The great and good Lord Sacks, former Chief Rabbi, according to a report from the Daily Telegraph, made the following comments in a recent interview marking his departure from office:
“However the cause which he discusses with the deepest concern of all is the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – a plight, he argues, which is getting virtually no attention in public life.
“I think this is a human tragedy that is going almost unremarked. I don’t know what the name for this is, it is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.
“We are seeing Christians in Syria in great danger, we are seeing the burning of Coptic churches in Egypt. There is a large Coptic population in Egypt and for some years now it has been living in fear. Two years ago the last church in Afghanistan was destroyed, certainly closed. There are no churches left in Afghanistan.
“Between half a million and a million Christians have left Iraq. At the beginning of the 19th century Christians represented 20 per cent of the population of the Arab world, today two per cent. This is a story that is crying out for a public voice, and I have not heard an adequate public voice.”
It is striking that this is an issue which does not directly involve Jews at all.
But being Jewish, “you cannot but feel this very deeply and personally”, he says. “I think sometimes Jews feel very puzzled that Christians do not protest this more vociferously.””
How right Lord Sacks is, and how completely (once again) I agree with him. But this leaves us with a question. Given the situation facing Christians in Egypt and elsewhere, what can we do?
I think we should assume that we can do something, and that concerted action could have startling effects. South Sudan succeeded in becoming independent back in 2011 after a long struggle partly because of unstinting support from America which was the result of pressure from, among others, evangelical Christians. If Christians act together they can make a difference. It is also undoubtedly true that people in general can make a difference: the morale of apartheid era South Africa was greatly damaged by sporting sanctions, which were largely driven by public opinion, the governments of the day being much less keen on opposing apartheid than the general public. South Africa became a pariah nation, and that certainly helped bring about a change of heart.
When one looks at the list of countries that persecute Christians – there are a variety of helpful websites that list the countries, such as this one here – one realizes that this is a global problem, and of course the worst persecutor is China. Boycotting Chinese goods is hardly practical; neither can we boycott exports from Saudi Arabia. But there are other things we can do. Here is a list of suggestions.
First of all, Christians and all who care about human rights can refuse to visit persecuting countries, several of whom rely on tourism. One such country, and a major tourist destination, is the Maldives: a tourist boycott of the Maldives would make an impact. The same must be true of China, and Egypt.
Secondly, we can urge our governments to break off or disrupt cultural and sporting links with countries that persecute Christians. This was extremely effective with the sports-mad South Africans. The Chinese are also very keen on such links. Christian athletes, chess players and others are well placed to disrupt sporting links with China.
Thirdly, we can protest. Whenever the figureheads of the Chinese regime come to Britain, the sight of a Tibetan flag drives them to distraction, and more importantly, severely embarrasses the British government too. Let’s keep that embarrassment up! The struggle for a free Tibet is a good template for keeping this issue of persecution in the news.
Of all of these, I think the first has the greatest potential. Soon you may be thinking of your forthcoming holidays. Please choose carefully!