‘Wake up, O sleeper…’

We need to wake up. The tragedy of Meriam Ibrahim, a woman sentenced to hang for marrying a Christian, has brought into sharp focus the full extent of religious persecution worldwide. The Times reported two weeks ago that 100,000 Christians are martyred every year – more than at any other time in history. A secret, silent killer, this is a breach of human rights which goes beyond one woman. We need to respond.

Our young liberal class has been astonishingly quiet on this issue. It is striking that at this university, somewhere that vibrant activists congregate, one is more likely to find someone shouting ‘save the Whale’ than ‘save the Christian’. One reads in the Oxford Student newspaper countless articles on the rights of women or sexual minorities in Britain, a sign that many care about human rights, but very few pieces on this tragedy, even though it has far more fatal consequences.

How does one explain our inaction? It could be understood as a legacy of the embarrassment that our increasingly secular society feels about its Christian heritage. Or maybe our ‘tolerance’ means that we don’t feel able to critique the radical Islamist groups who many believe are the major protagonists of abuse. It may be simply a matter of location. There is little apparent religious persecution in Britain so it is easy to forget about it elsewhere. Whatever is the root, it took a woman being forced to bear a child whilst in chains to draw a national response. The last few weeks have seen #SaveMeriam trending on twitter and all three of the (at least traditionally) leading British party leaders crying out against this injustice. This hidden injustice has finally been brought into the light. We need to make sure that light doesn’t go out.

On Saturday there were hints from Sudan that Meriam might be released. These have since been majorly qualified. Yet, they are a sign of the continuing influence of the West, even in radically Islamic countries. Western trade and aid plays an important role in many nations. We choose how to allocate our money and thus have significant leverage. It is time to start using this. Economic threats can shift even the most dogmatic policies. An increase in tariffs or a reduction in aid to nations which murder religious minorities would be appropriate. The West needs to publically and actively illustrate its disapproval. It is time to start calling on the government to do this.

In the 1980s students took to the streets in their masses to protest against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. In May 2014, students in Oxford took to the street to shout at Nick Clegg over his increase in tuition fees. When did we become so self-centred? When did we stop caring about the most significant injustices of our day? As much as Clegg’s ‘betrayal’ is an abomination, it is laughable to call it an injustice when placed next to the case of Meriam Ibrahim. If the government knew that our generation cared about the marginalized then this issue would undoubtedly be put up in the political agenda. It is the apathy of the masses which has led to the inaction of our government. Let’s take up the cause of the persecuted. Our voice has significant power. It is time that we woke up from our sleep.

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