Wednesday, 16 March 2011

An "anti-Christian foreign policy"?

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Cardinal Keith O'Brien
The head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, caused a bit of a stir this week with his comments on the government's decision to increase aid to Pakistan to £445 million. Expressing outrage at the manner in which aid is granted to a country where the Christian minority is subject to increasingly visible levels of persecution, O'Brien said:
“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.

This reality is both shocking and saddening. In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, Christians face violence, intolerance and even death because of their beliefs.”
Unsurprisingly, the Cardinal's comments have proven controversial. The idea that Britain would pursue an "anti-Christian foreign policy" is surely wide of the mark, and the Cardinal's views could be interpreted as implying that the government should somehow be pursuing a "pro-Christian foreign policy" instead. As the Church Mouse blogger points out, in a nuanced post on the story, "it seems a little parochial to only be concerned with the Christians who are suffering persecution". Coming at this from a secular perspective, surely the government's foreign policy should be neither pro nor anti any religion, but rather anti-persecution in all its forms?

Nevertheless, O'Brien's comments shouldn't be dismissed entirely out of hand - what is happening to Christians (and indeed atheists, and anyone else who dissents from the conservative Sunni forms of Islam) in Pakistan, apparent most recently in the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country's only Christian cabinet minister, and numerous prosecutions under punitive blasphemy laws, is extremely troubling. The Cardinal is right to ask whether the government, in increasing aid to the country, is expressing concerns about this violent repression of non-Muslim minorities. But, as Church Mouse notes, perhaps his remarks would have been welcomed more widely if he had made it an issue of human rights in general, rather than Christian rights in particular.
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