Ben Lowry: We decline to give special help to Christians and we will not speak frankly about Islam

The aftermath of an attack in which gunmen stormed a bus in Minya, Egypt, Friday, May 26, 2017. Egyptian officials say dozens of people were killed and wounded in the attack by masked militants on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, including children, south of Cairo.  (Minya Governorate Media office via AP)
The aftermath of an attack in which gunmen stormed a bus in Minya, Egypt, Friday, May 26, 2017. Egyptian officials say dozens of people were killed and wounded in the attack by masked militants on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, including children, south of Cairo. (Minya Governorate Media office via AP)

Last month the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey made a major contribution to the debate about faith in general, UK refugee policy and Islamic terrorism.

He spoke about the many Christians whose identities are being attacked in the Middle East, “a region of the world where they have always coexisted with others”.

Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini with Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast's Laganside Courts after a court case in December 2015 in which the pastor was tried for anti Islamic comments he made in a sermon. He was acquitted later that year.
Dr Al-Hussaini had travelled to give him moral support. 
Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini with Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast's Laganside Courts after a court case in December 2015 in which the pastor was tried for anti Islamic comments he made in a sermon. He was acquitted later that year. Dr Al-Hussaini had travelled to give him moral support. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dr Carey accused the government of looking away.

He said that 10% of the Syrian population was Christian before the civil war began in 2011, but they had got less than 2% of the asylum places in the UK in 2016.

This is a subject matter that has become all the more urgent in the last week.

On Monday, an Islamic fanatic specifically targeted young people when he blew himself up at Manchester Arena.

Yesterday, gunmen in Egypt massacred at least 26 Coptic Christians on a bus.

Dr Carey was speaking after suicide bombs on two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday left 45 people dead.

These tragedies are only a part of the trauma that is affecting several religions and racial groups in a large part of the world from roughly Mali, at its westernmost point, to Pakistan in the East.

An important question for us is this: if we are a country that is increasingly inclined to acknowledge its Christian heritage (both David Cameron and Theresa May have done), then can we give greater weight to refugee applications from imperilled Christians?

It is generally accepted that Saudi Arabia, an Islamic state, or that Israel, a Jewish state, can have immigration policies in accordance with their dominant culture.

But we seem not to be prepared even to discuss whether there is merit in Britain having a discriminatory immigration policy that might, for example, favour Christians refugees.

Britain is not, of course, a religious state and few of its inhabitants want it to be so.

But we dismiss as racist the mere discussion of cultural differences.

We only allow preferential entry to particular groups of people if the grounds relate to the wealth or professional qualifications of the applicant.

Some Commonwealth citizens enjoy certain immigration benefits but it is minor.

Yesterday Latvia’s ambassador to the UK visited the News Letter as part of her first visit to Northern Ireland.

It reminded me of how Baltic state immigrants have been an asset to Northern Ireland over the last decade. Through the teeth of a bitter recession they found work that local citizens often spurned. From Crossmaglen to Coleraine I have encountered such immigrants.

Britain has also reaped the benefit of huge numbers of dynamic Muslim immigrants from many countries. I live in the most racially mixed constituency in Northern Ireland, South Belfast, where many women wear headscarves, and the diversity of the area only enhances my enjoyment of it.

But it is dishonest to pretend that the tiny minority of terrorists among the vast number of (overwhelmingly peaceful) Muslim immigrants to Europe is of no significance when it comes to considering our response to vast immigration from Islamic countries.

Surveys consistently show that outright Muslim support for such violence is minuscule, but a degree of ambivalence about it is much larger.

Islamic extremism came on my radar with the Salman Rushdie saga at the end of the 1980s, and hastened my political journey from left to right. I was troubled by liberals who equivocated in their support for Rushdie, despite the Islamo-fascism.

Later, when I worked on early newspaper websites in London from the mid 1990s, I watched the rise of the Taliban and read reports of stonings to death of adulterers and executions of gay people.

Islamic fanaticism has steadily grown over that near 30-year period, yet we are still far more likely to die in a car crash than a terror attack.

But even so, we should not avoid discussing this as a problem with modern Islam, and stop pretending everyone is equally to blame or, as Jeremy Corbyn seems to think, that it is principally our fault.

There is no threat from Latvian, or Afro Caribbean, or Hindu or Buddhist suicide bombs in Britain.

Despite the rise in Islamic atrocities, there has been admirably little anti Muslim backlash in the West.

On BBC Question Time on Thursday, some of the audience tried to bring the conversation back to ‘Islamophobia’ as if there is a remotely comparable liklihood that Muslim civilians will be targeted in the way the general population is being targeted by Islamic bombers.

In this newspaper this week, Sheik Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini called on UK Muslim leaders to move beyond denunciations that a terror act was “mindless and unjustifiable” (see link below).

It echoed something Dr Philip McGarry, the psychiatrist and Alliance Party member, wrote in the News Letter in March, about his frustration at hearing references to the “mindless” Troubles violence. Political terror was “by definition mindful”, he said.

After this week’s Manchester attack, it seems people are finally less inclined to parrot: “Islam is a religion of peace.”

The Muslim world is of course mostly moderate and peaceful. But that truth does not contradict the fact that this is a present problem with a manifestation of Islam.

In 2015 Dr Al-Hussaini came to Belfast to support Pastor James McConnell during his trial for an anti Islamic sermon. The Muslim academic spoke of his “love and concern” for the pastor as he floundered in the dock.

The court case against Pastor McConnell came at the end of a process that began when Dr Raied Al Wazzan complained to police over the sermon. Dr Al Wazzan is the man who defended the ‘peace’ brought about in Mosul by the Islamic State (IS) barbarians. He later apologised.

I thought Pastor McConnell’s original sermon absurd, but Dr Al Wazzan’s IS remarks were positively shameful.

Neither man should be prosecuted for what they said but Dr Al Wazzan’s remarks were the more disgusting.

Yet it was a complaint from him that began a process which led to the pastor on trial (a process during which the late Martin McGuinness called for the pastor to be investigated for hate speech – laughable given that Mr McGuinness never faced trial for hate crimes of a magnitude rather greater than the pastor’s mere words).

A new book by the writer Douglas Murray says that European civilisation is dying due to such moral weakness.

When you think about the disgrace of the McConnell trial, and the ongoing reluctance to stare Islamic extremism in the face, you can hardly avoid the thought that Mr Murray might be right.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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