Friday, 4 September 2015

A quick lesson in Christianity to its eager protectors

With 3.8 million people displaced from Syria by war, terror and despair, Slovakia has generously decided to accept 200 refugees. But, it specifies, only Christians.

It’s an interesting notion. You make a gesture of purely symbolic charity but, in the same breath, demand adherence to Christianity. I’m no Christian, but I’m friends with a great many, and I believe they would none of them recognise the principles of their faith in that behaviour.

Behind the restriction to Christians lies something else, which is the desire to repel Muslims, seen as invading hordes. That was made more explicit by the estimable and hard right Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Incidentally, this is a man worth watching if ever you wonder what a government led by Britain’s own far-right Nigel Farage would be like, since Orbán’s party is the Hungarian equivalent of UKIP. He has, for instance, enlightened us on the nature of tolerance for minority communities, in this case homosexuals:

Tolerance ... does not mean that we would apply the same rules for people whose life style is different from our own.

He has now announced that Hungary, in trying to block refugees from entering in the first place, and rounding up and interning those already there, is protecting “Christian Europe” from Muslims.

Don’t see migrants. Or even refugees. Just people
Hungary spent a couple of centuries, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth, within the Turkish Ottoman Empire. I was amazed on visits to Hungary to find how little trace remains of the Turkish presence: in a church that had once been a mosque, I was pointed to a niche which might once have been a Mihrab, the structure that tells Muslims the direction of Mecca; in the provincial town of Eger I saw (and indeed climbed) a minaret, which is all that remains of the mosque there.

No, Hungary has turned its back on its Muslim past, unlike Spain where it is treasured and indeed claimed, on sometimes dubious grounds, by large numbers of people (but woe betide any Muslim who tries to worship inside the great mosque of Cordoba, now a Christian place of worship: the security guards will pounce and escort the believer out). 

Clearly, Slovakia and Hungary regard Islamophobia as legitimate, laudable even.

Further West, we try to hide our own anti-Islamic feelings, but they’re certainly running strong, however partially hidden they may be. But what is even more striking is the extent to which our leaders seem to share the Christian notions of their counterparts in Central Europe. So our reaction to migrants trying to reach Britain from Calais is not to identify the genuine refugees and let them in, but to put razor wire to keep everyone out. David Cameron has so far allowed 216 Syrians into Britain under a scheme to take refugees from that country; he now intends to increase the number to several thousand (where I suspect “several” is a relatively small number).

In other words, faced with fellow human beings in trouble, Orbán’s “Christian” Europe, or large parts of it at least, react with rejection and meanness.

David Cameron claims that Britain is a basically Christian country. So let me remind him of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The background to the story is that someone has correctly told Jesus that the key law is to love your neighbour as yourself. When he goes on to ask who his neighbour is, Christ answers (in the words of the New International version of the Bible, less poetic but more comprehensible than the King James version):

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Who was the neighbour? “The one who had mercy on him.”

The Samaritan was not of the same Community as the injured man, but he helped anyway. As though, say, we looked at Syrian refugees and saw people, not Muslims, not Syrians, not migrants. And because they were people, we helped them. Even if they were gay.

That would be behaving as Christians. That kind of Christianity would be worth protecting. But don’t count on the Orbáns or the Camerons to step forward to do it.

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