Twenty-one of the Nigerian schoolgirls captured by Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram have been released. This is welcome news, despite it not being clear what the Nigerian government may have agreed to in return. And despite this joyful news, it must be remembered that of the 276 students kidnapped in April 2014, 197 are still missing.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 17, 2016
The shocking story of their abduction briefly caught the attention of the West. The CNN presenter Christiane Amanpour handed then-British prime minister David Cameron a sign saying #BringBackOurGirls to promote this message as a Twitter hashtag. Michelle Obama also posed with a concerned expression – and held up a sheet of card with the same hashtag. It was all soon forgotten.
This was not the first, or the last, time that politicians and media personalities have found it easier to publicise how caring they are about something than do something to solve it.
It is also quite understandable that there was a particular focus on it being children rather than adults who were captured – and still more dismay that they were girls rather than boys.
But there was one aspect of the saga that was highly relevant but widely overlooked. The great majority of those abducted were Christians.
At the time of their capture, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, said: “Young children are being denied universal freedoms such as an education.” But the central point – that they were Christians – was not mentioned in the Foreign Office statement.
Yet it was specifically due to their Christianity that Boko Haram announced the girls would face slavery and prostitution. It is not that they happened to be Christian. It is their Christianity which caused them to be victims.
Would Western leaders have the same reticence about challenging persecution against those from any other religion?
The monitoring group Open Doors estimates than 100 million Christians are persecuted and that each month 322 Christian are killed purely because of their religion. Other estimates put the death toll much higher.
The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States put it at 100,000 a year. Getting an accurate figure for this grim tally is obviously impossible. We are dealing with chaotic war zones such as Syria and brutal totalitarian regimes including North Korea where it’s thought that 60,000 – perhaps a quarter of the country’s Christians – are in forced labour camps.
In Nigeria, Joy for Girls Freed by Boko Haram. What of the Rest? https://t.co/EWbLvcUjDG
— #BringBackOurGirls (@BBOG_Nigeria) October 17, 2016
What is not disputed is that Christians are under attack more than any other group. A report from the Frankfurt-based International Society for Human Rights, which has no religious affiliation, found that 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination around the world are directed at Christians. Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported on the struggles faced from China to Cuba to Sudan.
There is the odd message of hope. The Canadian Government has appointed an Ambassador for Religious Freedom. Diplomatic clout can amount to something – especially when it is backed by withholding aid to regimes which punish people for their faith.
Boko Haram has lost most of its territory. The Nigerian authorities sensibly recruited some South African mercenaries (or “technical advisors” as they call them) to help get the job done. There have also been some divisions with Boko Haram relating to its role as an affiliate of Islamic State. As we know in Iraq and Libya the land controlled by IS – and thus their capacity for evil – is rapidly
Yet this disastrous taboo must end. Christian martyrdom is not merely a distance barbarism from the Roman Empire and Middle Ages long since consigned to the history books. It is happening today on a terrifying scale across the globe. More Christians are being killed for their beliefs than ever before. Often it is the Christians in refugee camps who are most at risk – but this additional peril they face is generally ignored.
In this age of political correctness our leaders are quite happy to fret about men sitting with their legs apart or of fashion designers guilty of “cultural appropriation” for wearing dreadlocks.
But when it comes to preventing the slaughter of the innocents they become rather
shy. In the words of Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, they “don’t do God”. It is time they did.