'Dungeon, fire and sword': Global persecution of Christians

Burning church, Pakistan

Journalist John Allen has compiled a detailed catalogue of current persecutions of Christians - and asks why is so little being done about it?

The Global War on Christians: dispatches from the front lines of anti-Christian persecution by John L. Allen  (Image)

- Review by Benedict Rogers for The Tablet

Following the screening of a documentary film, Faith of our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs, parishioners were asked how they would respond to such persecution were it to occur today. It seemed a purely hypothetical question. Yet for many Christians across the world today, persecution is a reality they face every day.

In the past year, three major books have focused on the persecution of Christians across the world: Rupert Shortt’s Christianophobia, Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea’s Persecuted, and now the indefatigable US journalist and leading Vaticanologist John Allen’s The Global War on Christians.

There is a large part of me that longs for someone to write a book that is not specifically focused on the persecution of Christians, but which examines the increase in the persecution of believers of every faith. It is not only Christians who are under attack for their beliefs much abuse.

It is in the interests of all of us to speak up not only for our own particular community of faith, but for the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief – as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That said, there is no doubt that Christians bear the brunt of religious persecution in the world today. Yet the story of the persecution of Christians in the twenty-first century, while receiving more attention than before, is still largely ignored. Too often, as John Allen argues, modern-day martyrs 'suffer in silence.'

Allen’s writing is engaging – it is personal, passionate and very human. He provides a wide-ranging survey of the countries where Christians are persecuted, from Eritrea to North Korea, from Pakistan to Nigeria, from Cuba to China and beyond.

Allen has been pulled up for some loose statistics (the number of Christians killed 'in situations of witness' are inflated by the inclusion of figures from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where large numbers of Christians are being killed, but not for reasons of faith). He should have been more careful: all statistics on persecution should be treated with caution, because of the question of criteria and definition.

What is not in doubt are the searing accounts of torture and abuse faced by Christians in almost every corner of the world. In Eritrea, Christians have been imprisoned in metal shipping containers. Me’eter, a 'concentration camp for Christians' in Eritrea is a military complex converted to hold religious prisoners. The description of their torture is graphic.

The unavoidable question, Allen asks, is 'why the abuse at Me’eter doesn’t arouse the same horror and intense public fascination as the celebrated atrocities that unfolded at Abu Ghraib, for instance, or at Guantánamo Bay. Why isn’t the whole world abuzz with outrage over the grotesque violations of human rights at Me’eter?'

But it’s not only Eritrea. Far from it. Allen produces a catalogue of horrors from almost all continents, and the perpetrators come from all directions: radical Islam, yes, but also militant Buddhism, Hindu nationalism, extreme secularism, communism and authoritarianism. Even, sadly, from within Christianity itself, one denomination suppressing another.

Full review: 

The Global War on Christians: dispatches from the front lines of anti-Christian persecution  (The Tablet)

Futher coverage:

Why the silence? There is too little uproard over the persecution of Christians (The Huffington Post)

Report: Persecution of Christians reveals most abuse in Muslim countries (The Jerusalem Post

Christians persecuted by Islamists, says Prince Charles (BBC)

Report: North Korea worst for Christian persecution (Fox News)

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi Addresses Crisis of Christian ‘Hemorrhaging’ (Time)

Stories of religious persecution and the silence of the secular media (ABC Religion and Ethics)

Can the Coptic Church survive? The Christian casualties of Egypt's struggle with modernity (ABC Religion and Ethics)


China's illegal detention of Christian Pastor (Sky News)


What would Muhammad do? (Counterpoint, ABC Radio National)

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