Baroness Warsi: religious freedom remains a 'personal priority'

Baroness Warsi has repeated calls to the international community to take action against the persecution of religious minorities.

The UK Minister for Faith and Communities was speaking to an audience of Muslims at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman yesterday.

She reaffirmed that religious freedom is a "personal priority" and assured that she would continue to promote and protect "people's right to hold a faith, to manifest their faith, or indeed to change their faith".

"This is something which I believe is not only integral to personal identity but also leads to fairer, more secure and more progressive communities," she said.

She criticised the failure of British politicians to engage with issues of faith, stating her belief that "faith should be an important informer of public debate" and that "charities, voluntary organisations and individuals motivated by faith to serve their societies" must be supported by the government.

The Baroness also reiterated the need to protect religious minorities, saying they were "most welcomed and accepted in places where they are sure of their own identity", as she warned that "militant secularism creeping across our continent [is] alienating minorities rather than welcoming them".

She urged the UK not to "shirk from our responsibility as a staunch defender of religious freedom", and called for an increased and immediate international response to persecution.

"These are difficult and complex subjects, which have the potential to arouse passionate and emotional responses. But I hope my approach is from a position of hopefulness and optimism for the future," she said.

"I also feel it is a responsibility – a responsibility to use my privileged position in politics to highlight injustice and encourage tolerance."

Baroness Warsi has been a powerful voice in the fight for religious freedom and has consistently called upon the international community to take steps to address the rise in attacks on faith groups around the world.

In a speech at Georgetown University in Washington last year, she branded attacks on religious freedom "a dangerous and rising phenomenon" and raised especial concerns about the persecution of Christians.

"A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale," she said. "In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct."

She repeated these concerns in her address in Oman, saying religious persecution and particularly that of Middle Eastern Christians is a "tragic global crisis and it demands an international response".

She went on to praise the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, for his commitment to encouraging and facilitating the peaceful co-existence of different sects and faiths within his jurisdiction.

She said Oman was testament to the fact that "violent sectarianism is not inevitable" and that "right in the geographical centre of a troubled region, different sects can and do live side by side".