Press: Dodgy stats won’t help persecuted Christians

by
07 December 2018

The article in The Times this week

The article in The Times this week

I REALLY don’t know what to do about the persecution of Christians around the world. I know what ought to be done: it should be stopped, by force, if necessary; and if it can’t be stop­ped, the victims should be helped, and welcomed here.

But when I step out of the authoritative passive voice into the active one, I don’t know what I can do. As a citizen, a voter, and even a journalist, I have no realistic chance of influencing the UK Government’s policy.

Even if I did, it would not count for much in the world outside. We cannot actually stop any of the persecuting governments; and the one outside military intervention in the Middle East this century made things infinitely worse for the Christians of Iraq and Syria.

How much simpler to be Melanie Phillips, who not only knows what everyone else should do, but has no doubt of their capacity to act. She is not responsible for the ludicrous headline put on her most recent piece in The Times: “At last persecuted Christians have a defender” — ludicrous because it turns out that the defender she has in mind is Prince Charles, a man whose wrath brings terror to no one except the flunky whose job is to squeeze out his toothpaste.

But for a piece where the thrust is that other people are distorting history, her touch with statistics is a little dodgy. Why, I wonder, does she choose to date the decline of Christians in Iraq from 1991. Did anything happen then? Any invasion by a Christian army? Maybe something like that happened again in 2003, when the population of Christians really started falling? We’ll never learn from Ms Phillips.

There are Muslim countries where the persecution of Christians is, so to say, spontaneous and endogenous. Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia all seem to qualify. But in Iraq and Syria it is clearly a result of civil wars resulting from the disastrous invasion of 2003. The Christian exodus from Palestine is just as obviously a result of the Israeli occupation.

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Of course, we should do more to welcome Christian refugees, and, in particular, Asia Bibi. But to present the whole problem as one arising from Islam is neither true nor liable to increase sympathy for refugees of any faith at all.

 

IF ANYONE is going to preach at me about the Christians of the Middle East, I would rather it were a professional. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Sunday Telegraph piece had in one very sharp-edged paragraph: “We must understand their plight and not present it as simple or with obvious solutions. For example, to ask Syrian Christians to choose between President Assad, under whom they were tolerated, and the unimaginable horrors and threats of so-called Islamic State is to impose a choice that we would not accept for ourselves, and which we should not judge too easily.”

Who can he have been thinking of?

 

ONE of the most interesting and depressing stories of the week was The Guardian’s report on a six-year study into conspiracy theories conducted in nine countries by Cambridge University and the pollsters YouGov. These are widespread, together with a distrust of journalists.

Nearly one third of Leave voters in the UK believe that Muslim immigration is part of a wider plot to make Muslims the majority in Britain. About half of them believe that the Government is deliberately concealing the truth about the number of immigrants in the UK — a number that astonishes me by its moderation. Seventy-seven per cent of the UK public have little or less trust for journalists: a figure slightly higher than even that for Cabinet ministers.

Relevant here, perhaps, is the unmasking of “Nick”, the man who made wild allegations of sexual abuse, and even murder, against all kinds of public figures, from Edward Heath to Harvey Proctor. He now turns out to be a vicar’s son named Carl Beech, who has been charged with 11 counts of perverting the course of justice. I am sure that the people who distrust journalists believed at least half the stories published on the back of those allegations.

 

HOWEVER awful my trade might sometimes be, the alternatives are even worse. Frederic Filloux is an interesting French observer of Silicon Valley, who has been writing about the part that Facebook plays in the rioting in Paris. It has been absolutely essential, he says, in drawing the mob together, and giving its leaders credibility.

These are people who believe nothing that they read or see on the mainstream media, and everything they find on Facebook. It is “the voice of the people”. How can it lie?

But, just as one concludes that the answer is clearly to ban Facebook, Filloux drops in the final argument. If it were not Facebook, it would be something else, and that network would be controlled, to the extent that it was controlled at all, by foreign governments with no interest in democracy.

A world where the social networks are all Chinese is unlikely to be better than one where they are all Californian.

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