Christians are suffering and dying in Iraq. The terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS) is killing them, displacing them and seizing their properties. Now Iraq’s ancient Yazidi community is experiencing similar abuses.
This is a catastrophe for the people of Iraq and the region and if left unchecked it could also have profound implications for freedom and democracy across the globe. Religious freedom is a fundamental right that has been described as a ‘litmus test’ for the depth of democracy. That’s why attacks on this right cannot be ignored.
We believe that if Western governments allow groups like IS to persecute populations with impunity, it will set a dangerous precedent in global affairs. The situation in Iraq is particularly important because Western governments were complicit in creating the vacuum into which the terrorists have now stepped. It is unacceptable for Western governments that embarked on the process of bringing freedom and human rights to Iraq to continue neglecting this situation. It is vital that all of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities are guaranteed a future in their country.
The UN Secretary General and Security Council have urged international assistance for the Iraqi government and people. Therefore, we call upon our own government to provide practical assistance for those displaced by the current violence who wish to remain in their country. We also echo the call of the Church of England for Iraqi Christian refugees and those from other minority communities who wish to escape persecution to be granted asylum in the United Kingdom in accordance with the international refugee convention.
Events in Iraq form part of a broader pattern of increasing persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. In many countries, including Syria, Iran, Nigeria, Mali, CAR, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Somalia and Afghanistan, well-armed Islamist extremists are not only persecuting Christians severely, but are also violating the rights of all who do not share their restrictive dogma. The international community must unite and take action to stem the seemingly inexorable advance of violent insurgencies that use religion to justify their severe violations of fundamental freedoms and their wanton disregard for human dignity. Western governments have a responsibility to play a leading role in this action. And taking a stand on Iraq needs to be the starting point.