Labour to defend religious freedom

The last ten days or so have meant that 2015 has gotten off, as far as freedom is concerned, to a fairly horrific start. On 7th January, terrorists claiming to be Islamic attacked and murdered 17 people in Paris. At the same time in Baga, a Nigerian town near the border with Chad and Cameroon, two thousand people are suspected to have been killed by Boko Haram. 

Those two events understandably took up many column inches and many hours on our 24-hour rolling news channels. (The 17 deaths more than the 2000, but that's for another blogpost.) 

What that meant, beyond the devastation and grief felt globally, is that a key announcement from Douglas Alexander - and a highly relevant one in the circumstances - didn't get as much attention as it probably should have.

That announcement should have come after a peaceful Christmas break where people had a time for reflection. You don't need to be a practicing Christian, after all, to understand the enduring power of the Christmas story of a baby born in the lowliest of conditions.

But today there seems to be no room at the inn for the faith that began with a stable birth. Indeed the past year was dominated by headlines of violent anti-Christian persecution.

In Nigeria, where Boko Haram, as well as razing entire towns, is abducting Christian women and condemning them to a life of sexual slavery, to ISIL-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, where forced conversions are often a tragic precursor to a violent and brutal death.

I should point out no-one is claiming a monopoly on victimhood. Atrocities have been carried out by all faiths at some point. But not only has this last year seen the biggest rise in people being persecuted for their faith, but the Pew Forum has pointed out that religious hostility is at a 6 year high and Open Doors have shown through their world watch list that Christians are currently the most persecuted of the major faiths.

In the face of growing anti-Christian persecution, neither ignorance nor fear of offence can be an excuse for standing by on the other side in silence. Just like anti-semitism or Islamaphobia, anti-Christian persecution must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith.

I know that town halls and community centres, church groups and Christian leaders across the country are seeking ways to translate prayers for peace into action for justice. 

So I believe that the Government should be doing more to harness the concern and expertise of those church leaders across the UK, and beyond.

That is why I'm delighted that Labour has announced that they will establish a multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom within the Foreign Office, and a new Global Envoy for Religious Freedom.

Because in this 21st Century, as the authors of Article 18 of the UN declaration of human rights knew in 1948, we should be supporting the building of societies that respect human rights and the rule of law, and make clear that freedom of religion or belief is a universal concern. 

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