Christian aid: a poisoned chalice
In yet another unsurprisingly misguided statement that assumes all the absent moral integrity that has defined his superiors and his predecessors, Cardinal Keith O’Brien managed to mischaracterize Christian aid, defame UKaid and completely undermine western policy in the Middle East in one speech yesterday. Not bad for a morning’s work.
O’Brien, who has made several other damaging, ignorant and politically charged comments on issues ranging from civil partnerships to the ‘liberalisation’ of divorce to that ultimate ‘social evil’ of abortion, spoke condemning William Hague’s pledge to increase aid to Pakistan to over £445 million as ‘unchristian’.
The Scottish Cardinal claimed, with all the boyish naivety that we have come to expect from him (see his statements on the Lockerbie bomber), that to give aid to Pakistan without demanding increased religious tolerance for Christians in return is tantamount to committing the acts ourselves, leaving us devoid of moral sentiment. And he did so whilst simultaneously heralding the church as fantastic givers of aid, providers of life and all round good guys.
There are 2 problems with this:
First, The church, as an establishment, is none of those things, especially not in Pakistan. Christian aid workers, on the whole, avoid the Middle East, deciding instead to focus much more on Africa and Latin America. Why? Because they have a higher conversion rate there, which overshadows the distribution of aid as the inevitable goal when the waters of missionary work and charity work get muddied. Aid workers in Pakistan and Afghanistan that refuse to give aid to the homeless and starving unless they also take a bible written in the native language tend to be viewed on with suspicion and subject to hostilities in predominantly Muslim areas, resulting in tragedies in both camps. Just as, given even the most basic level of education, the same groups are thrown out of the villages where they preach Aids is bad, but not quite as bad as condoms. Senior Vice President of Compassion International USA, one of the largest international Christian aid groups, has admitted they don’t operate in Pakistan “because we’re committed to carrying out our work through the local Christian church, and there simply isn’t much of a Christian presence in those countries.” Apparently then, for O’Brien and others, to qualify for aid in the Middle East the desperate and the needy must first throw off the shackles of religious oppression, convert to Christianity, and then build a church.
And herein lies problem number two; it is morally bankrupt and realistically impossible to think that blackmailing the Pakistan government by withholding aid will help social cohesion and minority emancipation. O’Brien was right in his suggestion that the blasphemy laws, now protected by the barbaric undertones of the Pakistan constitution, have successfully bred an under-class of Christians and other non-Muslims. He was right to allude to the ongoing struggle of these groups to integrate in society and to do it in the shadow of the disgusting assassination of Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhattt. But he was totally wrong to think it could be changed by a carrot-and-stick approach to international aid. The restriction of aid for political gain has only ever done one of two things, and there is no reason to think it would be any different in Pakistan. It will either generate a fiercer anti-western sentiment, which is particularly likely in a country that plays host to numerous fundamentalist factions that exert inordinate control over local communities and manipulate the information flow, or it has deepened socio-economic divisions internally as those who need aid wither and die and those who don’t blame everyone but themselves. The realism that dictates our foreign diplomacy must, for as long as possible, be kept separate from the moral urgency that dictates we must act to save the lives of the helpless, regardless of political circumstance and personal motive.Tagged in: aid, Cardinal, Chrstian, foreign policy, hague, O'brien, Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatt
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