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Modern Christian Martyrs

Category Book Reviews
Date April 26, 2013

Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack
By Rupert Shortt
London: Rider Books, 2012
320 pages
ISBN: 978 1 84604 275 1 (hardback) ISBN: 978 1 84604 276 8 (paperback)

Christianophobia is such an ugly, awkward word. In an age when everything is treated as a brand, Islamophobia seems to roll off the tongue. This has perhaps helped to push it to pole position in the hierarchy of hatreds. There must be some reason why talk of Islamophobia seems everywhere while one looks in vain for any mention in the media of the persecution of Christians.

In this long overdue gathering of material on the subject in all its aspects, it is soon made clear that, if the suffering of Christians is ignored and sidelined, it is not because it doesn’t happen or because of any deficiency in the kind of brutality which creates international outrage when other communities are the victims. Indeed, it provides compelling evidence that Christians are subject to a wider range of types of persecution than the adherents of any other faith.

Long before the end of this book, the reader feels he has supped full of horrors, but Shortt is keen to make us confront the subject matter full on and there is always more sickening material to come. Predictably one needs a strong stomach to read the evidence from North Korea, which he keeps almost to last.

Making his case country by country, Shortt describes the relatively well-known threats, the slow bureaucratic grinding down once routine in the Soviet Union, now prevalent in China. He also introduces us to less familiar ones: the existence of militant Buddhists in Burma or the tense community relations in some parts of India. Hindus sparked by envy show hostility to materially successful Christians, an echo of the predicament of Jews in much of Europe in the last century.

In the chapter on Pakistan, graphic details are given of the extent to which the accusation of blasphemy is blatantly used to intimidate. Christians live with murderous anarchy as a neighbour, for even children can be burned alive in their homes by a mob seemingly believing that a Koran was cut up and used as confetti at a Christian wedding. Shortt gives many such examples. Meanwhile, for those who believe the Arab Spring has changed Egypt for the better, there are tales of arson attacks on churches and Coptic Christians being attacked and mutilated by vigilante groups much as before. The only difference is that they are now told that Mubarak is not around to ‘protect’ them from ‘Islamic justice’.

Shortt suggests why such persecution goes unnoticed. He points out that it is rare, though not unknown, for a Christian to become ‘radicalised’ as a response to oppression. Taking their example from Jesus, Christians expect to be given occasions to turn the other cheek, one result of this perhaps being the displacement of Christian communities across the globe. They choose to leave rather than fight, including tragically those in its biblical heartlands. This situation can be contrasted with the response of Islamists who, having learned that the most effective bully portrays himself as a victim, make Christians suffer in Egypt for cartoons published in Denmark: a kind of theological butterfly effect.

However, Christianity also faces threats from the bien-pensant attitudes of many in the West. The kind of illogical thought which condemns the censure of any religion as racist indicates a pernicious ignorance. It is all too easy to believe the story of the Christian refugee children from the Middle East pulled out of assembly by overzealous teachers who assumed from their appearance that they were Muslims.

In this country we have had some incidents of anti-Christian prejudice: a nurse was sacked for offering to pray for a patient and British Airways tried to stop an employee from wearing a cross. However, compared to the stories Shortt tells from around the world such cases hardly amount to real persecution, for lives were not threatened. One hopes that Shortt’s comprehensive record will convey a message to those Christians in more fortunate circumstances and encourage them to be braver.

One thing that is heartening amid the relentless gloom of this book is the number of times the words ‘after international pressure’ occurs about some positive development. It remains to be seen if we in the West, privileged with religious freedom our co-religionists elsewhere can only dream of, care enough to exert that pressure.


Taken with permission from the Salisbury Review, Spring 2013.

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