Is it ok to preference high risk refugees?

Foreign Editor of the Australian, Greg Sheridan, states that Christians in the Middle East are one of the highest risk groups, yet preferencing them is seen as discrimination.







Lyle Shelton:                         Well welcome to Voice for Values radio. It’s Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby. Great to have your company this week. We’ve got a very special guest today, someone who’s very well known for regular readers of The Australian as I have been. Greg Sheridan is the Foreign Editor and it’s an absolute joy and privilege to have Greg joining us today on Voice for Values. Greg, welcome to the program.  

Greg Sheridan:                     Lyle, great to be with you.                    

Lyle Shelton:                         Greg, the reason I was keen to get you on is because you recently published an article in the Inquirer section of The Australian, of The Weekend Australian which should be compulsory reading for everyone but it was on an issue that is very dear to our hearts at ACL and that’s the issue of persecuted Christians and you raised questions that are not being raised in the mainstream media about the persecution of Christians particularly in the Middle East and I just wondered if you could unpack for our listeners why you were motivated to write this article.                                 

Greg Sheridan:                     Well Lyle I’m a bit ashamed that I haven’t written at length about this before. It’s a very big, long-term historical trend, which is basically the eradication in effect of the ethnic religious cleansing of Christian communities in the Middle East. Now Islamic State is running a campaign of attempted genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq there were perhaps 1.5 million Christians ten years ago. Ninety per cent of them now are dead or gone and Islamic State, when it captured villages and towns with large numbers of Christians would draw the letter ‘N’ for Nazarene. It’s the same in the Arabic alphabet. On the outside of Christian homes, the men would basically be killed and women taken as sex slaves and the children sent as labour slaves or worse. This is the latest outrage but there is actually a very long-term trend here. About a hundred years ago, about one in seven people in the Middle East was Christian. Today it’s about one in twenty-five and that proportion is rapidly declining. Essentially the same that happened to the Jews from about the 1940s onwards whereas there were a million Jews living in Arab countries, you know, sixty or seventy years ago there were virtually none now and this is a terrible historical crime and tragedy, I think.

Lyle Shelton:                         It’s historic because these people lived in these parts of the Middle East in modern day Iraq and Syria. They’ve been there for 2,000 years, ever since Jesus and His, well after His resurrection, His disciples found out from Judea, Jerusalem. These are some of the earliest places where Christian settle and have been there ever since.                                       

Greg Sheridan:                     That’s right. I interviewed the archbishop, the former Archbishop of Mosul who told me that just a few years ago in Mosul, a hundred thousand, there had been a hundred thousand Christians and as law and order broke down in Iraq, more and more jihadist organisations became more and more aggressive towards Christians. Christians were told in schools, there’s no place for you here. This is the land of Islam. What are you even doing here? Their property was expropriated. They were subject to all kinds of social persecution and no effort by the state to protect them and sometimes by state persecution. Then a few years ago the number in Mosul was down to about 10,000 and then when Islamic State came along and took control of the city in 2014, all the Christians were murdered or fled and they fled first to the Kurdish areas. The Kurds, although they are Sunni Muslims we should note this, they don’t persecute Christians and then a number of them fled to the West and that is the end of 2,000 years of Christianity in that part of Iraq. It’s a terrible historical tragedy.                                          

Lyle Shelton:                         Greg, why is it that for almost 2,000 years Christians were able to live at relative peace with Muslims. I guess Islam came along in the 6th or 7th century I think A.D. but for over a thousand years they’ve been able to co-exist up until now. Why is that?

Greg Sheridan:                     Well Lyle to be absolutely honest with you, I think the co-existence has been rather over-rated. I think this has been a long historical process over hundreds and hundreds of years. I mean there were Christian areas that were, that had a certain amount of integrity in their communal sphere so to speak but you know, the Arab armies conquered Egypt and gradually people were forced to live either in a second-class citizen status or to leave or to convert and the process of conversion was gradual over many, many years. Then there was a colonial period where the Christians and other minorities in the Middle East are protected when there is strong government. Then you had the period of Arab nationalism before jihadism was really, really revived so strongly and secular regimes like that, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, although they were blood-thirsty dictatorships, especially Saddam Hussein, they were essentially secular so their agenda was not Islamic and Christians of course very well educated and contributed a great deal to the economic strength of those states. So I think the Arab Spring has turned into a terrible bitter winter for Christians in the Middle East but I do think this is a long-term historical process.     

Lyle Shelton:                         So the real aim of Islam has always been to suppress Christianity, to essentially eradicate it and what we’re seeing today is really the essence of what true Islam’s attitude towards Christianity. Is that a realistic interpretation?

Greg Sheridan:                     Well Lyle, oddly enough I’m kind of reluctant to sum it up in an aphorism. I mean, there is enormous guilt here by some Muslims who are persecuting Christians in the Middle East, no doubt about that at all, but as I noted a little while ago, when the Christians fled from Mosul they fled into the Kurdish areas and the Kurds themselves are Sunni Muslims and they don’t persecute Christians. In fact, they give safe haven to the Christians. Now I think the Archbishop of Mosul said to me that there are many verses in the Koran which are kind to Jews and Christians and there are many verses in the Koran which are extraordinarily hostile to Jews and Christians and Muslims who want to persecute them choose the hostile verses. Muslims who want to live side by side with them choose the nine verses but I don’t want to sort of hide in the shadows on this. I do think there is a problem with Islam and the interpretation, which a large number of Muslims have of Islam is one which is extremely hostile to minorities. Of course, most do not share the genocidal views of Islamic State but the long, structural hostility of Islam to Christianity I think it undeniable.    

Lyle Shelton:                         And is this what president el-Sisi of Egypt was trying to challenge the Muslim clerics at Cairo I think at the beginning of last year, please clarify what our theological position on our attitude towards non-Muslims in the world. Do we want to kill them all, I think is essentially what he was saying to these clerics and Muslim theologians to clarify.       

Greg Sheridan:                     Yes. President el-Sisi is a military ruler and Christians are infinitely happier in Egypt under his military rule than they were under the elected presidency of Mohammad Morsi of their Muslim Brotherhood. Now he, like many, many leaders in Muslim lands has called for a reformation of Islam, of getting rid of obscurantism and the worst versions of literalism and corruption and subservience of the state to the mosque. He can do that and get away with it. It’s interesting when Tony Abbott made a similar call in Australia he was held down but all over south-east Asia, you find moderate Muslim leaders saying that the religion is in need of reformation and el-Sisi certainly wants a more modern interpretative Islam which is not at war with the modern world and not at war with people of other religions or indeed other interpretations of Islam within the Islamic tradition because of course the hostility between Shia and Sunni and between different sects within both of those traditions is very strong.  

Lyle Shelton:                         You’re listening to Voice for Values radio. My guest today is Greg Sheridan, the Foreign Editor of The Australian. We’ll be back just after this break. Stick around.

                                                Well I’m back now with Greg Sheridan on the line, the Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper. Greg has recently written a very powerful article about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Greg, the basic thesis of this article is that this genocide has been occurring in the last few years in particular, this radical jihadism particularly through Islamic State has taken hold, but it’s largely been a silent genocide, ignored by much of the mainstream media in comparison to the way they would report other oppressions of minorities in other parts of the world. 

Greg Sheridan:                     Yes, I think that’s right Lyle and I think that’s undeniably true. A Coptic bishop, you know the Coptics are a very harassed and oppressed Christian minority in Egypt, said to me the Christians of the Middle East have no voice in the West. The West is ignoring this genocide and this oppression and of course Christians are persecuted elsewhere in the world apart from the Middle East too and I think the reason the West is ignoring this is because the sort of intellectual fashions and ideological fashions which have dominated Western thinking in the last several decades, the typical view in Western universities and therefore in the Western media is that all the evil in the world is caused ultimately by the West, by its militarism, its colonialism in the past, its neo-colonialism today and its capitalism. Now I think this view is completely untrue and unreal but even if it were true it ought not to result in what it has resulted in which is the intelligencer of the West just defines Christians as being in the oppressor class. So all the problems in the Middle East were the result of Western colonialism carried out by nominally Christian governments, therefore Christians are oppressors whereas Muslims were once colonised by the West therefore they are victims and this means that the media in particular is disabled intellectually from dealing with these issues honestly and it also explains part of the relentless hostility and mockery and presumption of bad faith which the Western media applies to Christians in public life within Australia. No other institution and no other religion is mocked and derided in the media day after day as Christianity is. As a result, you’re seeing this terrible historical crime in the Middle East pass virtually without comment. Even politicians of good will, George W. Bush and Barack Obama for example, have been very, very reluctant to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East because they think this plays into the narrative of the jihadists that Western intervention in the Middle East is a new version of the crusades but really I think the truth is paramount and we ought to just be telling it like it is. 

Lyle Shelton:                         So how do we break through this, Greg? You’re talking about something very systemic that’s found it’s way into our academic institutions, into our media, which blinds us in the West from seeing the magnitude of the problem. How do we break that because the people who are suffering are people who aren’t interested in these ideological debates? They’re just ordinary people who’ve lived for thousands of years as Christians in a particular part of the world but their plight is being largely ignored because of this inbuilt cultural bias.

Greg Sheridan:                     Well Lyle, the truth is I don’t have a solution but I’d offer a couple of suggestions. The first is, I think Christians and everybody of good will has some obligation to take up these, the cause of the Christians in the Middle East. I mean, I’m a Catholic Lyle and I’m a bit surprised that the Catholic bishops haven’t required their priests to read out a pastoral letter one Sunday in every Catholic parish in Australia.

Lyle Shelton:                         Now of course Anthony Fisher, the Archbishop of Sydney as you pointed out in your article, when we opened the door for 12,000 Syrian refugees in addition to our normal humanitarian intake, he said we should preference Christians who are being persecuted and all hell broke out. 

Greg Sheridan:                     That’s right and in fairness to the Catholic bishops, I would say they have issued a lot of statements about this but I think they could be much more vigorous but that’s right. The very idea that we would take 12,000 Christians from Syria led to an immediate sense, an immediate accusation that we were in fact being discriminatory and Islamaphobic and so forth because we might take Christians in this one instance rather than Muslims whereas of course Muslim immigration to Australia and the Muslim element in our refugee program has increased massively over the last 20 or 30 years but I’m not against helping Muslims at all and I know many Muslims are suffering in the Middle East and I want us to give assistance to them and so are other religious minorities, the Yazidi’s. I’m grateful that we rescued the Yazidi’s on Mount Sinjar.

Lyle Shelton:                         Yes.

Greg Sheridan:                     I want to help all those folks but for some reason, we’re not allowed to actually explicitly help Christians. We’re certainly not allowed to say that the 12,000 Syrian Christians would find it easier to settle in Australia because they have so much cultural similarity to the majority of people in Australia but even as victims we’re not allowed to identify them as Christians and to help them as Christians. When we helped the Yazidi’s, no one said well you’re being Islamaphobic by helping the Yazidi’s when Muslims are being persecuted as well but if we try to help Christians, there is this weird reflex response in our public life.          

Lyle Shelton:                         Greg thanks very much for joining us on Voice for Values today.       

Greg Sheridan:                     Lyle, great to be with you. Thanks so much for having me.