Refugees in northern Iraq

 

How much do people have to suffer before we will show mercy on them? Asylum is one of the most precious gifts that we have to offer – a place of safety for those who have nowhere else to go. We live in a country which is safe and wealthy; the vast majority of us believe that we do have an obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves. But we seem to be drawing ever tighter lines in defining who might deserve our help. Anyone from outside the United Kingdom is no longer our concern.

The government resolutely refuses to answer questions about whether we might offer asylum to Iraqi minority communities who have been driven from their homes to avoid being murdered. Have we now come to the point where political parties cannot dare to offer a safe haven even to people so obviously in need? That would be yet another indictment of the race that Labour and the Conservatives have been conducting for decades, as to who can be the more hostile and intolerant to those who need (not want) to come to this country. Rather say nothing than say anything that might expose yourself to the accusation of ‘being soft’. Even if it means leaving people to die.

I am ashamed to be represented by a government which has so little moral conviction (and the opposition hasn’t demonstrated any more). But what can you expect from a government proclaiming its desire to support families, while refusing visas for elderly parents whose children are prepared to met all the costs of supporting them? Or demanding that people demonstrate a purely arbitrary level of income (it applies regardless of how much their spouse might earn, for instance) before their husband or wife can live with them in the UK?

This is all part of a huge moral cowardice, an inability to stand up for principles of basic human solidarity when they are unpopular. It is all part of the greatest ethical threat facing the United Kingdom, that we become a closed-minded, hard-hearted nation of misers, sitting on our precious freedoms and protecting them from all comers. On the end, it is a way of life which will backfire, because those freedoms will themselves become eroded. It is only when we stand up for those who are different from ourselves that we have any sense of what human dignity means. Without that, we lose our own sense of our own dignity and worth.

Once when I was doing a door-to-door collection for Christian Aid, someone refused to give on the grounds that ‘charity begins at home’. That is not just someone else’s opinion – it is a lie. True charity is love that is poured out to those far from us, those who are different from us. It is love that responds to the need of another human being, not our calculation of our own advantage. Charity comes home when it has drawn us out of ourselves. When will we rediscover that sort of charity as a nation?

“We are united against Isis, against terrorism, against atrocity, against pain and suffering”. A great sentiment, but even more so when I put the missing word back in: “We are Muslims united against Isis …” That is a quote from the message produced by Muslim leaders in Britain of different groups, Sunni and Shia together. It was produced primarily for the Muslim community, and a few weeks ago now, but I think it’s just as important for all of us, now.

People of no faith may be tempted to blame religion for the violence presently being unleashed across Syria and Iraq by the so-called Islamic State. Christians, Hindus and others might even be tempted to think that Islam is an especially violent religion. Neither of those assertions holds water: there’s plenty of evidence of warfare among followers of all religions, and the 20th Century’s greatest murderers were the atheists Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot.

Violence isn’t about religion, whether it’s your own or anyone else’s. It’s something all human beings are capable of – every one of us. But we are also all capable of being peacemakers. At the heart of the world’s great religions is that desire for peace, a desire shared by many of no faith at all. The message from Britain’s Muslim leaders reminds us that we can’t blame some other group, religious or not.

There’s not a lot most of us can do about the conflict in the Middle East, except prayer (for those of us who pray). But we can all be peacemakers in our own lives, families and communities. It’s important that the word is peacemakers. It’s not just about living a quiet life; peacemaking is an active thing. It means reaching out to those we might otherwise not meet, understanding their lives and allowing them to understand ours, and finding the common ground of our shared humanity. Leaders of the different faith communities here in Croydon have recently started meeting together in order to get to know each other and to understand the lives of the different faith communities we represent. But when it comes to making peace, we can all be leaders.

And we can at least do one thing on the wider stage: the blogger known as Archbishop Cranmer has begun to gather support for the following statement:

“While conflicts rage in the Middle East, we continue to pray for peace. Britain has a history of providing refuge to the oppressed. We ask the Government to offer sanctuary to Christians and others who have been expelled under threat of death.”

If you agree that our government should do this, why not ask your MP whether they do too?