The Easter bombings in Sri Lanka were a stark reminder that we live in a world defined increasingly by ethnic and religious hatred. The terrorists who slaughtered at least 250 innocent people in churches and luxury hotels were deliberately targeting Christians. Whether or not the local jihadi group explicitly wished to replace the caliphate lost by Isis, there is no doubt that this was an attack on Judeo-Christian values. Secular governments are often irritated and bewildered by the resurfacing of old prejudices. But they must grapple with them. According to the charity Open Doors, 245m Christians worldwide face persecution. In India, the ultranationalist Hindu message of Narendra Modi’s government suggests that both Muslims and Christians are, at best, second-class citizens. In the UK, nine MPs resigned from the Labour party this year partly over concerns at the growing tide of anti-Semitism in its ranks. The Conservative party ran a London mayoral campaign in 2016 with unpleasant overtones against the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, who is Muslim.
The first time a moderate, educated Muslim woman told me about the hatred she felt from fellow bus passengers, I was shocked. Since then, I’ve heard many similar stories. Ugly prejudice is on the rise. The UK is also struggling with growing sectarianism, illustrated by religiously motivated murders such as that of Asad Shah, an Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow, by a Sunni Muslim taxi driver. Hand-wringing will not solve this. But I am troubled by the recent drive to persuade the British government to introduce a legally binding definition of “Islamophobia”.