only silence from the UK Government. Therefore, I ask for a response to the question of whether there is any intention to offer asylum to Iraqi migrants (as part of a holistic strategy to addressing the challenges of Iraq)?
4. Following on from this, I note that the Bishop of Coventry tabled a series of questions to HM Government in the House of Lords on Monday 28 July. All but two were answered on Monday 11 August. The outstanding questions included the following: “The Lord Bishop of Coventry to ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to resettling here in the UK a fair proportion of those displaced from ISIS controlled areas of Northern Iraq.” I would be grateful to know why this question has not so far been answered – something that causes me and colleagues some concern.
5. Underlying these concerns is the need for reassurance that a commitment to religious freedom will remain a priority for the Government, given the departure of ministers who championed this. Will the Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Panel continue under the new Foreign Secretary? Is this not the time to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom – which would demonstrate the Government’s serious commitment to developing an overarching strategy (backed by expertise) against Islamist extremism and violence?
I look forward to your considered response to these pressing questions.
The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines
The Bishop of Leeds
“Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?” the bishop asks. Of course, we all know the answer to this. Most of the mainstream media segued straight from Gaza to Mt Sinjar; from bombed-out Palestinians to the massacre of Yazidis. They said little, if anything, about Mosul, and one doubts they have ever heard of Qaraqosh. The Government tends to react to the obsessive minority passions of the BBC, Guardian and Jon Snow, all of whom manifest a pathological anti-Christian bias, born of theological ignorance and spiritual indifference.
But to say that the Government’s policy in Iraq is incoherent, ill-thought-through and determined by “the loudest media voice at any particular time” is brave, coming from a bishop. No doubt some will raise a highly-polished mirror, point the finger and cry “hypocrite!”, reminding us that the Church is mired in its own inconsistencies, confusions and contradictions. And perhaps there is in the Church’s own muddles and murkiness a temporal reflection at the heart of the State. But this is not a time for divisive diatribes of denunciation. Christians are dying in their thousands. even now, in the relative safety of their Kurdish camps, where they sweat in their fevers and faint from thirst and malnutrition.
And David Cameron stands accused by a senior bishop of the Church of England of abandoning them. And that accusation is justified, because the Yazidis have consistently taken political precedence. The Government has created a hierarchy of suffering in which 30,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar trumps 100,000 Christians fleeing the murderous Jihadists who invaded Mosul and Qaraqosh. For Cameron and his Government, the Christians have indeed “fallen from consciousness”.
There has been no response to the bishops’ plea that we open our borders to asylum seekers. France and Germany are offering sanctuary, but the Bishops of Leeds, Manchester and Worcester haven’t even received an acknowledgement of their letter. Bishop Nick says this is “something that causes me and colleagues some concern”. Frankly, it causes His Grace consternation, disillusionment and dismay. Christians are being crucified in Iraq for nothing more than believing in Jesus , and the Prime Minister can’t even be bothered to convene a committee.