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Operation Nehemiah: News Update #240

Operation Nehemiah: News Update #240

15 July 2016

UK: Christian candidate pulls out of race to be Prime Minister after campaign of abuse – including over her faith

On Monday Andrea Leadsom one of two MPs vying to succeed David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minster caused shock waves by pulling out of the contest, leaving her rival. Home Secretary Theresa May, to become Prime Minister. Mrs Leadsom only became a candidate two weeks ago after former London mayor Boris Johnson was forced to stand aside. Mrs May’s supporters claimed that Mrs Leadsom lacked experience and she clearly lacked the polished media team around her that Theresa May, who had been planning her leadership bid much longer, had. However, underlying Mrs Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Prime Ministerial leadership contest is a more disturbing issue. She was subjected to a far more sustained onslaught in the media than Mrs May was – and a significant part of that focused on her Christian faith. By last Friday, even the ConservativeHome website was raising concerns at the level of media bullying of Mrs Leadsom, included that related to her Christian faith. Editor, Paul Goodman, himself a former Conservative shadow minister observed:

“But scrutiny is one thing; prejudice is quite another.  Iain Dale was right to suggest this in his column this morning that much of the media coverage of Leadsom’s campaign has been feral.  Support for same-sex marriage is a litmus test of social acceptability among the class that helps to shape our political culture, and there is a sense in some of the reporting of her reservations about it that her position is not merely wrong but somehow wicked.  Nick Boles’s famous text to other MPs can also be read in this way.  Leadsom has also been asked while being interviewed on TV if God speaks to her…”

Examples of the types of reporting that suggest a disturbing level of anti-Christian prejudice include:

  • At the end of a Channel 4 TV interview, the political editor attempted to spring an unexpected trap on her by asking: “Do you ever feel that you have been spoken to directly by God?” Click here to listen to Mrs Leadsom’s gracious response which nonetheless exposed the interview’s attempt to mock her Christian faith (11 Mins 40 secs into the interview).
  • The Metro which is distributed free on the London Underground ran an article headlined: “Andrea Leadsom ‘doesn’t like’ gay marriage law ‘because it upsets Christians’”, commenting that “She abstained from voting in the same-sex marriage bill in 2013 – one of only five Tory MPs to do so.” The implication being that her position was somehow an extreme one in the Conservative Party. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, as 126 Conservative MPs voted against the redefinition of marriage, while she merely abstained. It is hard to see this as anything other than a dishonest piece of journalism that was designed to damage her because she was a Christian.
  • Even the Daily Telegraph on Saturday claimed that whilst “…Her supporters say that she has been victim of attacks because she is a threat to Mrs May, but her record on homosexuality is more difficult to explain.” - implying that anyone who did not actively vote for gay marriage was somehow unfit to hold public office.

In Monday’s Daily Telegraph a different journalist summed up the abuse she had been subjected to:

“In no particular order, she has been called dangerous, implausible, a “religious maniac” (or Christian as it used to be known), dishonest, “Trump Lite”, the kind of mummy “who gives her kids ice cream for breakfast” (GQ), ghastly woman, “thick as pigs---”, “loathsome Leadsom” and those are just the printable names.

The same journalist also reported former Conservative Leader Iain Duncan Smith claiming that Mrs Leadsom “is the victim of disgusting 'black ops' by the Tory establishment. They are scared stiff that the warm and engaging Mrs Leadsom, who shares the traditional values of the Conservative rank and file who overwhelmingly voted Leave, could beat the more experienced and lukewarm Remainer, Mrs May.”

Coming from a former party leader that is strong stuff. Since David Cameron became leader in 2005 the Conservative Party has made much of its “modernisation” programme as it sought to present itself as having a more diverse image with for example more female and ethnic minority MPs. That is a programme which Mrs May, who has now become Prime Minister, has been at the forefront of championing, having famously, if somewhat unwisely, said the Conservative Party needed to modernise because some people viewed it as the “nasty” party. If Mrs May genuinely believes that, then as a matter priority she needs to tackle anti-Christian prejudice, both in the press and dare we say it, even in the Conservative Party.


UK: New Prime Minister forced into partial denial that she supports legal recognition of shari‘a

One of the most surprising aspects of the Conservative leadership race was that an extraordinarily controversial decision by one of the contenders, the then Home Secretary Theresa May, received almost no media scrutiny at all until the very end of the contest. This was her decision to set up a committee to look at whether the UK government should legally recognise shari‘a courts. As we reported at the time, the composition of that committee gives us grave cause for concern that it has been set up with the aim of granting legal recognition to some form of shari‘a within the UK. Indeed, in announcing the review Mrs May claimed that many British Muslims “benefit a great deal” from shari‘a tribunals that claim to have legal authority under a law designed to allow commercial arbitration. She claimed that shari‘a was being “misused” and “exploited” to discriminate against Muslim women.

However, finally, last Sunday, the Independent newspaper raised the issue in response to an open letter from 200 women rights activists and human rights oganisations including Amnesty International’s gender unit and Iranian-born human rights activist, Maryam Namazie. In common with the concerns earlier expressed by Barnabas Fund, the letter expressed particular concern both about the membership of the committee and its focus on seeking out “best practice” among shari‘a councils, rather than questioning their very existence.

Now Mrs May who has just become UK Prime Minister has finally been challenged on the issue in person by the media and has issued a somewhat different statement, affirming that there should be only one law in the UK.

 “For too long politicians in this country refuse to look at the issue of shari‘a law and just allow this to continue without any question. I've been the politician who's been willing to say no.

I'm concerned that shari‘a law is operating in a way that could discriminate against women and that could be counter to what is our single rule of law that we have in the UK.

So there is one rule of law in the UK – that's why I've set up the review that I have, chaired by Professor Mona Siddiqui, and that will be looking at the operation of shari‘a law and whether it is actually operating to discriminate against women and counter to our overall rule of law.”

That statement is welcome. However, those words need to be followed through with actions, particularly if the committee she set up recommends any form of legal recognition of shari‘a judgements.


Australia: Malcom Turnbull re-elected with wafer thin majority – but where is the country heading?

In the Australian election the Liberal-National government of Malcom Turnbull has been re-elected with a wafer thin majority after many of the party’s traditional supporters apparently deserted it for minor parties including the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam One Nation Party led by maverick Pauline Hanson and the more mainstream Family First Party that seeks to positively promote socially conservative values such as support for traditional marriage.

The election campaign, the longest in Australian history, was marked by a division over gay marriage, with the Liberal-Nationals promising to honour a pledge made by Mr Turnbull’s predecessor Tony Abbott to hold a plebiscite (legally binding referendum) on the subject, while the Labor Party argued that parliament should just introduce it, claiming that a debate on the issue could stir up homophobia.

There was also controversy over Islam, not least because Mr Turnbull invited an imam to an interfaith lunch without realising quite how radical his views were. While Tony Abbott, who Mr Turnbull managed to replace last September,   recognised that certain historic strands of Islam were linked to violence and called for a reform, both Mr Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten appear reluctant to recognise the link between some strands of Islam and violence.

This is profoundly disturbing. Any government that does not recognise the ideology of those who are seeking to destroy the culture and civilisation of its country is ill equipped to defend it. Equally, a government must understand the historic values on which its country has been built if it is to defend them. Mr Turnbull’s predecessor Tony Abbot understood that in many respects those were derived from Judaeo-Christian values, as have other previous leaders of both parties such as John Howard (L-NP) and Kevin Rudd (Labor). Whether Mr Turnbull has such a clear understanding is more open to question.



Turkey/Germany: Escalating standoff over Armenian genocide vote starts to affect NATO

In May this year Barnabas Fund warned of a crisis between Turkey and the EU likely to be brought about by an impending vote on recognising the Armenian genocide due to happen in the German parliament (the Bundestag), but which European politicians appeared to be blissfully unaware of. At the time we warned that Turkey was facing a crisis and could either continue to look westwards towards Europe or eastwards towards other Muslim majority countries and seek to recreate its former leadership of the Islamic world. At the time we raised the possibility that this crisis could even threaten Turkey’s relationship with NATO of which it is a long standing member. That is a situation that is now beginning to happen.

In June the Bundestag voted to recognise the genocide of Armenian Christians and Germany’s complicity in it as a WW1 ally of Ottoman Turkey. Turkey’s President Erdogan responded with personal abuse against MPs who had supported the motion and in the following weeks refused to allow a senior German defence official and Bundestag members to visit the Incirlik airbase in Southern Turkey from where German military personnel provide support for NATO planes undertaking reconnaissance flights against Islamic State. The Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed that in the circumstances such a visit would be “seen as inappropriate”.

Germany currently has around 250 military personnel at the NATO base in Incirlik. However, the German constitution requires all military missions to have parliamentary approval, which involves members of the Bundestag’s defence committee routinely visiting field operations to decide whether to grant a mandate for their continued deployment or not. Thus Turkey’s ongoing refusal to allow the Bundestag visit is leading to an escalation of the tension between Germany and Turkey.

In a sign of those escalating tensions last week, Wolgang Hellmich, the Chairman of the Bundestag defence committee warned that if Turkey did not allow Bundestag members to visit the Incirlik base on September 15th, then Germany could withdraw it’s forces  which could prevent NATO from operating the AWACS reconnaissance flights that it wants to fly over Syria.

While in a further development on Wednesday new Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim implied that the Turkish government was looking to normalise diplomatic relations with its neighbours including the Assad regime in Syria. He spoke of it being “our greatest and irrevocable goal: developing good relations with Syria and Iraq…” The language could of course also be taken as a veiled threat to the west that Turkey could even establish diplomatic relations with Islamic State. However, even taking this at face value as a reference to the Syrian regime of President Assad, it represents an escalation of Turkey’s increasingly tense relationship with the West. The Turkish government is in effect reminding its German, European and NATO partners that it sees itself as having a common enemy with the Assad regime in the form of Kurdish groups in Syria that are sponsored by various NATO members to fight against Islamic State. In other words, Turkey is sending a clear message to its NATO allies that they should back off from supporting the Kurds if they want Turkey to continue to allow its airbases to be used to attack Islamic State.

Embedded within this growing crisis is the Islamist ideology of Turkey’s authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party. How far, he is prepared to take this escalation with Germany, the EU and now NATO, no-one really knows. What is clear is that he will seek to use the crisis to get Turkish public opinion on his side by portraying Turkey as having been treated badly and even betrayed by the West and the EU in particular, of which Germany is seen as the most prominent member. That he wishes for a more Islamic national identity and closer ties with other predominantly Muslim countries is also clear. The only real question is how much he can manipulate the present international crises to achieve it.

Either way, this escalating crisis is not good news for Turkey’s Christian minority, who before the genocide of eastern Christians that peaked a century ago amounted to 22% of its population, but now number around 0.2%.