Saturday 16 June 2007

Is the West 'Christianophobic'?

I'm usually a great supporter of the work of the United Nations, but for the second time this week I find myself irritated by a UN spokesman's tendency to shift the blame and ignore the obvious. This time it's Dr. Doudou Diena, who according to The Tablet (subscription required), is the UN's Special Rapporteur on 'contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.' In a speech this week he warned of the alarming spread of something called 'Christianophobia' .

While he acknowledged that Christians in non-western countries, such as Nigeria, were facing hostility, Dr. Diena (who is Senegalese) argued that anti-Christian feeling had achieved its 'deepest ideological expression' in the west: 'It’s here in Europe that there’s suspicion towards religious practices, as well as a rise in intolerance expressed by the slow marginalisation of citizens who confess any faith'. Like others before him, Diena appears to blame the onward march of 'secularism' for this problem.

Now, if you had to name the countries in the world where it's most dangerous to be a practising Christian, would you automatically think of Europe and America? Surely not: in addition to Nigeria, you'd probably come up with Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan. And if you were asked in which countries Christians - and believers of other faiths - enjoy the greatest freedom of belief and practice, you'd have to include the US, and probably most of the countries of western Europe. Now ask yourself what the former have in common (answer: a political system that privileges one religion - Islam - and tends towards intolerance of others) and then what the latter nations share (answer: mostly secular constitutions and some degree of separation of church and state).

As well as ignoring the real persecution of Christians - and other minority faiths - in non-western states, Dr. Diena is also guilty of a fundamental confusion between intolerance and open debate. That's the problem with concepts like 'Christianophobia' and 'Islamophobia': they suggest that religious believers not only have the right to freedom of belief (which they do) but also to freedom from criticism.

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