The hidden persecution of Christianity

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A church burnt down in 2010, in Jos, Nigeria

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Christianophobia: a faith under attack

 By Rupert Shortt (Rider)

Reviewed by Catherine Pepinster

It was just a few weeks ago that the bishops of Nigeria warned that their people are living in fear. This week that fear proved justified when a suicide bomber rammed his car into a Catholic church in the northern city of Kaduna, killing at least seven people and injuring numerous others who had been attending Mass. This latest attack bore all the hallmarks of the Islamist organisation, Boko Haram.

In Christianophobia, Rupert Shortt notes that Boko Haram can be translated as ‘Western education is sinful’, pointing to one of the key reasons why Christians have been targeted, not only in Nigeria but in many other countries, by Islamist fundamentalists. Christians are seen as the storm troopers of the degenerate culture of Europe and the US. No matter that the Christians of these countries would probably be nearly as ill at ease in the secular West as their Muslim counterparts. Fundamentalists don't let the facts get in the way of their prejudice.

Shortt points out some very uncomfortable truths in this powerful analysis of the persecution of Christians. The politicisation of Islam and the growing conservatism of once-progressive adherents to the faith means that the days when Christianity and Islam could live side by side appear to have come to an end not only in Nigeria, but Iran, Iraq and Egypt, replaced not just by tension but by persecution of Christians, sometimes with fatal results.

Recent turmoil caused by war, as in Iraq, or by political uprising, as in Egypt (and more recently Syria) has led Christians to flee from the Middle East. Between a half and two thirds of the region's Christians have now left.

In the Holy Land, Christians in 1945 made up 20 per cent of the population; now the figure stands at 2 per cent, as they find themselves caught between the rock of Israeli nationalism and the hard place of growing Palestinian Islamic militancy. This diaspora is particularly heartrending, for the Middle Eastern communities are among the most ancient of the Christian world. Yet their attackers reject any notion of their right to belong there.

Shortt's account of prejudice and killing puts paid to any notion that persecution of Christians is something that went out with the Romans and their lions. Whether in Middle Eastern countries like Iran, or in Indonesia or Pakistan, the Christians particularly at risk are those deemed guilty of apostasy: those people who have risked their livelihoods, even their lives, to convert from Islam. While the Qur'an does not say that apostasy is punishable by death, post-Qur'anic texts urge this.

There have been many cases reported of human-rights abuses: Christians imprisoned, sacked from jobs, passports confiscated, and even tortured. Some of these reactions are due to the ideas that non-Muslims, especially apostates, are impure and so any physical contact with them, particularly with their bodily fluids, renders a Muslim defiled.

Charges of blasphemy are also life-threatening. Attempts to encourage a more tolerant attitude led to one of the most infamous crimes: the murder of the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minorities minister. He was killed by militants after he opposed the country's anti-blasphemy laws and supported Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned for allegedly insulting the Prophet. Another of her supporters, Salmaan Taseer, was also murdered; Bibi herself remains on death row.

So why is this happening now? Shortt's account identifies several causes, from Christians being caught up in political upheaval, made more complicated by Islamic fundamentalism, to the belief that Christianity is an imported vehicle for either Western values, or Western expansionism, or both….

- Catherine Pepinster is editor of The Tablet, the Catholic weekly

Full review: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/christianophobia-a-faith-under-attack-by-rupert-shortt-8274142.html

Review in The Tablet: http://www.thetablet.co.uk/review/637

Review on First Things: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/12/rupert-shortt-and-a-church-besieged

Read more on violence against Christians in Nigeria: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/violence-against-christians-moves-nigeria-no-7-list-terror-affected-nations

Buy this book: http://garrattpublishing.com.au/index.php/affiliatelist?id=154&affiliateid=29

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