Australia recognises genocide
The Australian House of Representatives has passed unopposed a motion calling the actions of Islamic State against the Assyrian people ‘genocide’. The motion recognised the Assyrian people as “an original and indigenous people of Iraq and Syria” and observes that crimes against humanity have been committed against them on “religious, cultural and ethnic grounds”. It also notes that on 24th March 2015 the Iraqi Council of Ministers, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadai issued an unanimous declaration condemning the crimes committed by IS against civilians, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians and Shabak as crimes of genocide. The motion also urged:
“The United Nations special advisor on the prevention of genocide to make recommendations through the Secretary General to the Security Council to recognise, prevent and halt crimes committed by ISIL.”
Significantly, senior Labour MP Chris Bowen, a former immigration minister and currently shadow treasurer, who proposed the motion also called for a plan to be developed for a post Islamic State situation, including the necessary protections for minorities.
Comment: Although this motion only refers to genocide against the Assyrians, this merely reflects the fact that this particular motion was presented at the request of the Assyrian Universal Alliance for which Mr Bowen has been a staunch advocate. What is significant is the call for the UN Security Council to act, as only the Security Council can ask the International Criminal Court to instigate a genocide investigation for IS actions in Syria.
Trial of German jihadist for war crimes in Syria
A German national of Iranian origin has become the first jihadist to be prosecuted in Germany for war crimes in Syria. Prosecutors have said the man was radicalised in the Frankfurt area and travelled to Syria in 2014 to join a jihadist group, where he received weapons training before carrying out the crimes he is accused of. He is reported to have posted pictures of himself and two other jihadists on Facebook posing next to the severed heads of some of their victims.
The man is charged with having “broken international humanitarian law by subjecting protected persons to degrading and humiliating treatment.” He is one of ten currently being investigated by German Police for war crimes in Syria.
Comment: This trial, coming on the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, is a stark reminder of the enormity of the genocidal threat currently posed by jihadist groups such as Islamic State. However, this prosecution has not come about primarily because the enormity of that threat has been grasped. It has occurred as a political response to public concern about the arrival of over one million refugees in Germany last year, forty percent fleeing the fighting in Iraq and Syria. The government has therefore been under pressure to root out potential jihadist sympathisers. Consequently, it has required anyone applying for asylum in Germany to report any war crimes they have witnessed. The result has been an average of 25-30 reports a day of militants hiding among refugees.
Sweden: Christian refugees persecuted in asylum centres
Last year Barnabas Fund warned that Christian refugees were being persecuted by Islamists in German asylum centres. However, the problem is not confined to Germany as reports are now emerging of similar persecution of Christians in Swedish refugee centres.
The Swedish Evangelical Alliance, have reported that a Christian refugee in Kalmar, south-eastern Sweden, was threatened with “slaughter”, and having his throat cut by a man who claimed to have fought with jihadist groups in Syria. While a Pakistani Christian couple had to move into a church when the husband’s name was sprayed on a wall near their room calling for his death. A separate group of asylum seekers in Kalmar were forced to leave their accommodation when their harassment escalated. Jacob Rudolfsson, deputy secretary-general of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance commented:
“No one wants a society where people are divided up on the basis of religious beliefs, sexuality, ethnicity, or nationality, but this is an urgent situation that must be resolved. Basic protection should be provided by the state, but when the state fails to protect Christian asylum seekers, Christian organizations must take action.”
Concerns have also been raised internationally about the situation faced by Christian refugees in Sweden. Six weeks ago Patriarch Ignatuis Aphrem II, Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, urged Swedish authorities to intervene telling them:
“Christians do not live in refugee camps in the Middle East, because, there too, they are persecuted by Muslim extremists. Because of that, most of the time, they are not entitled to aid from the UN. We, the Churches and community-based organizations, are doing our best to help them. To witness that they are once more being persecuted at Swedish asylum accommodations make[s] us very sad. We expect the Swedish Government and the concerned authorities to immediately make sure that these people are safe. A distinct asylum accommodation for Christians and other asylum seekers is essential. We appeal to you to set off such a place and give the word asylum back its true meaning of protection and safety.”
In response, Anders Danielsson, director general of the Swedish Migration Board, admitted that “asylum seekers sometimes bring with them conflicts that exist in their home country, such as conflicts involving Christian minorities or other vulnerable groups”. However, he refused to consider separate housing for Christians and other vulnerable groups arguing that this “would go against principles and values that are central to Swedish society and our democracy.”
However, an article in Sweden’s daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, branded the situation at a number of shelters “alarming”, and said many refugees had been forced to flee. Nuri Kino, founder of A Demand for Action (ADFA), a campaign group working for the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East, said not enough has yet been done. He said he felt compelled to campaign on the matter after being contacted by two women who were being threatened. “They said they were told to convert to Islam and cover their heads by other asylum seekers, and they and their children were called ‘kuffar’ – infidels. Eventually, a Muslim family moved into their room, forcing them to sleep in a common area without any privacy.”
Kino began writing in Svenska Dagbladet in December, and was immediately inundated with hundreds of texts, emails and messages on social media. He said:
“I got more than 400 messages, all from people who were working in shelters, asylum seekers themselves, people from the authorities, the police, the migration agency, even from parliamentarians, saying: we’re aware of this, and we need to get a grip on the situation.”
Comment: Unfortunately, this is becoming an increasingly widespread problem which is made worse by the assumption that all asylum seekers must be treated the same. However, what is actually happening, is something that has been observed in relation to earlier immigration arrivals into Europe. Naive western liberal thinking, often under the guise of multiculturalism, all too easily allows the importation of power structures from abroad into western countries and all too often it is Christians, who are treated as inferior in those countries, that end up suffering as a result of such policies.
EU/Turkey deal approved despite Turkey’s human rights record
The EU has provisionally approved the migrant deal that will allow Turkey’s 79 million citizens visa-free access to the main (Schengen Zone) countries of the EU, in return for Turkey agreeing to hold back migrants. The deal also includes Turkey receiving more than 5 billion Euros to police its orders and the prospect of Turkey’s application to join the EU being fast tracked. The EU has now approved the deal despite the fact that Turkey has not yet implemented all 72 benchmark points of the agreement. However, the decision risks a split in the EU. Reuters reported that Nordic foreign ministers meeting in Finland said it was important that Turkey reached all 72 criteria before visa-free travel for Turks could be allowed. Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, head of the nationalist Finns party, told a news conference:
"It is an important deal, we need it in Europe. But we must be strict in that sense, that when we have agreed on those benchmarks, they should be fulfilled.”
Comment: In its desire to get Turkey to deal with the mass migration of people into Europe, particularly Germany, the EU has in effect chosen to set aside its own rules on the standards of human rights that a country must adhere to before it can even be considered for EU membership. The Copenhagen Criteria clearly set out that such countries must have stable institutions “guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.”
Fifteen years ago it did indeed look like Turkey was moving in this direction. Yet since President Erdogan came to power it has moved in the opposite direction towards both authoritarian rule and Islamism. Only last week we reported that the speaker of Turkey’s parliament, a senior member of President Erdogan’s party, had called for the country to have an Islamic constitution. Meanwhile, the arrest of journalists, both Turkish and foreign who criticise the government is now almost a routine occurrence. Nor, is this limited to Turkey itself. The recent attempt to have a German comedian prosecuted in Germany for insulting President Erdogan is not an isolated case. In the last two weeks, Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm has pressured Swedish TV channel TV4 not to show a documentary about the Assyrian genocide. It has also demanded that the EU withdraw funding for a German orchestra that planned a series of events to commemorate the Armenian genocide. In the last month it has also seized six Christian churches in the Diyabakir region of Turkey on the direct orders of President Erdogan’s cabinet. The latter was reported by Barnabas Fund three weeks ago and has more recently been highlighted in a number of media outlets around the world. Last week Barnabas Fund raised the issue directly in a meeting with the EU’s Head of Representation in the UK.
The exclusion of Christianity to the margins
In an important article, the Spectator draws attention to the fact that secular humanists who attack Christianity “often fail to realise that it is the gospels which provide unseen elements in their own outlook”. This is reflected in the strong secularist bias, particularly in the media:
“It’s an institutional bias that media folk, especially those at the BBC, aren’t really aware of having: they think they’re being neutral when they marginalise the ‘divisive’ topic of religion, and decide to commission yet another radio series about feminism or science or classics or whatever. They don’t notice that they are subtly consigning Christian voices to the margins. The exclusion works like this. Everything non-religious is seen as a harmlessly neutral topic. It might or might not be your thing, but it’s a valid part of our culture that deserves airtime. Religion, on the other hand, is seen as problematically contentious. It can only be talked about in a sombre anxious way. If Christianity has to be talked about, there must be great awareness that atheists and those of other faiths are likely to be a bit miffed. And so it’s safer to avoid it, whenever possible, and stick to what is inoffensively neutral.”
Comment: The increasing exclusion of Christianity from public life has been driven by a number of factors. At Barnabas Fund we have drawn attention to some of these before, a strident and increasingly intolerant humanism, a naive refusal to recognise the political agenda behind Islamism and the creation of new moral absolutes in public life that exclude traditional Judaeo-Christian ethics. The latter is in part driven by a lack of understanding of the importance of Judaeo-Christian values in the formation of the institutions that have become synonymous with the West: democracy, equality before the law, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and so forth. Yet, the reality is that without these underlying values these institutions cannot last more than a few generations. Indeed, part of the purpose of Operation Nehemiah is to highlight the existing threats to them that are already occurring.