Lord Alton of Liverpool gave the following statement at a meeting held in the House of Lords on October 13th 2015, organised by the charity Aid to the Church In Need for the launch of ‘Persecuted and Forgotten – a Report on Christians Oppressed for their faith’.
Syria and Iraq: “a genocide that dares not speak its name.”
Masking itself in the cover of conflict, and no doubt fortified by the world’s silence, in Syria and Iraq a genocide of Christians is underway. With its echoes of the genocide launched against Armenian Christians one hundred years ago, in 1915, other defenceless ethnic-religious minorities, such as the Yazidis, are also victims of this Islamist genocide. Deep rooted religious hatred, a hatred of difference, is driving on a systematic campaign of deportation and exodus, degrading treatment, including sexual violence, enslavement, barbaric executions, and attempts to systematically destroy all history and culture that is not their own.
By way of example, three weeks ago three Christians captured from Assyrian Christian villages in Syria, were executed after Jihadist demands for $10 million ransom were not met. As they were lined up, on their knees, garbed in orange jumpsuits the three Christian men were murdered with a single shot to the back of each head. In its video of this execution, ISIS threatens to kill the 202 remaining Christian hostages who were seized in the same raid. Meanwhile, over 2,000 Yazidi women and girls remain sexually enslaved by ISIS, and some are now pregnant, while others have been forced to undergo abortions.
This genocide – which was named as such by Pope Francis – but which western political leaders refuse to speak its name – is part of a wider picture.
Massimo Introvigne of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe spoke this summer at the “International Conference on Inter-religious dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims.” Introvigne told the conference that the number of Christians killed every year for their faith is estimated at about 105,000. That number does not include those killed as victims of war: just those who were put to death simply because they were Christians
Put another way, a Christian is murdered every five minutes. I’ll say it again, according to these figures, on average, a Christian is martyred every five minutes — killed because of their faith. 24 will dies while we meet here this afternoon.
Introviigne said that the persecution of Christians is “a worldwide emergency” and that “If these numbers are not cried out to the world, if this slaughter is not stopped, the dialogue between religions will only produce beautiful conferences but no concrete results,”
According to Dr.Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke, in “The Price of Freedom Denied” the number of Christian martyrs may be even higher, between 130,000 and 160,000 per year.
In human terms, numbers – statistics – can often become meaningless, which is why the stories being told in Parliament this afternoon, from Syria to Iraq, from Nigeria to North Korea – give these horrific numbers real meaning and why they demand our attention. By illustration, just consider one or two shocking accounts from this month alone.
On October 6th Islamic State announced that, in an unnamed village outside Aleppo, it carried out an execution of 12 Christians, including a 12-year-old child, the son of a Christian leader, for refusing to recant their Christian faith and convert to Islam.
When the father refused, IS members tortured the child, with two other Christians, crucified them to death. The boy had his fingertips cut off, in an attempt to force his father to convert to Islam. Their bodies were left hanging on the crosses for two days, under signs reading “infidels.”
In the same week Christian Aid said that 20 people were killed for refusing to convert to Islam, including two women. When they refused, a 29-year-old and 33-year-old woman were brutally raped. Eight captives were then beheaded. According to witnesses the victims prayed and said the name of Christ before they were killed. Others prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Some lifted up their heads to heaven declaring their faith in Christ.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, it is estimated that the number of Christians has fallen from about 1.5 million people in 2003 to less than 200,000 people today. Elsewhere in the world – think of the depredations of Boko Haram in Nigeria or the horrors perpetrated in Pakistan – Christians are also in the front line of unrelenting violent persecution.
At a meeting here at Westminster, which I chaired, a North Korean Christian woman, Hea Woo, gave a graphic and powerful account of her time inside a concentration camp – where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry says that human rights violations, including persecution of Christians, is “without parallel” – with between two and three hundred thousand people incarcerated in the camps.
In such places the dignity of human life counts for nothing. Hea Woo told us: “Sometimes we had soup with nothing in it, just full of dirt. In some places whole families were put into camps. They separated the men from the women and even if they saw each other they couldn’t talk to each other. The guards told us that we are not human beings, we are just prisoners, so we don’t have any right to love. We were just animals. Even if people died there, they didn’t let the family members outside know. ”
To push this widespread but frequently ignored persecution up the political agenda Aid to the Church In Need is today launching a Pledge Card which constituents can ask their MP to sign. It a Pledge to use every opportunity to speak up for those who have no voice. It takes very little effort to ask an MP to take action – but in doing so it might just save a life.
Either there is a genocide underway, or there is not; either there is worldwide persecution of Christians, or there is not; either someone is being killed every few minutes, or they are not; either there is a worldwide emergency, or there is not. After you have heard from today’s contributors you can draw your own conclusions and then decide if you can remain silent or indifferent.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian murdered by the Nazis, said of those who remained silent in the face of great evil: “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds”. Let that not be said of us.