New UK Home Office guidance on asylum claims from Syria fails even to mention Christians. And to add insult to injury, a group of “independent” experts who produced this guidance have at the same time produced further advice recommending that senior members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood should be granted asylum in the UK in case they face ill treatment in Egyptian prisons.
This is the same Muslim Brotherhood which in January last year put out a statement calling on its followers to embrace “jihad” and “martyrdom” in fighting the Egyptian regime. Furthermore, senior figures in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have called for attacks on churches as they blame peaceful street protests by Christians for the military coup which overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Morsi in 2013. Those have not been mere threats. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have repeatedly attacked churches in Egypt since then, with Christians killed and more than 80 churches destroyed.
Yet the independent academics who produced the Home Office guidance either did not know about these attacks on Christians – which they clearly should have done – or, even more disturbingly, chose to ignore them. The 20,000 UK citizens who are Egyptian Christians will react to this announcement with fear and disbelief. As one Coptic Orthodox priest in London said last year: “We are scared…these people are everywhere.” However, it would seem that their rights as law-abiding British citizens are to be treated as less important than the rights of the leaders of what is widely regarded as the modern world’s first Islamist extremist organisation.
Academics are not exempt from political bias and there must be a strong suspicion that there is an element of political correctness that is perhaps finding it too politically inconvenient to acknowledge that there is a real problem concerning persecution driven by Islamic ideology. However, this is not the only instance.
A year ago the UK government commendably passed a modern slavery bill that set up the world’s first anti-slavery commissioner. Yet the strategy the commissioner’s office developed to tackle slavery both in the UK and overseas totally ignored the resurgence of sharia-based slavery in West African countries such as Mauritania (where slavery has never gone away) and Nigeria (where Boko Haram “reintroduced” legal recognition of slavery two years ago for non-Muslims). It has now spread to Syria and Iraq where Islamic State have even issued a price list for Christian and Yazidi female slaves.
Another example of the UK’s blindness to the dangers of Islamism is the fact that on the very day that Islamic State inspired jihadists murdered a French priest and seriously injured another worshipper, the Home Office released its partially-flawed new strategy for tackling hate crime. This made only a single token reference to anti-Christian violence. It totally ignored the widespread issue of violence against Christians who have converted from a Muslim family background, many of whom face extreme violence, death threats, kidnappings and forced marriages in attempts to force them to reconvert back to Islam. Barnabas Fund and other organisations had been raising this issue with the Home Office for many years.
The UK Home Office has undertaken some excellent work in the past, including initiating campaigns against forced marriage and female genital mutilation. In October last year, we urged it to build on this work by now taking action against “forced reconversion” i.e. attempts, often involving violence, to force those from a Muslim family background who have embraced another faith, such as Christianity, to return to Islam. This is a nettle that the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, urgently needs to grasp.
However, there is a wider issue here. There appears to be a culture in government where violence against Christians is played down, particularly if it is done in the name of Islam. The intention may be to avoid inflaming Muslim passions in the UK and could be a part of their counter-terrorism strategy to stop the radicalisation of Muslim youth. But this must not be achieved at the expense of the safety and security of vulnerable Christians.
Dr Martin Parsons works for persecuted church charity, Barnabas Fund. He is an expert on Islamism and sharia law.