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A bus carrying 80 Christian students to their university in northern Iraq was bombed on 2 May. According to the Washington Post, the most startling thing about the report was that young Christians could attend university at all. Since 2003, Iraq’s Christian community has been subjected to assassinations, kidnappings, extortions and rapes. Over half of the estimated 1.5 million Christians in Iraq (less than 4 per cent of the population) have fled to Syria, Jordan and elsewhere. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has branded Iraq’s religious persecution "of particular concern", and called on the Obama administration to intervene before the ancient religious commuities (some still praying in Aramaic) are exterminated.
So far, their appeal has not moved Hillary Clinton. Here, supporters of Iraqi Christians fear that William Hague will be similarly uninterested in the issue. Iraq is very much a live issue with the electorate – especially among Muslims; and, in these paranoid times, to defend Iraqi Christians from their Muslim fellow-citizens could be misinterpreted as an attack on Islam.
While Muslims in this country enjoy the benefits of a society where tolerance is not only legal but culturally ingrained, Christians in a Muslim country (in fact several Muslim countries – being a Christian in neighbouring Iran is no picnic) must withstand wave after wave of attacks. How amazing if the new Foreign Secretary were to address this thorny issue – though it would be nothing short of miraculous for Hague to get backing from his fiercely secular Lib Dem coalition partners on this one.
Cristina Odone is a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith. She is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and is a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman. She is married and lives in west London with her husband, two stepsons and a daughter. Her latest novel, The Good Divorce Guide, is published by Harper Collins.