Gerry Farrell: Church should remember Good Samaritan

Pope Francis. Picture: AFP/Getty
Pope Francis. Picture: AFP/Getty
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MY wife wrote a letter and sent a tweet to Pope Francis a fortnight ago.

Being Hungarian and a Catholic, she was seriously upset by the silence and inaction of the Hungarian Catholic Church over the refugee crisis in her country.

Ordinary Hungarians have banded together to create Migration Aid, an organisation to help feed and clothe the refugees, most of whom have fled Syria and Afghanistan with their children in fear of their lives. Meanwhile, instead of helping, the Hungarian government has demonised these people via poster campaigns, put up a £12 million razor wire fence and beaten and tear-gassed refugee families at the Hungarian border.

She was particularly appalled by the Hungarian cardinal who said that to help refugees would be “people trafficking”. She wrote to him as well, enclosing a copy of her letter to the Pope.

Now, we have no idea whether the Pope read my wife’s tweet and letter or not. However, three days after she sent them, this is what he said: “I appeal to the parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines throughout Europe to express the reality of the gospel and accommodate a family of refugees. The world is called to give the refugees real hope and simply inviting them to be brave and patient is not enough.”

We’ve also no idea whether the Hungarian cardinal read either of the letters. But a few days later, he said his words had been “misinterpreted” and pledged his support to the refugees.

That might sound like progress. However, in a subsequent interview with the Washington Post newspaper, one Hungarian bishop, Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, said: “I agree with our government, they’re not refugees. This is an invasion. They come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar.’ They want to take over.”

My missis was really hacked off with all this by now. She wrote to the bishop. She reminded him of the parable of the Good Samaritan who fed, clothed and gave money to a Jew he found lying injured at the side of the road, despite the fact that the Jews and the Samaritans traditionally despised each other.

“How can you claim to be Christian when you won’t obey the most important commandment, to love your neighbour?” she asked.

So far, he hasn’t retracted his statement, but we live in hope.

UK is complict in Saudi torture

In the Edinburgh Dungeon you’ll find a medieval torture chamber. There are implements in there for removing fingernails, ripping off breasts, hanging people from the wall and winding out their intestines while they’re still alive.

It would be comforting to imagine that by the 21st century we might have made torture a thing of the past. You’d like to think that citizens accused of criticising their country’s government wouldn’t be tortured into signing false confessions by the state police. And it would certainly be a relief to get some official reassurance that British companies weren’t selling torture equipment to unscrupulous foreign regimes.

Unfortunately that isn’t the way the world works. This year the British government sold at least £12 billion worth of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Last year there is strong evidence to suggest that with UK government approval, a British firm sold 8000 electronic stun batons to the Saudi prison authorities. These are the ideal torture weapons because they can deliver excruciatingly painful electric shocks to any part of the body for hours without leaving any visible marks.

Saudi Arabia is one of the regimes on the British Foreign Office’s human rights blacklist but that hasn’t stopped this kind of trade. There’s a real fear in British Government circles that criticising the Saudis for anything will have financial repercussions.

This hypocrisy was highlighted for me when I was given a tour of 10 Downing Street this year. In the Cabinet Room itself, resting on a rectangle of green baize, is a ceremonial sword, very similar to the kind Saudi executioners use to behead people. It has an ivory handle. Ivory is an illegal import so strictly speaking the British Government should not have accepted the gift. Rather than offend the Saudi royal family by sending it back, however, the sword is kept permanently on its green baize mat, meaning that Foreign Office lawyers can claim it is still “in customs”.

Heaven forbid we should jeopardise any arms deals. Perhaps this is why the British Government has said nothing to the Saudi regime about its latest plan to crucify a child for criticising the government’s repressive policies. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was just 17 when he was arrested for taking part in an illegal demonstration.

He was initially detained in a juvenile offenders facility but since then, clear evidence has emerged that he was tortured and forced to sign a confession. He was subsequently denied access to a lawyer then sentenced to death by crucifixion. Crucifixion in Saudi Arabia is more compassionate than it used to be. These days, they behead you first than crucify the body and display it in public for three days – presumably to deter anybody else from criticising the regime.

What could the UK Government do to prevent Saudi Arabia from torturing and executing juveniles? Well, perhaps they could abandon their “Just Solutions International” project. JSI is the commercial arm of the Ministry Of Justice and it “offers tried and tested products and services from one of the largest and most integrated offender management systems in the world”. One of the projects they’ve already been paid for is to “conduct a training needs analysis for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia prison service staff”. In other words, we are advising one of the most barbaric prison services in the world on what kind of specialist training its officers need.

Somebody wise once said “a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money”. The Swedish government just cancelled arms contracts with Saudi Arabia worth £900 million because of the regime’s appalling human rights record. Is our own government likely to follow suit? Don’t hold your breath.

What’s the big idea?

Our Leithers Don’t Litter campaign has touched a nerve. We have 693 followers on Facebook. We signed up a further 70 people on Leith Walk. The Port Of Leith Housing Association donated some money so we could buy badges. We’ve had a pledge of solid support from the Hibs Community Foundation. This newspaper has lent its support and we’ve also been interviewed live on STV Edinburgh. But if we really want to change attitudes we need to set an example; we need to be seen to be cleaning up our neighbourhood. The council do their best but they can’t pick up after every litter-lout and dog-fouler. So we’ve organised our first major clean-up. It’ll be on Saturday 17 October from 10am till 1pm. If you haven’t already put your name down, go to our Leithers Don’t Litter Facebook page today and register for our Big Autumn Clean-Up.