WASHINGTON (CNS) — Attacks and threats to religious liberties throughout the world has “become a global crisis,” declared Britain’s cabinet-level minister of state for faith and communities.
Sayeeda Warsi, who is also the senior minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party government, said, “The religious fault lines are being exploited” in country after country.
Warsi, a former member of the House of Lords with a peerage and the title of baroness, made her remarks Nov. 15 during a program, “An International Response to a Global Crisis,” held on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington and co-sponsored by the university’s Berkley Center, the center’s Religious Freedom Project, and the Jesuit-run university’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
One of many examples cited by Warsi, a Muslim born in Dewsbury, England, and the child of Pakistani immigrants, was Syria, which has been embroiled in a civil war. She lamented “the hemorrhaging of the Christian population” there as anti-government rebels are “targeting all minorities” under suspicion of “ties with the (Syrian) regime and to the West.”
In her parents’ native Pakistan, she criticizes the “suicide bombers carrying out an appalling attack” on a Christian church earlier this year as “collective punishment being meted out by extremist groups.”
“There’s no need to dilute your faith,” said Sayeeda Warsi, a top British official speaking in Washington. Secularism has a role in society, but when “secularization is pushed to an extreme it requires the complete removal of faith from the public sphere.”
In Iran, “a number of Christians there have been imprisoned” in the past three years, Warsi said, and members of the Baha’i faith “have been enduring persecution for many years.”
“I grew up following a minority religion, Islam, in a majority-Christian country,” she told her audience. In her formative years, she added, others focused more on her skin color. “After 9/11, it was no longer my color that defined me,” Warsi said, “but my religion.”
In the decade-plus since the terror attacks against Americans, “I felt I had to make the case for faith,” she said. “I feel it’s important to continue making the case for religious minorities.”
Warsi suggested several approaches to easing the crisis of threats to religious liberty.
“There’s no need to dilute your faith,” she said, adding that Europe needs to “reclaim its Christian heritage.” Secularism has a role in society, but when “secularization is pushed to an extreme,” Warsi added, “it requires the complete removal of faith from the public sphere.”
Religious identity should not be seen as a threat to faith, she added. “My daughter is attending a Christian school, but that didn’t make her any less of a Muslim. She took the Lord’s Prayer and made it her own,” Warsi said.
Nations need to be shown the economic advantages of religious freedom. “Persecution is simply bad for business,” Warsi said. In addition to the budget money spent internally on persecution, there’s also the hesitancy of overseas firms to invest in the persecuting nation. Moreover, she noted, those who are subject to persecution either never acquire the education or skills needed to contribute to the economy, or emigrate once they get the chance.
“That’s why the U.K. is pushing for girls’ education all over the world,” she said. Warsi added she has talked with top politicians in Bahrain on this issue; Bahrain has suppressed internal dissent since shortly after the start of the Arab Spring in 2011.
Warsi also cautioned against misreading the intent of Arab Spring. “Arab Spring sprang up not from religious tension but from an overwhelming desire for democracy,” she said. But because it is easier to focus on conflict, “we don’t hear enough about the moderate Muslim opposition in Syria” intent on preserving minority rights, she added.
Warsi also addressed the degree to which minority groups and parties in England affect the issue of religious freedom there. Her answer: Not much.
The National Party was given a forum on British TV equivalent to the Tory and Liberal parties, Warsi said, and the result was a disaster for the party when its spokesman admitted to having a meeting with members of the Ku Klux Klan, “but a nonviolent branch.” Another “England First” party and a sect of Muslim extremists “need each other” in order to survive, she added. “They basically stand across the street from each other and yell at each other. The only difference between the two, she joked, is that just one of the two groups has a lot to drink before going out in the street.
When Warsi has gone knocking on doors in the past, she said she would be confronted on occasion with greetings of “Bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, I’m not voting for a ‘Paki’ bleep.” But, she added, they’re more ready to talk once she says, “OK, now that you’ve got that off your chest, can we talk about policy?”
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