Tuesday 25 October 2016

Blind spot means Christians are being murdered worldwide and we don't care

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

A member loyal to the Islamic State waves the group's flag in Raqqa.
A member loyal to the Islamic State waves the group's flag in Raqqa.

It's a strange paradox. To deny that the Holocaust happened is a crime in some European countries. At the same time, genuine anti-Semitism is on the rise in many European countries and we don't seem to care much.

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Jews are being attacked on sight again in some European towns and cities, Jewish graves have been desecrated and synagogues stoned or subjected to arson attacks. Things are getting so bad in France, that its Jewish population is starting to leave the country.

Anti-Semitism is the worst form of prejudice in all human history. That can be said quite categorically. To a greater or less extent it has existed virtually everywhere Jews have been, culminating in the Holocaust.

In the 19th century and for much of the 20th century, anti-Semitism was found on both the left and right of the political spectrum and among the religious and non-religious alike. It was part of the air we breathed, as commonplace as anti-British feeling once was in Ireland. It was taken for granted.

But it's on the rise again and what is being done to stop or discourage it?

Every generation likes to think that it won't repeat the mistakes of past generations. It likes to think it is more virtuous than its forebears even as it replaces old blind spots with new blind spots.

Here in Ireland we think we have become much more mature because we're no longer as given as we were to irrational Brit-bashing. But we have replaced it with often irrational Church-bashing.

We think we're not as deferential towards authority as we once were. That is partly true. But successive Irish Governments, including this one, are unduly deferential towards the UN, despite its many and manifest faults, and towards the EU as well.

Our deference towards Barack Obama has been rewarded by his targeting of American companies that use Ireland as a tax haven.

Looking back at the commonplace anti-Semitism of the past we imagine we would never be guilty of that, and if we had lived back then, we'd have been better than that.

But if you're inclined to go along with the norms of today, there is every chance you'd have gone along with the norms of the past as well.

I'm not one of those who believe criticism of Israel is a cover for anti-Semitism. Sometimes it is, but not generally.

I think there is some anti-Semitism in Ireland, but not too much, unless I'm being naïve.

The real problem isn't so much that we're anti-Semitic, it's that we're worryingly indifferent to it. I don't just mean the Irish here, I mean Europeans generally.

We'd be up in arms if we saw an anti-Semitic cartoon in a newspaper or if a prominent person flat-out denied the Holocaust. But given the general lack of reaction to the growing attacks on Jews, and on their businesses and places of worship in various parts of Europe, we can see how a prejudice becomes tolerated and can grow and fester.

And by prejudice, by the way, I mean the real McCoy, not the kind politically correct types like to condemn as 'prejudice', for example, opposition to an unrestricted immigration policy.

We can see something of the same indifference at work in our attitude towards the tremendous persecution of Christians in many parts of the world.

The expulsion of Christians from those parts of Iraq and Syria under the control of ISIS, the ultra-militant Islamist group, has received almost no media coverage.

The British Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks (the greatest religious leader on these two islands), has compared what is happening to those Christians with the anti-Jewish pogroms of the past.

By most estimates tens of thousands Christians are being killed for their faith all over the world annually. That doesn't include all those subjected to other physical attacks including rape.

Boko Haram in Nigeria, another ultra-Islamist group, has been killing Christians for years but we only got to hear about them when they kidnapped the school-girls.

Why is the persecution of Christians such an unfashionable cause but the Palestinian cause (to name but one) so fashionable? I think a lot of it has to do with who gets to claim victim status and who doesn't. Palestinians obviously get victim status.

Jews are starting to lose their victim status because Israel is seen as an aggressor State rather than one that is trying to defend itself.

Christians never receive victim status because the West was dominated by one or another version of Christianity for so long. This completely distorts our view of the plight of Christians in places like Iraq, Syria, northern Nigeria, North Korea or China, to name but a few.

In those parts of the world Christians are a radically disempowered minority and always have been but because we can't get over our parochial view of Christians in our part of the world we simply can't see this and so they don't receive victim status and don't become a fashionable cause.

Our inability to overcome our local ideologies, our local politics, our local tribalism and our local prejudices blinds us to the genuine plight of some groups and makes us hyper-sensitive to others. To this extent we are no different in any significant way from past generations much as we might like to congratulate ourselves for our more 'enlightened' attitudes.

Past generations had blind spots and we have blind spots. Our current blind spot means we don't really care that anti-Semitism is on the rise once again in Europe or that Christianity is by far and away the most persecuted religion on the planet.

This makes conditions ripe for yet more persecution. How will we explain this to future generations?

Irish Independent

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