THE United Nations General Assembly has decided that 22nd August is to become ‘International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.’
This should be welcomed in a world in which religious persecution is on the rise. Everyone has the right to believe whatever they wish to believe and to live out their faith as long as their actions do not harm others.
Unfortunately, it is very doubtful that the UN resolution will make any difference to the spread of religious persecution. International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief is liable to join the list of meaningless ‘Days’ created just so the proposers can feel good.
The UN delights in ‘Days’, many of them having little impact on the world. This month alone sees World Bicycle Day on 3rd June, World Sustainable Gastronomy Day on the 18th, International Day of Yoga on the 21st and, to end the month, International Asteroid Day on the 30 th. Of importance to vegan, asteroid-loving yoga instructors with bicycles, but pretty much irrelevant to the rest of us.
An end to religious persecution requires state action, and that is unlikely to happen because too many states are deeply involved in religious persecution.
China, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, is also one of the world’s leading persecutors of religious minorities. Between 500,000 and a million Muslims are or have been detained in ‘re-education’ camps in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Probably this is the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.
Christians also are subjected to discrimination and persecution in China. Churches are being closed, the sale of Bibles online banned, crosses removed and priests and worshippers arrested. Children under 18 are banned from attending church. In some areas, elderly people have been told their pensions will be cut if they don’t renounce their Christian faith.
China plans to ‘contextualise’ the Bible to make it more ‘culturally acceptable’, and Christian preaching is to be adapted to include the core values of socialism. Whilst this is little more than what is already being done by Western liberal Christians, the Christians of China see it as a direct threat to their faith.
According to Open Doors, the worst place for persecution of Christians is North Korea, which shelters under the protection of China. Of the approximately 200,000-400,000 Christians in North Korea, Open Doors estimates that 50,000 to 70,000 are interned in labour camps where they are worked like slaves.
It is less than likely that a UN ‘Day’ will have the slightest impact on religious persecution in North Korea or China.
Religious persecution elsewhere is either state-directed or encouraged. The largely Buddhist state of Myanmar persecutes Rohingya Muslims and drives them from Burmese territory into Bangladesh with appalling consequences.
India, the largest democracy in the world, has just given a second landslide victory to Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP has marginalised religious minorities from public life with many, as a result, being lynched by Hindu nationalists in the name of ‘cow protection’.
Being Hindu is seen as part of Indian identity, thus Indian Christians, many of whom come from the lower castes, face violence from Hindu extremists. Several states in India have brought in anti-conversion laws, and the BJP have made it clear that they would like to make these laws nationwide.
The great brunt of religious persecution throughout the world is borne by Christians. According to the report of the Bishop of Truro published last month, 80 per cent of persecuted religious believers worldwide are Christians. The report says: ‘The eradication of Christians and other minorities on pain of the sword or other violent means was . . . the specific and stated objective of extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, North-East Nigeria and the Philippines.’
The persecution of Christians is of such a depth and extent that it could not occur without either the encouragement or connivance of the state. In Nigeria, the governor of Kaduna State was recently accused of colluding in the persecution of Christians.
In the Middle East, Christianity is suffering what is approaching genocide levels of persecution. A century ago Christians comprised 20 per cent of the region’s population; today they are less than 4 per cent. Christianity now faces the prospect of being wiped out in the Middle East where it was born. This could not have occurred without state complicity.
Such is the power in the UN of countries belonging to the Saudi based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that meaningful action to limit the power of Muslim states to persecute non-Muslims is never going to get anywhere.
The objective of the 56 nation member OIC is to work together to promote the interest of Muslims worldwide or, in its words, the focus of the OIC includes ‘Islamic solidarity’ and ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of member states’.
The OIC is eager to press the International Court of Justice for legal action against Myanmar for the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. Meanwhile ‘Islamic solidarity’ and ‘non-interference’ means we wait in vain for appeals for legal action against Muslim states which discriminate against and persecute non-Muslims. Anti-Christian bigotry in the Middle East and the virulent anti-Semitism encouraged by Arab governments are beyond criticism.
Although the OIC was rebuffed in 2013 when it pressed for a permanent seat on the Security Council, the UN still ‘recognises and further encourages’ the active contribution of the OIC in its work. According to Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca: ‘The UN has been working closely with the OIC for more than 20 years in promoting a culture of peace, tolerance and understanding.’
Despite this, religious intolerance and persecution exists and is growing, especially in Muslim countries. Despite the UN having a ‘Day’ to recognise it, religious persecution will continue to grow. Too many members of the UN are involved in practicing religious persecution for them to do anything other than indulge in gesture politics.