UK Politics

Warsi: Christian minorities 'endangered' in Middle East

  • 15 November 2013
  • From the section UK Politics
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A Syrian woman lights candles as she attends Mass at the Mar Elias (St Elijah) Orthodox church in Bab Touma, Damascus (24 December 2012)
Image caption Christians make up about 10% of Syria's population but their numbers have been falling

Christianity is at risk of extinction in some parts of the world due to growing persecution of minority communities, a minister has warned.

Baroness Warsi said Christians were in danger of being driven out of countries, such as Syria and Iraq, where the religion first took root.

Syria's civil war and the instability in Iraq has seen many leave.

Baroness Warsi said politicians had a duty to speak out against persecution and appeal for religious tolerance.

In a speech at Georgetown University in Washington DC, the foreign officer minister - who also has responsibility for faith communities - said one in ten Christians were living in countries where they were in a minority.

'Seen as other'

She told that the BBC that in some cases, Christians were being targeted for "collective punishment" by majority groups in retaliation for what they perceive as the injustices committed by Western powers.

"I am concerned the birthplace of Christianity, the parts of the world where Christianity first spread, is now seeing large sections of the Christian community leaving and those that are remaining feeling persecuted," she told Radio 4's Today.

"Tragically, what's happening is they are being seen as newcomers, being portrayed as an 'other' within that society, even though they have existed there for many, many centuries," she said.

The Conservative peer said Christians were seen as "legitimate targets" over the perceived actions of their co-religionists.

"This concept of collective punishment and them being seen as agents of the West or agents of regimes is wrong," she added.

"We need to speak out and raise this with the countries where this is happening."

Religious pluralism made countries stronger in a whole variety of ways, she said, from broadening the range of educational opportunities to injecting economic dynamism.

'Political will'

Baroness Warsi, who was Britain's first female Muslim cabinet minister said she had already had "very frank conversations" with ministers in Pakistan, telling them senior politicians must set a standard for tolerance.

"Politicians do have a responsibility to set the tone, to mark out legal parameters as to what will and will not be tolerated."

She added: "There's an international consensus, in the form of a Human Rights Council resolution on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths. But we need to build political will behind that.

"Of course there have been moments when religious communities have been in conflict, but there have also been great moments of co-existence between faiths. There isn't an intrinsic clash between different faiths."

The minister has previously warned about the dangers of "militant secularisation" in the UK.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales said he agreed that the very existence of Christianity was under threat in some parts of the Middle East.

"There are real challenges for Christians in this part of the world to support and get alongside them and also for politicians to understand that the presence of Christians is a great mediating factor, often for example between different segments of Islam," the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols told Today.

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