NOT to intrude on the radio critic's column, but I was impressed
by the Sunday programme's takedown of the claim that
100,000 Christians a year are killed for their faith around the
Before I go any further, I should point out that, even if this
figure is ten times the credible number (and it is), the issue is
an urgent and horrible one. Christians around the world are
persecuted and sometimes killed because they are Christians. This
is not often covered in much detail by the media here. Neither, of
course, are the deaths of uncountable members of other faiths
killed for their beliefs or religious identities. But if you read
Rupert Shortt's excellent Christianophobia (Rider, 2012),
or, for a different perspective, the newsletter of Forum 18, it is
obvious that Christians around the world are suffering for their
So why does it matter what the numbers are? Two reasons. The
first is my repeated and possibly absurd insistence that
journalists try to tell the truth, or, failing that, to get the
facts as right as possible. The second is that this presentation
suggests that the deaths of Christians matter to us, or should,
more than other deaths.
The figure of 100,000 was arrived, it seems, by projecting
forward from the number of violent deaths of Christians in
conflicts over the past ten years. The trouble with this is that
90,000 of those deaths each year came from the civil war in the
Congo. That is a terrible conflict, but it has no marked religious
aspect, and it is also winding down. The kind of persecution that
people care about is that inflicted on Christians by members of
other faiths, and by Muslims in particular, and the inflated figure
is likely to mislead in a damaging way.
THE other statistic of the week was The Guardian's
splash that 60,000 women in this country have been the victims of
female genital mutilation (FGM), and that no one has been
prosecuted for this. It does appear that the operation, like forced
marriage, is normally carried out abroad, but this is still a
horrifying figure. The thing that shocked me was the accompanying
graphic, breaking the practice down by country, something that
makes it clear how much FGM is cultural rather than religious: 97
per cent of the women in Egypt have been mutilated; nearly 90 per
cent in Eritrea, and nearly 80 per cent in Ethiopia.
This suggests that the practice is widespread among Christian
communities as well as others. It is just a small warning against
SIMILAR considerations apply to Cristina Odone's interview with
Nigel Farage in the Telegraph. Here we see an interesting
clash between someone, a journalist, who plays with silly opinions
for money, and someone, a politician, who hopes to turn them into
"When Godfrey Bloom MEP referred to developing countries earlier
this year as 'bongo bongo land' and later, at the UKIP conference,
to women who didn't clean behind their fridges as 'sluts', his
leader knew 'he had to go'.
"Farage insists Bloom was an exception. 'When people say Ukip is
racist, it makes me laugh. Look at our intern,' and he points to
the young woman who delivered us a cup of tea. 'She's half
"Fear of causing offence drives the 'Notting Hill claptrap about
diversity'. 'We need a much more muscular defence of our
Judaeo-Christian heritage. Yes, we're open to different cultures
but we have to defend our values. That's the message I want to hear
from the Archbishop of Canterbury and from our politicians.
Anything less is appeasement of the worst kind.'
"Yet he speaks not as a defender of the faith - he ventures to
church only four or five times a year - but of 'our identity'."
This is yet more proof that anyone who uses the word
"appeasement" should be ignored for ever. It is also a wonderful
example of the way in which faith works in politics as a marker of
identity rather than of theological or philosophical opinion.
Farage, too, brought up the subject of FGM: "We go on about
equality but under our noses, female genital mutilation has been
going on in this country. Tens of thousands of women a year, but is
anyone talking about it? It's brushed under the carpet."
Now, the figure actually quoted for mutilations in this country
is 70 a month. Yes, this is scandalous, but it doesn't add up to
anything like 10,000 a year.
Still, none of these statistics will have anything like the
impact of a single story: the Somali man who slipped away from his
police minders by emerging from a mosque in a burqa after entering
in Western clothes. Sometimes the identity that really matters is
not your real one at all.