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The Government, says Cardinal O’Brien, has an ‘anti-Christian foreign policy’. Good for him: so it does

Why are we giving hundreds of millions to brutal regimes like Pakistan and northern Sudan?

By on Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Men light candles at a vigil to commemorate Pakistani minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Lahore (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

Men light candles at a vigil to commemorate Pakistani minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Lahore (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

A new report, published this week by that brave and indispensable body, Aid to the Church in Need, reveals – in the words of the report’s author, the excellent John Pontifex – that “75 per cent of all religious persecution around the world is now directed against Christians. The … report also reveals that 100 million Christians around the world are now facing persecution, while the Christian population in some countries is collapsing. In the past 25 years the Christian population of Iraq has gone from an estimated 1.4 million to as low as 150,000 now.”
But of course, this isn’t the story that has attracted public attention: we have got so used to the fact of anti-Christian persecution, nearly all of which is in Muslim countries (notably Pakistan), that the report might well have sunk without trace if it had not been given a most remarkable public profile by the kind of declaration we are definitely not used to from our smooth-tongued prelates.
I allude to a public declaration by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who not for the first time has said what needs to be said, in his admirable north British way (why is it always Scottish archbishops – like Cardinal Winning of blessed memory – who get rough when something striking and, if necessary, political needs to be said? Why are English bishops always so low key and diplomatic, when diplomacy is emphatically not what is required, but plain speaking?) The headline in the BBC story is striking all right; this is the kind of story that journalists love to write: “Cardinal brands UK aid foreign policy ‘anti-Christian’.” For once, this is no exaggeration; as the BBC story makes clear:

Cardinal O’Brien said: “I urge William Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid. To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy. Pressure should now be put on the government of Pakistan – and the governments of the Arab world as well – to ensure that religious freedom is upheld, the provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights.”
He said the [Aid to the Church in Need] report’s estimate of persecution against Christians was “intolerable and unacceptable”.
“We ask that the religious freedoms we enjoy to practise our faith, will soon be extended to every part of the world and that the tolerance we show to other faiths in our midst will be reciprocated everywhere,” he added.

I have long thought that to make Pakistan our principal recipient of foreign aid – as that benighted country soon will be, it seems – in the face of its deplorable record on the human rights of non-Muslims (it isn’t just Christians to whom some very brutal treatment is being meted out) shows on the part of the British government (and Labour were no better) a remarkable indifference to the very dubious moral character of many of those who receive that aid. Of course, I know the answer: that this has to do with our national interests, that we need Pakistan to fight the Taliban because of our exposure in Afghanistan, bla-de-bla-de-bla. But if indeed it is in our military interests to prevail in Afghanistan, and if that’s why we’re giving Pakistan so much “development” aid, let it come from the military budget rather than sneaking it in under the cloak of a hypocritical claim that we’re doing it our of our moral concern for the poor.
There is, of course, no d—-d morality about it. If there were, we would transfer the millions earmarked for Pakistan to the Southern Sudan, a brand new, grindingly poor and predominantly Christian country (it will become independent on July 11), which has just voted for its independence from the brutish tyranny of the Muslim north.
We have a responsibility to these people. Just as much as Pakistan, they are formerly part of our Empire (that’s why so many of them are Christians). And they have had a very rough deal, partly because during our hasty retreat from Empire, we allowed them to be parcelled up with the more powerful north rather than establishing a separate country. During the civil wars of the last half century, more than 2.5 million people have died, and more than five million have become refugees. So they need any support we can give them. Will they get it? Certainly not to the extent they need it. The brave new Republic of Southern Sudan has no strategic importance to us. It relies largely on subsistence farming. It has potentially some mineral wealth and exports large quantities of timber. It also has the river Nile. But its prospects do not look good.  According to one account, the under-five infant mortality rate is 112 per 1,000, and maternal mortality is the highest in the world at 2,053.9 per 100,000 live births. In 2004, there were only three surgeons serving southern Sudan, with three proper hospitals, and in some areas there was just one doctor for every 500,000 people.
So, will we give them the help they need? The government says it will be providing North and Southern Sudan together (insultingly, not treating the new country as an independent nation at all) with a development assistance programme in total worth £560 million over the next four years. That’s quite a lot of money, but a drop in the ocean compared with what the new country will actually need, even if it were getting the lot. But how much of that will the South actually get? DfID isn’t saying: but they’re almost going out of their way to say, don’t suppose we’ve anything against the North for being Islamic butchers, or in favour of the South because they were Christian victims of the North’s brutality. And don’t suppose, either, that we’re going to treat the new republic like the independent sovereign nation it is: it’s still, so far as we are concerned, part of Muslim-dominated Sudan. And why is the government behaving in this way? Cardinal O’Brien has given us a key to the understanding of these things: it’s because we have an “anti-Christian foreign policy”. It’s all quite simple, really. But is this unfair? Well, if it is, it’s now up to DfID to prove that it is. Cardinal O’Brien has put the ball in the government’s court: and it can begin with Pakistan.

  • Tiggy

    The last government was the most anti-Christian in memory. This one is looking no better. So its not just the FOREIGN policy thats anti-Christian. Its just policy. Though of couse in some countries its a matter of life and death, and not just can one adopt etc.
    Kudos to Cardinal O Brien. The rest of the Hierachy seem to have been castrated.

  • Anonymous

    Cardinal O’ Brien should be an inspiration to the Bishops of England & Wales. Can anybody explain why the Bishop’s of England & Wales will not fervently speak out on anti-Catholic issues. Do they really believe that they can not come out of the woodwork 400 years after the reformation. Or am I wrong? Are there still ‘issues’ with high level Catholics not being able to speak up in public life?

  • Anonymous

    Since there is plenty of evidence that government aid does a great deal of harm as opposed to the productive aid from dozens of practical charities such as those helping agriculture in the Sudan then Dr Oddie should be welcoming the government aid to Pakistan given his inability to distinguish between God fearing and trusting moslem families and those who regard religion as a kind of exclusive identity justifying the maltreatment of outsiders, a dangerous and non-religious philosophy which has at different times tainted all religions. I daresay he could think of many parts of the world where moslems are made to feel second class.

  • Anonymous

    ‘I daresay he could think of many parts of the world where moslems are made to feel second class’.

    Can you?

  • Anonymous

    If he can’t then so be it but he should look closely at the Balkans, at the
    Caucusus and perhaps, if he can do so at various parts of Western Europe; at
    the United States and possibly India including Kashmir and perhaps even


  • Auricularis

    The bishops of England and Wales are inebriated with the erroneous theory (like the last pope) that Muslims and Christians worship “the same God” – therefore why not help them at the plight of those of actually follow the Christian faith?

  • VE

    Senior clergy should hold talks with those persecuting Christians rather than simply withholding aid, and allowing those who are innocent, to suffer. Cardinal O’Brien and other senior Catholic clergy should also work closer with other relevant agencies, in countries currently being addressed by Cardinal O’Brien, to ensure aid is given to those the aid is intended.

  • jng

    While one might empathize with M J Carroll’s sentiment, it is possible that one of the reasons English bishops are so docile is that many of the Catholic laity with whom they deal are pushing their own secular views. Many well educated and influential Catholics seem to have a lukewarm attitude to their faith, apparently giving a higher priority to social acceptability rather than loyalty to the Church, then, sadly, trying to justify themselves. Is an assumption too far to speculate that some of them, chosen more for their social standing and secular skills than for their commitment to Catholic beliefs, are influencing bishops on diocesan committees?

    There is some evidence of a dilution of faith in the Church in England, making Catholic tradition an easy target for the anti-Catholic TV media.

    Church history and teaching is consistently misrepresented, and, it seems, that anyone can have a documentary transmitted as long as it tries to undermine the traditional teaching of the Church. The list is endless but my current favourite is comic rather than dangerous. An academic, supposedly putting the alternative view to a rather contrived, but attention grabbing, presentation arguing that the David of the Bible was a myth, suggested that he probably existed but that the David of the David and Goliath story certainly did not exist.

    If the gentleman had tickets for the fight and it was called off, I apologize to him as he knows more than I do. However, there have been more serious examples, both blatant and insidious, of the bombardment of the public with misleading and, essentially, anti-Catholic TV programmes. This persistent propaganda must have some effect on the public’s attitude towards the Church in Britain, including that of some Catholics, and, if nothing is done now, the successors to our current hierarchy will have a far more difficult job than those currently charged with the guiding and protection of Christ’s flock.