They wrote “Christian dogs” on his home. At school, his children were told by fellow pupils: “We can’t play with you, you’re Christians.” Sixteen years of persecution against Nissar Hussain and his family culminated in a brutal attack. He was hospitalised with a broken kneecap and fractured arm. He and his family now live in a secret location. Their crime? Being Muslim converts to Christianity.
Now an MP leading the Government’s inquiry into hate crime is urging people to raise their voices about anti-Christian hate crime in Britain.
“I have met victims, and myself been subject of abuse, and some years ago to threats of violence,” says David Burrowes, in reference to threats made against him for his opposition to same-sex marriage. The MP sits on the home affairs select committee which is conducting the “Hate crime and its violent consequences” inquiry.
Nissar Hussein wants the inquiry to bring about a sea change. “We’ve been victims of anti-Christian hate crime for 16 years, and let down by the police, political leaders and the Church,” he says. “They’re scared to offend Muslims. It’s the same mentality that allowed the Rotherham sexual abuse to happen. This inquiry has to take anti-Christian hate crime, including attacks against converts, much more seriously.”
Burrowes says Christians should not feel excluded from the remit of the inquiry, but cautions against rushing for prosecutions to remedy the situation. “Most of the abuse that I am aware of will not be solved by criminal sanction, but by a better understanding and respect for freedom of religion and belief and public manifestation of faith,” he argues. “These are matters which are not primarily the subject of the select committee but are relevant to an appropriate response to Dame Louise Casey’s review into integration. I would encourage Christians to consider the Casey Review and write to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid encouraging a better understanding of faith and belief.”
Anti-Christian hate crime statistics are hard to come by. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) inquiry submission says that between March 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016 there were 316 reports of hate crime against Christians – 7.3 per cent of the total of religious hate crimes for that period. The data was based on intelligence and not any formal system of reporting.
The Home Office 2015/16 hate crime report says there were 4,400 religious hate crimes recorded by police. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is unable to say how many of their cases involved Christians.
The inquiry received 82 written submissions, and has held three oral evidence sessions so far. Only one Christian organisation, the Barnabas Fund, had sent evidence focusing on the treatment of Muslim converts to Christianity.
The CPS and the Association of Chief Police Officers define hate crime as any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender.
“The definition of hate crime is very woolly and vague so it’s hard to pin down a definition, and there’s a strong political correctness element pervading the reporting,” says Dr Martin Parsons, head of research at the Barnabas Fund. “There’s a law and order concern too. Police acting on reports of hate crimes committed by Muslims are going to get a reaction from the Muslim community. It could lead to disorder.”
Yet Paul Giannasi, a member of the NPCC working group on hate crime, says police practice takes a “human rights approach: that we all share a right to be free from targeted abuse, including on the grounds of religious belief or atheism. We do not prioritise any religion over others.”
Last July the Home Office published Action against hate: the UK government’s plan for tackling hate crime. It was the first time such a strategy has recognised anti-Christian hate crime, including against those who change their religion. On the day it was issued two ISIS militants stormed a church in France and murdered Fr Jacques Hamel.
“I’ve been meeting with the Home Office two or three times a year, but the murder of Fr Hamel triggered something,” says Nick Tolson, director of church security organisation National Churchwatch. The Home Office has just awarded him £83,000 for an 18-month project investigating anti-Christian hate crime in England and Wales.
“I think the obstacle for the Home Office was realising that Christianity isn’t the majority religion,” he explains. “It’s a minority religion when you look at the actual number of church-going Christians.
“When I’ve got the evidence I think it’ll show that cases of anti-Christian hate crime are higher than all the other religions, and we’ll be using a much tighter hate crime definition, as the current definition is too wide. The evidence will help secure government resources and we’ll produce guidelines.”
Tolson, a former RAF and Hampshire police officer and ex-head of security at Wells Cathedral, gives 40 or so security seminars a year. “There’s a lot of low level hate crime,” he says. “Catholic priests getting verbal and written abuse about child sex abuse. They’re very isolated and suffer in silence. They’re worried about community cohesion and reactions.”
Pro-life groups face intimidation and threats. They are spat at, sworn at and have faeces thrown at them. Leaflets and signs are stolen. Their religion is mocked. That is not the same as criticism and counter-protest.
In Britain, converts from Islam are persecuted, clergy suffer in silence and pro-lifers are intimidated. But please, no snowflakery.
No calling every bit of criticism a hate crime. Yet with only one inquiry submission about genuine anti-Christian hate crime, it might be time for a little less curtain twitching about Vatican politics and a bit more civic and political engagement.
Daniel Blackman is a freelance writer