Number 10 is a strange place
From the outside, Number 10 is a small house nestled in a Georgian terrace. Once you step inside, you immediately feel close to the political heart of our country. Paintings of historic figures and events surround you. This is of course the official residence of the Prime Minister. In the grand reception hall a stunning portrait of Sir Robert Walpole, Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, looks down. As you ascend the famous staircase, portraits of other former Prime Ministers stare back at you. Everywhere there is the aroma of history.
In one sense, we also made history this week! As you may have seen, we have been hosting Revd Faez Jirjees from St George’s in Baghdad. He is the only Anglican vicar in Iraq and indeed the only Iraqi ordained in the Anglican Church anywhere in the world. This is the first time an Iraqi Anglican has been invited to Number 10. Faez, two trustees and I went to meet with Jonathan Hellewell, Head of the Civil Society Unit and the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser on Faith. He wanted to speak with us about the plight of Christians and other persecuted minorities in Iraq. We have been lobbying the government on this for some time and it was good to be discussing this important issue at the highest level.
Faez spoke about the work of St George’s. Under his leadership (and with funding from us) the medical clinic there has become a beacon of hope, treating people of all faiths and none. I call it “an oasis of grace” in the troubled land of Iraq. The Iraqi Prime Minister said recently that he was “dazzled” by the work being done at St George’s, remarking that “there is nowhere else like this in Iraq”. Faez spoke passionately at Number 10 about his reconciliation ministry too. He remains a vocal advocate for minority rights in the face of vehement opposition. Faez believes Iraq should be a secular state in which all religions are treated equally. Needless to say, this point of view is not shared by all in Iraq, but the message was well received by Mr Hellewell.
The faith-blind approach
I took the opportunity to speak against the “faith-blind” approach adopted by The Department for International Development. This is where aid is given to refugees according to perceived material need based on ‘vulnerability’, but effectively ignoring issues of religious persecution. In Iraq it has left many Christians without support. I made the point that a million Christians have fled Iraq in the last 16 years. This is over 75% of the Christian population. No other religious group has suffered anything close to this extent in respect of being forced from their homeland. I said: “This is clear evidence of vulnerability”. We also made this point to Bishop Mounstephen earlier this year when submitting evidence for his review. Our position on this issue was listened to with care and some sympathy. I hope that we will see a shift on this in the future. Acknowledging that people are targeted because of their religious affiliation should not be so controversial. Faez spoke eloquently about the need to ensure that Christianity survives in Iraq. He appealed for the support of the British government.
Remembering the victims
As we had gone through security at Number 10, a radio was on, relaying the Supreme Court judgment on parliamentary prorogation. We do not take a view on this but nonetheless it felt like an historic day. But I pondered on how quickly history is made (and forgotten). Four years ago, Iraq was in the news every day. People were more aware of who the victims were back then. Now it takes an effort to remember who those victims are, or that many of those who became refugees 5 years ago are still refugees today. Even if they are not on the news, they still need help. Thank you to those who do so.
Media interviews with Faez
While in the UK, Faez did some powerful media interviews. Click here to listen to the one he did with BBC Radio 4 (the interview starts at 17 minutes and 25 seconds in). Click hereto read the interview with Premier (the radio interview has yet to be posted online). There are other interviews Faez did, including The Church Times. We will share links to all of these as they become available (look out for them on our Facebook and Twitter pages too).
Next week, we will share content from our Physics & Faith event at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace (which took place this week). It was an amazing evening of inspiring testimony, powerful witness, wonderful music, and meeting with our supporters. Look out for this next Thursday.
Mike Simpson, CEO
The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East
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