France/Eastern Christians – Côte d’Ivoire – Afghanistan
Q. – France took in 37 injured Iraqis, who were victims of the 31 October attack on Baghdad’s Syriac Catholic cathedral, and expressed her shock a week ago after the attack on a church in Alexandria in Egypt. But sympathy, however necessary it may be, doesn’t make a policy. What does France intend to set about doing to help the Eastern Christians?
THE MINISTER – For a while we’ve been witnessing the development of a terror strategy which seems intent on driving Eastern Christians out of the countries they’ve always lived in. It isn’t in those countries’ tradition: on Arab soil it isn’t the Christians who are the outsiders, it’s the terrorists. Moreover, the two States in which the latest bloody attacks occurred – Iraq and Egypt – have institutions and governments which affirm freedom of expression for all religions. So terrorist actions directed at Christians target those States too. I talked about these issues, right here, with the Patriarch of Antioch three weeks ago. In Muslim-majority countries hit by Islamist terrorism, the Christian authorities are worried that the support and material assistance we’re able to provide here, for which they’re grateful to us, might become an incentive for people to go into exile: the Iraqi Christians’ home is Iraq, the Egyptian Christians’ home is Egypt. Those who feel threatened must obviously be entitled to the right of asylum, but this response, on our part, can be only case-specific. As regards the Eastern Christians, it’s time to go further than expressing shock and carrying out case-specific action, and formulate a genuine strategy and comprehensive responses.
Q. – What kind?
THE MINISTER – For us, anti-Christianity is as intolerable as anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism. There’s an urgent need to act. Next week, at the Forum for the Future to be held in Doha, Qatar, I intend to issue an appeal for tolerance and mutual respect between the three monotheistic religions. The Forum brings together the G8 countries and those of the Greater Middle East and North Africa. It strikes me as the right place to convey this message of tolerance and of general respect for religion, whether it be Christian, Jewish or Muslim. I’m going to begin a tour of the Maghreb, the Middle East and the Gulf, where I also want to convey this idea of tolerance and respect for freedom of conscience and religious freedom. It’s not only a question of principle. It’s through daily practice that results can be achieved.
It’s also important for the European Union to speak out on the subject in strong and concrete terms. Together with several of my European counterparts, in particular my Italian opposite number, Franco Frattini, I’ve approached Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs. I’m asking for the issue of the safety of the Christian communities in the Middle East to be included on the agenda of the forthcoming meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on 31 January. I hope, moreover, that it’ll be a question not simply of the Eastern Christians but more generally of respect for all religious minorities. It’s extremely important, because we must prevent the recent terrorist acts from sparking a backlash of stigmatization.
Q. – But what specifically can Europeans do?
THE MINISTER – Europeans must examine together how to contribute in a very concrete way, with the States concerned, to the safety of Christians in the countries where they live. In northern Iraq, for example, the Kurdish area is home to a large number of Christians who have taken refuge there since 2003. There are about 50,000 of them. In a case like that, couldn’t the European Union help the local authorities face up to this influx, so the refugees are received in the best possible way? (…)
Q. – What do you think about the statements by Roland Dumas [former French foreign minister] and Jacques Vergès, Laurent Gbagbo’s two French lawyers, who are calling for a recount of the vote in Côte d’Ivoire?
THE MINISTER – I thought it was a pitiful move. I fully understand that they’re M. Gbagbo’s lawyers, but professional activity doesn’t justify everything. I think it’s really pushing it for a former foreign minister, who should be intent on spreading the values of democracy, to play that game.
Q. – Can we still hope for the swift release of the two France 3 journalists held for more than a year by the Taliban in Afghanistan?
THE MINISTER – In hostage situations, kidnappers don’t live in the same timeframe as diplomats, let alone the families. I’m fully aware of the pain of the families, for whom every day of detention is one day too much. We’re acting with the Afghan government to secure a release as quickly as possible. (…)./.