THE threat to Christians in the Middle East is an "indescribable
tragedy", the Prince of Wales said on Tuesday. He was speaking at
the launch of a new report that concludes that Christians are the
most persecuted religious group in a world in which religious
freedom is in "serious decline".
This year's report on religious freedom in the world, by Aid to
the Church in Need, covers October 2012 to June 2014. Compiled by
journalists, academics and commentators, it warns that "religiously
inspired terror is not only widespread but is on the increase". In
41 per cent of countries, religious freedom is either "impaired" or
Change for the better was noted in only six countries. There had
been a deterioration in 55 countries, more than one quarter (28 per
cent) of the total.
In 14 of the 20 countries that showed high levels of
persecution, this was linked to extremist Islam: Afghanistan, the
Central African Republic, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Maldives,
Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and
The report warns of the phenomenon of the "mono-confessional
state", and the exodus of Christians from the Middle East. This is
creating issues for the West, it suggests, as "religious hatred
increasingly became a more obvious driving force for the growing
Christians are vulnerable, the report argues, because they are
"historically widely dispersed, often in cultures very different
from their own". Christians in Syria numbered 1.2 million this
summer, it suggests, down from 1.75 million in early 2011. The
decline in Iraq had been "even steeper".
In a video message recorded for the launch of the report, Prince
Charles said: "It is an indescribable tragedy that Christianity is
now under such threat in the Middle East, an area where Christians
have lived for 2000 years and across which Islam spread in AD 700,
with people of different faiths living together peaceably for
In the face of "horrendous and heartbreaking" events, religious
leaders had a responsibility to act, he said: "Rather than
remaining silent, [they] have a responsibility to ensure that
people within their own tradition respect people from other faith
He was able to address leaders of other faiths, he said, because
"My own Christian faith has enabled me to speak to, and to listen
to, people from other traditions, including Islam. . .
"It seems to me that our future as a free society, both here in
Britain and throughout the world, depends on recognising the
crucial role played by people of faith."
The report states that Muslim minority groups are also facing
"terrible and systemic persecution. In most cases this is at the
hands of other Muslims."
There are "worrying tendencies" in the West, the authors argue,
including a "declining consensus on the rights of conscience of
religious believers". Policy-makers are also guilty of "religious
illiteracy . . . creating a formidable barrier of understanding
between the West and other parts of the world".
Question of the week: Is religious diversity good for