Your excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
What an honor it is to be here today.
Thank you for the invitation to this significant event.
The very moment when my staff and I understood we had secured enough political support for the historic genocide resolution in the European Parliament, we said to each other:
”Now we’ll take it to the United Nations”.
And here we are.
At the same time; focusing on persecution of Christians has not always been an easy task.
When al-Qaida in 2011 attacked a Coptic church in Egypt, the foreign policy officials of the EU commission went to great lengths to avoid referrals to the Christian belief of the victims.
The text was amended to include the word ”Coptic” only after intense debate and political pressure from certain EU foreign ministers.
Three years later, in an op-ed-article published in Sweden’s leading newspaper I highlighted the fact that Christians in Iraq and Syria were being severely oppressed.
I wrote about Christians fleeing the region in alarming numbers, about the risk of extinction of the entire Christian minority and about Christians as the most vulnerable and persecuted religious group in the world.
The response from representatives of different political parties was indifferent and dismissive.
Facts were contested; personally I was accused of trying to ”mobilize Europe in a crusade against Muslims”.
The list of episodes like these is long and I believe it’s relevant to discuss this, because it sheds light on at least two important factors in today’s political context.
Factors that somehow clarify the blind-eye-attitude of Europe regarding the suffering minorities in the Middle East.
Notably Assyrians/Syriacs/Chaldeans and Yazidis.
The first factor is that both victims and perpetrators are incorrect and not consistent with conventional wisdom.
In a worldview influenced by political correctness Christians are considered colonialists and imperialists, while Muslims are considered oppressed and marginalized.
A situation where the perpetrators claim to represent Islam and the victims are Christian believers goes against a fundamental and widespread post-colonial assessment.
An assessment that has been widely adopted by decision makers and opinion leaders all over Europe.
We need to openly address this.
If we ignore the fact that, rightly or wrongly interpreted, religion is essential in the rise of Salafism and Jihadism, we will miss an important perspective.
Today we are able to confront the Islamic state. We are able, if there was a political will, to stop this organisation and its evil acts.
But without accepting the fact that they link their radicalism to their religious interpretation, we will ultimately fail to deal with the roots of the problem.
Political leaders and scholars in the Middle East are since long time having this discussion, and so should we.
Vulnerable groups and innocent civilians will otherwise pay the price for our wilful ignorance.
The second factor is about the explicit focus on Christians and Yazidis – which is frequently mistaken for an exclusive and unfair focus on only two specific groups.
We all know that focus on Christians and Yazidis is based upon very grave and well-founded concerns.
These groups are particularly vulnerable and systematically targeted.
Repeated testimonies, alarming reports and statements, undeniably confirm that they are at risk of being wiped out.
But again, let´s be clear:
Our focus is explicit – not exclusive.
”Protecting victims of persecution and fostering religious freedom worldwide” is the topic of this panel.
The free world has a responsibility to offer the protection and the security needed for victims of religious persecution.
We have a responsibility to assist in their efforts to return to their original homelands.
But in order to be successful, in order to foster religious freedom worldwide, we have to challenge our own preconceptions.
Of course Muslims in general are not responsible for the atrocities committed by the Islamic state.
Collective blame and condemnation of ethnic or religious groups is appalling.
But we have to overcome the fear to engage in a serious discussion on the roots of persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Recently I came back from Iraq – it was my second visit to these broken and war-torn countries during the last year.
This time I went to Alqosh and the deserted Christian town of Teleskof on the Nineveh Plains.
I met with ordinary people, soldiers, displaced persons, political representatives and Church leaders.
Generally I met with brave men and woman who have suffered so badly – without a substantial signal of hope, many of them consider giving up.
Giving up a place where your family have lived for generations, where your ancestors have farmed the land for centuries – that´s not an easy thing.
That breaks your heart.
Comprehension is important but might be painful; listening to the stories about human suffering, seeing the consequences of war and expulsion is overwhelming.
It broke my heart.
And it reminded me of what we have to do.
Let´s unite in the efforts to comfort our fellow human beings, our sisters and brothers.
Let´s unite in the efforts to get the ongoing genocide at the top of agenda of UN Security Council.