Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017

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Western civilization has entered a dangerous period of disarray. It is weakened internally by overindulgence and self-doubt, and besieged by forces hostile to its bedrock values of liberty and tolerance. The West can reverse the decline, though, by resolutely returning to its Christian roots

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If Western Christian civilization collapses, a brutal and pitiless world will take its place Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself. This civilization’s very survival now hangs on its ability to rediscover Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew its eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions

Published by Geopolitical Intelligence Services https://www.gisreportsonline.com/

Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017  – David Alton   

Every generation faces new challenges – and as Europe gazes at the horrors of Aleppo and Mosul, or considers the challenges posed by resurgent nationalism – we are surely right to think of Flanders, Dresden, and Stalingrad.   

aleppo

dresdenstalingrad

Just one century ago, in humanity’s deadliest conflict, largely played out on Europe’s soil, 17 million lost their lives and another 20 million were wounded.     

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In 1919 the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats, wrote his poem The Second Coming.    

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He describes a brutal, disintegrating, and chaotic world in which the falcon, the hunting hawk, loses touch with its keeper.       In place of Christianity, the agnostic Yeats asks “what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”  

With Western values and Western civilisation caught in a pincer movement between radical Islam and hollowed-out secular liberal institutions, have we, too, lost touch with the keeper?  Are rough beasts slouching towards us, dressed in the garb of new nationalisms?   

In 1919, Yeats foresaw a pitiless much harsher world which will replace Christian civilisation. A world in which “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.  The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”    

Looking back at 2016 we see a world of rough beasts, where things are falling apart, and where the centre has failed to hold. From the rhetoric of Donald J.Trump to the rise of new nationalism – expressed by the likes of Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders and Beppe Grillo – the evidence is all around us.

And, like Yeats’ rough beasts, this xenophobia has found its point of entry because the centre failed to understand the depth of disaffection felt by millions of people and has failed to renew itself.

The battle is afoot but it is not yet lost and in 2017 the task of safeguarding civilised values will pass from liberal elites to Angela Merkel and François Fillon – and to their English cousin, once removed, Teresa May. All three are shaped by Christian faith and all three (despite and because of Mrs.Merkel’s handling of mass migration) understand the dangerous levels of alienation.

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On becoming British Prime Minister, Mrs.May, a Vicar’s daughter, said she had a “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”.

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In eschewing class warfare, Marxist economics, and Statist elitism, they are heirs of Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, all Christian Democrats winnowed by the horrific events that had calamitously befallen Europe for a second time.

maritain

In turn, those post-war leaders had been shaped by the ideals of Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher. Maritain’s lodestar is captured in the title of one of his greatest works: “The Person and the Common Good” (1947). Maritain reflected that “Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself…Not only does the democratic state of mind stem from the inspiration of the Gospel, but it cannot exist without it.”

Maritain knew that a radical self-centredness, that elevated the individual or the State, rather than the person made in God’s likeness, would corrupt Europe. He held that we do not need a truth to serve us, we need a truth that we can serve. In these cavalier “post truth” days, the ninth commandment is honoured daily in its breach.

Think of the untruths routinely trotted out in the British referendum campaign or the US election: little wonder that people have lost confidence in the political classes. Discourse has been reduced to personal attacks; argument over ideas to banal sloganeering; complex questions, ranging from migration, refugees, and freedom of movement to xenophobic nationalism and the scapegoating of difference.

Disinformation, propaganda and false news fill the echo chambers of the anti-social media. Worse still, everything has to be said sound bites or in 140 characters – or it isn’t worth saying. This is re-enforced by a media which distorts, dishonours and revels in people’s failings. When we hack down all the trees, from where are the birds supposed to sing in the future? Disillusionment and the breakdown of trust in the political classes has led to voters – from Brexit to Clinton/Trump – making it clear that they do not trust “expert” opinion. 

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In the UK, the serial banking failures, such as HBOS and HSBC, the failure of managers to take responsibility for shocking lapses, the phone hacking scandal, the collapse of trust in MPs and many others, all points to why the centre is not holding. Instead of ethical leadership we are confronted by poor governance, lack of accountability, regulation found wanting, insufficient boundaries and the connivance of those in authority, who should have known better. Little wonder folk feel betrayed.

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Edmund Burke laid great emphasis on the transmission of values from one generation to the next, talking of a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.

How many feel part of such a partnership? How many know the story of how Western civilisation was formed? Do we know the price that was paid for what we enjoy? Do we cherish and hold in trust what we have been given? Do we pass on our values and beliefs with a mother’s breast milk? A year after Maritain wrote “The Person and the Common Good” Eleanor Roosevelt helped bring to birth the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust this was a landmark annunciation of what western civilisation believed it stood for. But from what well was this water drawn? Its radical attempt at universal application was rooted in the Pauline injunction that “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one”.

Meanwhile, as angry, intolerant atheists seek to purge all public reference to religious faith, Maritain’s belief that our civilisation has “religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself” is just as hotly contested.

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In the nineteenth century, Émile Durkheim questioned how a society can remain cohesive when traditional social and religious ties can no longer be assumed. Whether, in these years of disillusionment and crisis of civilisation, we can rediscover and defend Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew our eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions (from banks to legislatures) – is surely the question for our time: especially in a world caught between these twin dangers of radical Islam and hostile atheism. Many atheists work to tear Christianity from the fabric of our societies. But they should be careful about what they wish for – and of what will be lost.   

As The Guardian newspaper correctly observed in May of this year: “The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.”

Along with the development of human rights the Christian faith has also radically shaped politics, governance, and social activism.  For much of the last seventy years Christian Democracy – whether called by that name or not – has informed the best of our politics.

christian-democracy

It defied Nazism and Communism and with its emphasis on social justice, subsidiarity and solidarity, has offered an alternative to unfettered market economics and hedonism. Today it represents the best hope of defeating resurgent nationalism and safeguarding western civilisation. Indeed, for most of the last two millennia Christianity has underpinned the whole edifice of Western culture and, notwithstanding some of the things done in the name of religion, Christianity has been a stabilizing and unifying force, demanding better of us, and safeguarding tradition. Combined with Hellenistic ideals and Roman law, Judaeo-Christian beliefs have shaped our western civilisation.

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The Oxford historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, rightly says that religion is “a force that shaped the English soul” – a sentiment that has applicability throughout Europe.

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In November, speaking in Paris, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt.Revd.Justin Welby, said: “Values emerge from histories of interaction and are rooted in stories of virtue, above all in Europe the stories of the Judaeo Christian tradition”. 

It is not too great a claim to say that this tradition and the efforts of the Church, both as an intermediary and as an institution, have provided the glue for many of our democracies. At its best the Christian faith gave birth to some of our most important centres of learning, to the upholding of God-given Commandments, to a belief in the dignity of man, to social solidarity, to the cultivation of the virtues, and to the promotion of the common good. In the UK, in the nineteenth century, significant Christian men and women, such as William Wilberforce, in galvanising the opposition to slavery, Lord Shaftesbury, in demanding an end to the exploitation of children in factories, Elizabeth Fry in promoting prison reform, and Cardinal Henry Manning and William Booth, by reaching out to the masses, used their values to shape their deeds and to improve the common lot.

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In the twentieth century, Christianity produced the courageous defiance of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, and Maximillian Kolbe. It gave us the Christian Democratic leaders who reconstructed Western Europe and, later, the dissenting Christians of Eastern Europe – such as John Paul II and Lech Walesa – whose actions ushered in radical change.

john paul IIdietrich-bonhoeffer

 

By contrast, in the twenty-first century, we are far more likely to say that Christians should remain silent about their faith – or risk ridicule or dismissal from their workplace. And to what does this lead? Instead of upholding the sanctity of every life we are, for instance, far more likely to dismiss a midwife (as happened in Scotland) for refusing to abort a baby; or tell a mother with a Down’s Syndrome child that she should abort it, rather than provide love and practical support; far more like to say to a Dutch alcoholic that he should be euthanized rather than help him conquer his addiction.

Paradoxically, the liberal elites who promote eugenics and are so hostile to religious beliefs, drive people – many of whom live in the “rust belt” urban communities of Europe and who refuse to accept this paradigm – into the hands of the very forces they claim to avowedly oppose. And in these circumstances, as Yeats foresaw, “the centre will not hold.”

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As these neo-pagan values take a grip, and attempts are made to deliberately de-Christianise Europe, we step into the unknown. Perhaps not entirely the unknown. Marx, after all, denounced the opiate of religion while Lenin said that to even postulate the existence of God was “an unspeakable abomination and a detestable plague”. Nietzsche pronounced God’s funeral rites: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? ….Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Those Marxist-Leninist societies shaped on God’s funeral pyre are hardly a hopeful indicator of life without Christianity or God. Nor are the attempt to make men into gods rather than by cultivating a relationship between God and humanity or by building a bridge between faith and reason.

The obligate, symbiotic nature of the relationship between society and Christianity is well illustrated by Einstein’s famous maxim about science and religion: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”  Today we are more likely to echo Christopher Hitchens:  “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory…To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid…. God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about.”

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Yet, many people instinctively see the burial of God as a loss – both to us as individuals and to society as a whole. They comprehend the truth of the remark in Dostoyevsky’s great novel The Brothers Karamazov that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Whilst, to make a point, that may be over-stating the case, it has a certain resonance today – especially in the virtual world of the internet – where you can incite hatred and promote everything from suicide sites to bomb making.

With our failure to mind the gaps in society this is spawning a crisis of confidence and a crisis of values. The hollowing out of our institutions and our loss of identity is leading to a crisis of civilisation. All around us we can hear the distress calls but too often we stay silent rather than jeopardise our economic or political interests. And into this crisis of Western Values now steps radical Islam and Jihadism. Inspired by Judaeo-Christian ideals, the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is emblematic of what the West stands for. Smell the coffee, its values are not the values of the Islamists or Jihadists.

In 1948 Saudi Arabia declined to sign the Declaration stating that it was incompatible with Sharia law –detecting both its Judaeo-Christian inspiration and its acceptability to a secular world. Countries like Pakistan (influenced by its far sighted leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Iran did sign.

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M.A.Jinnah – Pakistan’s Founder, who called for a State which respected and protected its minorities and gave them equal rights.

But by 1982 Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said the Declaration was “a secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition” which Muslims could not implement without being in conflict with Sharia. 

So, despite the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, Saudi Arabia and Iran, here is something that unites them. And what kind of world does this create? Last year Iran’s brutal theocratic regime executed 1,000 people. Iran’s values can be characterised by executions, stonings, torture, restrictions, arrest, conviction, imprisonment, harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, floggings, and by the denial of political, social and religious freedoms. Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continue to be detained in Iran.

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Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist is languishing in jail having been given a six year prison sentence for writing an unpublished novel about stoning. A Christian Pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, and three others, have been arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service.

They were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Iranian theocracy and Saudi Wahhabism both threaten western civilisation and values today. Their ideologies underpin every Islamist group, with devastating consequences for millions of people worldwide.  In Saudi, Wahhabism determines the value placed on a woman’s evidence in a Sharia court; refuses to accept a person’s right to change their religious beliefs (or to be atheists); uses barbaric punishments; publically flogs and beheads citizens.  Honour killings, enslavement, arranged marriages, and such like, that follow in its wake, are all incompatible with western values.

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These practices also run counter to the beliefs of many Muslims and Islamic supremacism is not, of course, the only way of interpreting Islam – and is rejected by millions of Muslims. Yet it does lead to jihadist violence. Yet, instead of understanding the catastrophic consequences of Saudi’s spending of almost $100 billion on exporting global Wahhabism, we go on feeding the crocodiles.

The idea that ISIS, Boko Haram, and the rest, are nothing to do with Wahhabi Islam is a blatant lie. Yet we are wilfully ignoring this axis and are told that great progress is being made because Saudi Arabia might one day let women drive a car and may remove some of its hate mongering from school text books.

Even more dangerously, we continue to naively suggest that Saudi is our key counterterrorism ally. Recall that fifteen of the nineteen jihadists involved in the slaughter of 9/11 were Saudis. Here is a Janus face that feigns moderation when talking to the west but promotes fundamentalism; that says it opposes terror while exporting its ideology.

Saudi warns the West that we will be far worse off if Jihadists take control of their wealth and oil but then does precious little to challenge or reform the precepts that give rise to this threat.   What is driving this foolishness? Here’s one clue.

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Britain alone, in the period since the conflict in the Yemen began, has sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi. This is a world in which everything has a price and where values count for nothing. 2017 will continue to throw these contested views into sharp relief.

Western civilisation is clearly under threat from those who, by force, wish to promote Islamist supremacism. That in turn threatens our values of mutual respect, coexistence, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights, and the rule of secular law. To defeat this threat we urgently need to remember who we are and what made us who we are. And, in the presence of Yeats’ rough beasts, and a centre that has not held, we might pause and reflect for a moment on how things will turn out unless, in our generation, we learn to defend our Western values and our civilisation.

Professor David Alton is an Independent Crossbench Peer

Syria’s Suffering Continues Unabated While Minorities are Targeted – Christians forced to special pay taxes to militant Islamist group: “Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome” – 75 year-old-Jesuit murdered in Homs

Syria’s Suffering Continues Unabated while Minorities are Targeted

ACN News: Friday, 11th April 2014 – UK/INTERNATIONAL

With pictures of Lord Alton of Liverpool at the Aid to the Church in Need Lenten vigil service for the Suffering Church in Syria, at the Immaculate Conception Church, Farm Street, London (© Weenson Oo/picture-u.net)

Lord Alton speaking on the plight of Christians in Syria at Farm Street, London, the days sfter the murder of  Father Frans van der Lugt, shot dead on Monday (7th April) in the Old City of Homs.

Lord Alton speaking on the plight of Christians in Syria at Farm Street, London, the days sfter the murder of Father Frans van der Lugt, shot dead on Monday (7th April) in the Old City of Homs.

Will anyone stand up for persecuted Christians?
Peer accuses West of ‘indifference’

By John Pontifex

CHRISTIANS in the Middle East and elsewhere are suffering “systematic killing and outright persecution”, according to a leading Catholic human rights campaigner, and yet the West’s response is to ignore it “without barely a murmur of protest”.

Highlighting worsening killing and kidnapping of Christians and arson attacks on their churches and homes in parts of Africa, the Middle East and other parts of Asia, Lord David Alton of Liverpool said the West’s “indifference” was compounding the crisis.

Lord Alton called on politicians including policy makers, intelligence and other security organisations, ethnic minorities, Church leaders and faith groups in general to take action to tackle persecution of religious communities, especially Christians who, he said, suffer the most.
And he went on to warn of disaster for the West itself if it fails to recognise the scale of the threat posed by violent and intolerant groups who, he said, had an increasingly global reach.

He said: “I want to highlight the systematic killing and outright persecution of Christians which takes place without hardly a murmur of protest – and challenge the mistaken belief that somehow this has little or nothing to do with us.

“Unless we lay bare the ideology which lies behind radical Islamist thinking and challenge the conspiracy of silence which surrounds the question of religious persecution, we will sleep walk into a tragedy which has implications far beyond the ancient Biblical lands…”

Lord Alton, a Crossbencher, made his comments earlier this week in an address given during a Lenten vigil service for persecuted Syrian Christians held in support of Catholic charity Aid at to the Church in Need and which took place at the Immaculate Conception Church of the Jesuits, Farm Street, in London’s Mayfair.

The service began with a procession led by clergy holding images of two Jesuits in Syria, Father Paulo Dall’Oglio, missing since last July, and Father Frans van der Lugt, shot dead on Monday (7th April) in the Old City of Homs.

Lord Alton’s speech, on Tuesday (8th April), came a day before Prime Minister David Cameron highlighted the persecution of Christians during an Easter Reception for Christians at 10 Downing Street, London.

During the reception, attended by leaders of Christian organisations, including Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, ACN (UK), Mr Cameron said: “It is the case that Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world.

“We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”

The Prime Minister’s comments come amid concerns that governments around the world are not doing enough to tackle the causes of religious persecution.

During his Farm Street speech, Lord Alton reserved his strongest criticisms for fellow Parliamentarians.

Lord Alton, vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Working Group for International Religious Freedom or Belief, said: “Hundreds of parliamentary hours can be spent asserting the rights of foxes or on discussing rights associated with our life-styles but when it comes to the killing of children, or the torching of their homes and places of worship, or the destruction of centuries-old culture, our political classes have taken Trappist vows.

“This stems from a misplaced belief that their silence about radical Islamist groups represents ‘tolerance’. In reality, it stems from fear and indifference.”

Lord Alton highlighted the threat of Islamism for Christian communities, many of them with roots dating back millennia.

He said: “While we [in the West] overlook and fail to understand the religious dimension to these terrible atrocities – and the imperative of harnessing thoughtful and moderate religious leaders from all traditions – we fail to end the persecution and the unspeakable violence.

“We in the West, who enjoy so many freedoms and liberties…, ignore the systematic violent ideology of an Islamist ‘Final Solution’ directed at Christian minorities.”

And he called on Muslims in the West to speak out against persecution.

He said: “Muslims, who have often settled in our democracies, need to be much braver in breaking the conspiracy of silence and in identifying with those who suffer – among whom are many Muslim victims of visceral hatred by persecution for being the wrong kind of Muslims.”
Lord Alton was the keynote speaker at the service which was led by Father Dominic Robinson SJ, and included music by the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School, directed by Charles Cole.
Other speakers included Louise Zanre, director, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, and Patricia Hatton and John Pontifex, both from ACN.

The event raised more than £3,300 for ACN’s work for Syria, which includes emergency and pastoral support for refugees and displaced people.
• To read Lord Alton’s talk in full as well as view images of the ACN vigil service for Syria at the Immaculate Conception Church, Farm Street, London, visit www.acnuk.org/lentenvigil

Syria Support Syrian Christians

Full debate at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/140227-0001.htm#14022779000578

Speech in the House of Lords on Thursday February 27th 2014:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for tabling this Motion for debate today and for the tone that she set in her opening remarks. I refer the House to my non-financial interests as honorary president of UK Copts, a board member of the Aid to the Church in Need charity and a patron of various human rights groups that work in the region.

Earlier in our debate, my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond made an important and authoritative speech. I entirely agreed with his remarks about Syria and later in my remarks I will concentrate on what is happening there today. As he spoke, I reflected that I first met him in 1980 when he was our distinguished ambassador in Syria. With the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives. Perhaps in the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said to the House, we should remember that.

Lord Wright of Richmond - former British Ambassador to Syria

Lord Wright of Richmond – former British Ambassador to Syria

I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives

I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives


In our subsequent report, we advocated a two-state approach as the only one likely to achieve sustainable peace between Israel and its neighbours

In our subsequent report, we advocated a two-state approach as the only one likely to achieve sustainable peace between Israel and its neighbours

During that visit, we met with Ḥafez al-Assad, Yasser Arafat, King Hussein and Anwar Sadat.

During that visit, we met with Ḥafez al-Assad

During that visit, we met with Ḥafez al-Assad

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat

King Hussein of Jordan

King Hussein of Jordan

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

In our subsequent report, we advocated a two-state approach as the only one likely to achieve sustainable peace between Israel and its neighbours.

Our visit was three months after the Muslim Brotherhood had made an assassination attempt on Ḥafez al-Assad, and his response was then to align Syria with Iran. King Hussein declared Jordan’s support for Iraq. One week after we met Assad, he was in Moscow signing a mutual friendship treaty. Depressingly, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup indicated, the lines in today’s conflict are not newly drawn.

In 1980, I wrote about the repressive nature of the region’s regimes—repressive then and repressive now. Iran’s human rights record remains appalling. Saudi Arabia, referred to in this debate as our strategic ally in the region, also commits egregious violations of human rights and remains one of the deadliest exporters of global terror. Back in 1980, Syria was expelling journalists and massacring dissidents. Surely the failure to see reform, change and sustainable solutions has had these disastrous consequences, nowhere more so than in Syria.

The failure to find solutions now includes 130,000 dead with millions more driven from their homes. Nine million are said to be displaced and 3 million have fled to neighbouring countries. One hundred and fifty thousand families are deprived of their father, 2 million dwellings are destroyed, 2 million families are without shelter and 2 million students without schools. The economy is in ruins, the currency is devalued by 300% and there is growing violence, anguish, division and bitterness every day.

Sarin gas used in a suburb of Damascus

Sarin gas used in a suburb of Damascus

Sarin gas has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus. Barrel bombs have rained down on Aleppo.

Barrel Bombs have rained down on Aleppo

Barrel Bombs have rained down on Aleppo


Citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, being starved to death.

Citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, being starved to death.

Citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, being starved to death.


Just over a week ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, pointed to what he called “the unspeakable suffering” of the country’s children, with 10,000 children now dead in Syria.

Just over a week ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, pointed to what he called “the unspeakable suffering” of the country’s children, with 10,000 children now dead in Syria

Just over a week ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, pointed to what he called “the unspeakable suffering” of the country’s children, with 10,000 children now dead in Syria


The United Nations report published last week details arbitrary detention, ill treatment, torture and horrific abuses of children by both sides including beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons, sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape, mock executions, cigarette burns, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. The report says that the opposition forces too have increasingly “engaged in such acts.”

The “Afghanisation” of Syria, with vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress. We need to hear much more from the Government, and with much more clarity, of assessments of each of these various factions which are largely at war with one another.

each of these various factions which are largely at war with one another. Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions

each of these various factions which are largely at war with one another. Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions

Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions.

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Take ISIS. It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. There are also unverified reports, as we have heard, of a possible military confrontation between Hezbollah and ISIS. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what assessment she has made of the continuing use of ISIS suicide bombers, the territory it controls in north-eastern Iraq and its use of radicalised recruits, especially from the United Kingdom? I refer to recruits such as Anil Khalil Raoufi, a British Afghan who was studying engineering at the University of Liverpool and was recently killed in fighting between rebel groups. It is not just United Kingdom students—this week I sent the Minister a report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict which talks about the radicalisation of young Indonesian men who have gone to Syria via Turkey. Their director Sidney Jones says:

“Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams now appear to be facilitating the entry of fighters as well”.

It is not just that their presence in Syria fuels fundamentalism—it is that they are being radicalised in the process, posing dangers to the countries to which they return. The problem is exacerbated by the flow of arms into Syria.

In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups, so there is a religious dimension to this conflict. Here perhaps I would disagree on the margin with the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate, the bishop of Wakefield who said: “No, this is not a religious but a political conflict,”

In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups. Those who don't pay up are forced to leave or are murdered.

In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups. Those who don’t pay up are forced to leave or are murdered.

What, also of the 60,000 fighters of the Islamic Front? Do the Government believe that the Front is capable of producing a secular or plural Syria in which minorities such as those to which I have just referred are respected? Do they have the capacity to be part of a transitional body capable of restoring trust, an almost impossible task in the aftermath of such horror? It was the late King Hussein who offered the wise advice to pray for God’s protection against,

“those who believe that they are the sole possessors of truth.”

These sole possessors of truth represent the biggest stumbling block in finding a peaceful way forward out of this confessional morass and they also represent the biggest danger to Alawites, Druze and Christians, and the rights of women.

Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield

Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield

Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity. That meadow is today a battlefield. Before the war the Christians of Syria accounted for between 4.5% and 10% of the population.

What will it be after the war? Forty-seven churches have been closed; two priests and a nun have been murdered; two bishops, three priests and 12 nuns have been abducted. I have raised these cases with the Minister and gave her notice that I would raise them again today. A new video of the nuns has just appeared with their traditional cross removed from their habit.

A new video of the abducted nuns has just appeared with their traditional cross removed from their habit.

A new video of the abducted nuns has just appeared with their traditional cross removed from their habit.

Do we have any news of their whereabouts and when they may be released by their jihadist captors? What news also, about the Jesuit, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped in July 2013 after entering rebel-held territory? Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Paolo Dall’Oglio had been executed by extremist groups. Do we have any news about that?

Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ had been executed by extremist groups

Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ had been executed by extremist groups

I have been looking at first-hand accounts which Aid to the Church in Need has received from Syrian Christians. Typical is this note from Basman Kassouha, a refugee now in the Bekaa Valley area of Lebanon. He says that the militias,

“stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted in a number of places. I shall quote him because I hope, as we collect evidence of these sorts of events, none of this will ever be lost to history. He says:

“There are many events that show that Christians are targeted, such as those of Maaloula, Sadad, Hafar, Deir Atiyeh, Carah, Nabk, Kseir, Rablé, Dmaineh, Michtayeh, Hassaniyeh, Knaïeh, and some villages of the Valley of Christians, Yabroud, Aafrd, the Jazirah region such as Hassaké, Ras El-Ain Kamechleh, and many other areas. Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: "Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The mostly Christian town of Saidnaya has experienced repeated attacks by extremists. The fourth attack on the city occurred on 19 January.

The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars.

The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars

The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars


In Homs, a Dutch priest, Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order.
Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order. He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”.

Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order. He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”.

He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. I remind the noble Baroness of the situation in Sadad, where there was a terrible massacre that some have described as potential genocide. What news of the situation there?

While the quest for peace continues, perhaps the Minister will share with us what we are doing to provide direct help to these beleaguered minorities, what we are doing to stop the flow of arms into Syria, what progress has been made on the removal of the 700 tonnes of priority 1 chemicals, and what happens—as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, asked—if the deadline for removal of chemical weapons is passed. Even an agreement suspending the flow of arms and foreign militant activists would be a success, because the ceasing of fighting is the precondition for all forms of reconciliation.

Are we meticulously collecting accounts of crimes against humanity? will we be using the UK place on the Security Council to have these crimes referred for prosecution by the International Criminal Court?

Are we meticulously collecting accounts of crimes against humanity? will we be using the UK place on the Security Council to have these crimes referred for prosecution by the International Criminal Court?

Let me conclude by pressing for a response to the question I raised on Monday with the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is sitting on the Front Bench. I asked whether we are meticulously collecting information of atrocities, and whether in the Security Council we will be asking for a referral those responsible for prosecution by the International Criminal Court. If the danger of any other country raising a veto against us were to be used as a reason for not doing that, it would question the point of our membership of the Security Council and bring great dishonour on this country.

3.57 pm
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Some additional points….

While in Damascus in 1980, I also met Yasser Arafat, who warned that disunity among Arab nations undermined progress and prevented any settlement of the Palestinian question. At the time I wrote that if the international community did not accelerate and deepen its efforts to find just solutions then there could be no peace and “the West will have to accept the consequences.”

The consequence of our signal failure to find durable solutions is that over thirty years later we are mired in one of the most brutal wars of this young century, which, for nearly three years, has led to ferocious carnage and savagery in Syria.

Take the atrocities in Sadad, which I have raised with the Government.

Mass graves have been uncovered in Sadad.

Mass graves have been uncovered in Sadad.



A total of 45 Christians were killed and 1,500 families were held hostage in Sadad, a largely Syrian Orthodox town, which was stormed by the Al-Nusra Front and an organisation called the Grandsons of the Prophet on 21st October 2013.

It was taken by government forces a week later.

Among those killed by rebels were two teenage boys, their mother and three of their grandparents. The bodies of university student Ranim, 18, and her 16-year-old brother, Fadi were discovered at the bottom of a well, close to their home.

Also brought to the surface were the remains of the youngsters’ mother, Njala, 45, and their grandparents: Mariam, a 90-year-old widow, as well as Matanios El Sheikh, 85, and his wife, Habsah, 75. Church sources say 30 bodies were also found in two separate mass graves.

Patriarch Gregorios III

Patriarch Gregorios III


At the end of last year Damascus-based Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch remarked: “How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family?”

The Patriarch explained that thousands fled Sadad and initially were too afraid to return in case of further atrocities. Reports from the town described how vulnerable people unable to escape—including the elderly, disabled, women and children—were subjected to torture and some were strangled to death. Churches have been damaged and desecrated, while schools, and government and municipal buildings have also been destroyed.

The situation of the ancient Christian minority – which predates the coming of Islam to the region – is graphically illustrated by the story of Mariam, who is 67 years old. She is a widow, from Aleppo. She has three married daughters. She was living in a very dangerous area of the town and her house was destroyed. She lived with relatives in Syria for a while but decided to leave for Lebanon with her two daughters and their families because she was afraid that her family would be in danger. They arrived with nothing, only the clothes on their backs.

One of the girls found a part-time job and supports the family with its meagre income. All of them now live a single room. The oldest daughter also joined them from Syria, bringing her husband and four children.

Mariam is now chronically ill.

Mariam’s story is not unusual. Many refugees in the Bekaa region have faced horrendous conditions this winter, left with little to keep them warm and in some cases ten family members are living in one room with one shared bathroom. Medical supplies and access to hospital are severely limited and children, many of them traumatised, are being left without education.

Patriarch Gregorios III, the head of the Melkite Church, based in Damascus, has continually called for peace in the country, an end to armed conflict and substantial peace talks. Ahead of the recent Geneva II meeting he said:

“We beg [God] to inspire the countries and their representatives who are about to meet with the wherewithal for peace, security and a better future for Syrians.”

Patriarch Gregorios also stressed the need for unity among the international community in calling for peace and a halt to the influx of weapons to armed groups in Syria:
“The [international community’s] efforts should be concentrated on obtaining a peace that is really Syrian, for that would be true peace and the best and most suitable for all parties to the conflict and for all Syria.”

Today no group in Syria seems to control common criminal violence which is based on sectarian hatred; and no group seems in a position to deliver peace.

Diplomatic failure is attributable to intransigence and cynicism on the part of the Geneva participants but it also illustrates how ineffective the West has been with its own allies in the region and with the Syrian opposition which is partly a creature of the West’s invention.

In this intricate situation, there is one absolute priority: the civilian population of Syria.

Syria Syrian church congregationSyria Syrian church
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Also see: The Daily Telegraph: Militant Islamist group In Syria Orders Christians To Pay Tax For Their Protection

Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10666204/Militant-Islamist-group-in-Syria-orders-Christians-to-pay-tax-for-their-protection.html

Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent

6:48PM GMT 27 Feb 2014

A militant Islamist group has demanded Christians living in the north-east of Syria pay it a tax in return for protection as it seeks to build a traditional “Caliphate” in areas it controls.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) published the terms under which minorities could live under its rule in a statement on the internet.

“Christians are obligated to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor,” their decree said. “They must not hide their status, and can pay in two instalments per year.” Four dinars would amount to just over half an ounce of gold, worth £435 at current prices.

In return, Christians will not be harmed and will be allowed to worship privately, maintain their own clergy without interference and keep their own cemeteries, it added. They are implicitly allowed to continue drinking alcohol and eating pork, but may not do so publicly or trade them with Muslims. Nor may they build or renovate churches, or display the cross.

The demand carries weight because ISIS, which grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has become the most feared militia in Syria. It has now been disavowed by Osama bin Laden’s replacement as al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and is effectively at war with the rest of the rebel movement, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the group seen by al-Qaeda as its representative in Syria.

It controls nearly all of Raqqa province in the north-east, where it is attempting to build the institutions of an Islamic state. The decree refers to Christians as “dhimmis” – effectively protected minorities – a term that originated in the seventh century when the Muslim world was ruled by a single religious leader, the Caliph.

Raqqa, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim in make-up, had a small Christian community but much if not all of it has already fled. When The Telegraph visited Raqqa city not long after forces aligned to al-Qaeda took over last year, the two alcohol shops had already been smashed up and scrawled with Islamist graffiti, along with the town’s only restaurant that served alcohol.

There was said to be one Christian family still living in the town, but if so they were in hiding. Later, the crosses were removed from the top of the city’s two churches.

But there is growing resentment among activists towards the stringent controls ISIS has imposed on the general population, including the wearing of the veil by women and separation of the sexes, even in bread queues. A photograph circulated of an Assad-regime flag hanging from a house, an unthinkable act of defiance until recently.

Christians used to make up around one in ten of Syria’s 22 million population, but the civil war has forced an estimated 500,000 to flee their homes and villages, which are scattered across the country. Some 1,200 are thought to have been killed.

As a religious minority they enjoyed protection under President Assad, and as such have become an indirect target of the Sunni Muslim led uprising.

John Pontifex, of Aid to Church in Need, a Catholic charity that has highighted the plight of Christians in Syria, said: “We have already received reports of this nature,and if true, they spell out loud and clear the degree to which Christians are under attack and at risk.

“There seems to be a desire to flush Chrisians out or reduce them to second class status.”

Imposition of the so-called “dhimmi” rules conforms precisely with regime claims that the rebels are seeking to take Syria back to the Middle Ages.

Aymenn al-Tamimi, an Oxford University-based academic expert on Iraq and Syrian jihadists, said the imposition of the jizya was derived from a verse in the Quran, which demanded submission by the “people of the Book” – Jews and Christians – who did not follow Islam.

In a post to the Syria Comment website, he added: “In case ISIS’s ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’s official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: ‘Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.'”

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