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We need to take a stand

Horrific stories are continuing to emerge from Iraq and Syria. It is time to take a bigger and bolder stand, through actions as well as words. That’s what Christians on the Left calls for in our resolution to Labour Conference.

We are hoping and praying that the latest British hostage threatened by ISIL will be released, along with others held captive. The executions of western hostages are very public examples of the atrocities this group is committing on a large scale. Across large parts of Syria and Iraq, innocent people are being murdered, kidnapped, and persecuted. The terror is focused on minorities, particularly Christians. Our friends in the NGO community report that over a million people have been displaced, with hundreds of thousands in hastily erected tents in Northern Iraq (see reports from Tearfund and Christian Aid for example). Christians have been executed, reportedly including by crucifixion. Others have been forced to renounce their faith at gunpoint. Women have been ‘divorced’ from their husbands and sold as sex slaves.  Children have been kidnapped to be raised as adherents to ISIL’s extremist ideology.

As Archbishop of Canterbury Revd Justin Welby said last month:
“What we are seeing in Iraq violates brutally people’s rights to freedom of religion and belief, as set out under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is extremely important that aid efforts are supported and that those who have been displaced are able to find safety. I believe that, like France, the United Kingdom’s doors should be open to refugees, as they have been throughout history. The international community must document human rights abuses being committed in northern Iraq so that future prosecutions can take place. It is important and necessary for the international community to challenge the culture of impunity which has allowed these atrocities to take place.”

He later described the atrocities as “off the scale of human horror.” It is particularly sobering to recall that fellow British citizens are some of the perpetrators.

Christians have been targeted, as have been people in other minorities including Muslims and Yazidis.

Some countries are taking action, by providing humanitarian aid for example, but at the moment it is unlikely to be enough. More aid is desperately needed – and we must ensure it gets to where it is needed. The UK is one of those nations providing assistance but it is hampered by at least three factors. The government does not have a clear foreign and defence policy (as seen in recent confusion between the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary regarding airstrikes). The government is also wary of acting without the support of other countries in the region. Finally, it is probably unsure of how much support there is in the UK for taking more action.

The Labour Party should provide some clarity on the latter point. We need to make a clear statement of support for those people in Iraq and Syria who are suffering now. And we need to press for action to back up those words.  After all, “faith without deeds is useless” (James 2:20). We should start with Archbishop Welby’s call for action. That means more sustained humanitarian aid and the offer of asylum to those most in danger. There also needs to be more resources to enable the international community to document human rights abuses and bring people to justice. Finally, if we can prevent more massacres, and if we can be confident we will not make things worse, we should do so. If we can protect, we should. Or at least, let us have that debate – and quickly – so we know when we should intervene. The terrible errors over the invasion of Iraq should not make us forget bitter lessons from inaction in Rwanda and Srebenica. Whatever our opinion on that particular issue, on the persecution of minorities in Iraq and Syria, we need to take a stand.

I have written a Contemporary Resolution on behalf of Christians on the Left which has been approved for ballot at Labour Conference this Sunday.  Please support it and urge your Labour friends to do so too.

The resolution reads as follows:

Labour Party Conference 2014
Contemporary Resolution

Conference notes the rapid advances made over the summer by ISIL, also known as Islamic State or ISIS, in Iraq and Syria. This organisation is motivated by an extremist ideology that is contrary to mainstream religious faith. ISIL has systematically targeted minority Christian, Muslim, Yazidi and other communities. It has brutally slaughtered many, often via beheadings or crucifixions. It has kidnapped and abused women, and driven people from their homes. Thousands are now homeless, having been forced from homes where their families have lived and practised their faith for thousands of years. This continues a trend seen throughout the Middle East in recent years.

Conference condemns unreservedly the actions of ISIL and in particular the atrocities it is committing. Conference calls on the UK government and the international community to substantially increase the humanitarian aid effort to the region, via both airdrops and conventional means, and ensure targeted aid is sustained.  We call on the government to play its part to protect minorities under attack or facing oppression, and to work alongside organisations in the area promoting religious tolerance. Conference calls on the government to allocate asylum places to some of the most in need, in line with our European partners. We stand together with oppressed and powerless minorities that have been targeted, and with all those working for peace, unity, and tolerance in the Middle East.

This article was first published by Christians on the Left on 18 September 2014.

Christians on the Left, 18 September 2014, 19/09/2014

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