By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
LONDON, UK (ANS – December 29, 2016) — Iraqi church leaders in Britain have welcomed a radio message by Prince Charles, the future King of England highlighting the persecution of religious minorities, but said that it must be followed by steps by Western governments to protect them.
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, whose pre-recorded message on UK BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for The Day” slot was broadcast on Thursday, December 22, 2016, said that attacks on many minority faiths around the world were increasing, “and in some countries even more insidious forms of extremism have recently surfaced, which aim to eliminate all types of religious diversity.”
According to World Watch Monitor (https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/), Prince Charles, who will one day suceed his mother to become the head of the Church of England, said a Jesuit in Syria recently told him Christianity could disappear from Iraq, where Christians and other minorities have been ruthlessly targeted by Sunni and Shia militias for more than a decade, within five years.
He pointed out that religious persecution is a factor behind a rise in the number of displaced people and refugees, which the UN says rose by 5.8 million to 65.3 million last year, and noted that some refugees experience harassment in the country to which they flee on account of “increasingly aggressive” populist groups.
World Watch Monitor went on to say that the prince, who has frequently expressed deep concern at the rise of religious intolerance and its destruction of interfaith coexistence in the Middle East, drew a parallel between the current rise of religious intolerance and “the dark days of the 1930s” with their “intolerance, monstrous extremism and an inhuman attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.”
“We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past,” he said.
The news service added that the prince said that adherents of all faiths have a duty to respect religious freedom and accept other people’s “right to live out their peaceful response to the love of God.” He referred not only to Mary, Joseph and Jesus seeking refuge in Egypt from Herod’s slaughter of all boys under two years old, but also to Mohammed’s migration from Mecca to Medina to seek “freedom for himself and his followers to worship.”
He mentioned the recent consecration service of the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in west London, for which three bishops from Iraq and Syria had been denied visas by the British Home Office, as an inspirational example. “Here were a people persecuted for their religion in their own country, but finding refuge in another land and freedom to practice their faith according to their conscience,” he said.
World Watch Monitor said that Iraqi church leaders in Britain welcomed his message. Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Toma Dawod said: “His Royal Highness the Prince put his finger on our wound. He is supporting the victim; we’re victims of terrorism.” Arguing that Islamist extremism poses a threat to Europe and Iraqi Christians alike, he added: “The British Government should listen to His Royal Highness, because the terrorists are over all the world. They are shaking our house. The British Government should support the victims and stop terrorism.”
Fr. Nadheer Dako, head of the Chaldean (Church) Mission in the UK, said he hoped the Prince’s message would “correct” politicians’ understanding of the threat facing Middle Eastern minorities and force them to see the threat posed by extremist Islam in broader terms. “They must wake up,” he said: “If the Syrian Government wins the war in Aleppo and if the Iraqi Government wins in Mosul, it is not enough. The war is not against Islamic State but against the ideology.”
Mgr. Nizar Semaan, of the Syriac Catholic Church, welcomed the Prince’s “message of solidarity” but said it was not just needed at Christmas. He agreed that Christianity in Iraq could be extinguished within five years “if we don’t have the support of the international community … no one recognizes that Christians are the true victims of the war [in Iraq and Syria]; it’s not their war.”
He said Christians who want to stay in the region need assurances of reconstruction and security, and those who wish to emigrate should be offered visas. “I don’t see why the international community, especially Britain, is not taking care of Iraqi refugees.” Two and a half years after Islamic State, also known as ISIS< forced more than 100,000 Christians to flee northern Iraq, he said many are still in camps in Kurdistan. He added that Britain should use its influence in the Gulf to forces its allies there — some of whom funded militias in both countries — to help fund reconstruction.
Photo captions: 1) Prince Charles speaking at London’s St Thomas Cathedral Syriac Orthodox Church, UK, October 2016. 2) Middle East Christians in prayer. 3) Protesters make their point. 4) Dan Wooding reporting for ANS outside the Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil, Northern Iraq.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder of the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and he hosts a weekly radio show and two TV shows, all based in in Southern California. Dan also is the author of some 45 books. He has reported widely from throughout the Middle East and his most recent trip was to Northern Iraq.
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