Madeleine Davies

Archive for March, 2015|Monthly archive page

Why journalists can’t afford to ignore religion

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2015 at 1:27 pm

“Why journalists can’t afford to ignore religion” was on the table last night, at the Groucho Club.

It’s been a “hobby horse” of Edward Stourton, the presenter of Radio 4’s Sunday programme for some years. Introducing the debate as Chair, he described how he had developed this conviction while covering the Second Intifada. A suicide bombing, he asserted, “only makes sense if there is a religious dimension to it”.

Except, as Karen Armstrong points out in her new book, that’s not true. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has studied every single suicide bombing from 1980 to 2004 and found that it is “always a response to the invasion of the homeland by a militarily superior power”. Suicide bombing was first used by the Tamil Tigers. Of the Lebanese bombings of the 1980s, most were committed by secularists and socialists.

I think that Stourton is right that religion is ill-understood, and over-looked, by journalists, but his comment was the first of several throughout the debate which illustrated that we won’t overcome this through opinions, impressions, and anecdotes. The danger, given the level of religious illiteracy, is that statements which may sound credible, self-evident, or intuitive, are accepted as fact. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Why do you cringe?’ – challenges from the Christians of the Middle East

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2015 at 10:12 pm

Part of my job is to report on the lives of Christians abroad. I’ve interviewed a Pakistani husband battling to save his wife, sentenced to death for blasphemy. I’ve heard an Iranian mother explain to our own MPs how she lost access to her 2-year-old child after her conversion. It’s partly as a result of these encounters that I find any suggestion that Christians face persecution in Britain offensive.

Since I started work at the Church Times, three years ago, the message from one particular part of the world has been consistent. In the lands where the Christian faith has some of its deepest roots, where worshipping communities can be traced back to the first century AD, extinction is forecast.

In Iraq, where Christians numbered up to 1.4 million in 1987, just 400,000 remained in 2013. Since then, as Islamic State has gained territory, the exodus has continued. Mosul, a city which had up to 60,000 Christians ten years ago, is now empty of Christians.

Christians made up to 30 per cent of Syria’s population in the 1920s. Today they constitute just 8 per cent. Tens of thousands have fled the cities of Aleppo and Homs. In the latter the number has plummeted from 160,000 down to 1000.

Since the fall of President Mubarak in February 2011, 200,000 Christians have left Egypt, after a surge in attacks in which Christian women were abducted and raped. In the space of a few days in August 2013 dozens of churches were torched.

The situation is desperate.

This month I sat up in the press gallery as the Archbishop of Erbil, the Rt Revd Bashar Warda, begged for help.

“We are now facing the extinction of Christianity as a religion and as a culture from Mesopotamia,” he said. “It is difficult to have to plead or beg for the help of the Church, the EU, the United States, Canada, to act now in such a way that there is opportunity for a Christian nucleus to remain and thrive in Iraq.”

He was asking for prayers. And for humanitarian aid. But earlier that week he had made headlines by requesting explicitly military intervention, and specifically the deployment of Western ground troops.

“As a Catholic I find it hard to say, but I want military action, there is no other way now.”

My instinct is to add my voice to this call.

Both the Pope, and the Archbishop of Canterbury have invoked the doctrine of a Just War.

But at a conference on Christians in the Middle East in London yesterday, the diversity of opinion among those being discussed was made abundantly apparent.

Here are six points that I took away Read the rest of this entry »