The number of Christian martyrs doubled last year, but we have the power to the help the persecuted

A church in Syria destroyed in the fighting. Over 1,000 Christians there were killed for their faith last year (AP)

The annual number of Christians killed for their faith doubled in 2013, with 2,213 dead as a result of “martyr” killings, compared to 1,102 the previous year.

The statistics come from Open Doors’s ‘World Watch List’, and most of this increase can be accounted for by the 1,213 deaths in Syria, where several villages, most notably Sadad, were overrun by Islamist militias. As Michel Varton, head of Open Doors France, said: “In Syria, another war is thriving in the shadow of the civil war – the war against the church.”

Religious violence is one of many areas where the West seems to be traveling in the opposite direction to the rest of the world; just as European countries are introducing gay marriage, elsewhere many states are becoming increasing intolerant about sexuality; while countries like Britain are increasingly secular, Kuwait and Brunei are just the latest non-Western states to introduce harsher laws against blasphemy and apostasy. In our country ‘diversity’ is repeated like a mantra, yet in much of the world historic, ancient minorities are being driven out by majorities.

Perhaps this escalator trend has helped blind people in the West to what is going on elsewhere, complacently believing that non-secularists are on the wrong side of history. Maybe we are and just don’t know it yet.

Until a year or so ago Christian persecution had been largely ignored in the British media, the victims being “too Christian” to excite the Left and “too foreign” to excite the Right, in the words of French philosopher Regis Debray. However a number of publications have helped to highlight the problem, among them Persecuted, Christianophobia and The Global War on Christians, and several politicians have raised the issue recently. Most recently Ukip’s Nigel Farage suggested that Christian Syrian refugees be given preference, something that caused outcries in the social media on the grounds that it discriminated and was therefore the worst thing ever.

Perhaps. But as I argued in my ebook, The Silence of Our Friends, the Middle East has proved to be a curious testing ground for philosopher Garrett Hardin’s theory of Discriminating Altruisms. He pointed out that a world without discrimination was impossible because those people and groups who did not practise selective altruism would make way for those that did. In the Middle East Shia states support Shia groups, Sunni states support Sunnis, and Israel protects Jews, who had they not fled there would unquestionably have faced the same pressures as Christians do. Christian countries do not discriminate, and while universal altruism is theoretically just, it is probably no coincidence that Christians are by  far the most persecuted religion on earth, accounting for 80 per cent of all victims and facing ‘restrictions and hostility’ in 111 countries. (And I say this as someone who supports accepting Syrian refugees of any stripe.)

That doesn’t mean we need to send out a gunboat; in fact my main recommendation is that Christians in the West chart, record and publicise persecution as accurately as they can, so that policy makers can have little excuse not to address it, and this is just what Open Doors are doing with their annual global survey of Christian religious freedom. It would be a shame if it was left to Russia, which is very much on the other side of the morality gap, to become the defender of the persecuted Church.