Monday, June 23, 2014

'Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack' by Rupert Shortt

Rupert Shortt is a Christian from the U.K. who has written Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack. I received a hardcover copy of this book for free through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

The book systematically explores the ways in which Christian identity can cause people to be killed, imprisoned arbitrarily, violently assaulted, harassed, and/or unduly deprived of property. The chapters are arranged by country.

The first country is Egypt. Violent clashes between Coptic Christians and their Muslim neighbors have included:

- After an argument between a Christian trader and a Muslim trader in 2000 in the village of El-Kosheh, 21 Christians and one Muslim were killed. The Muslim who was killed was hit with a stray bullet.
- In November 2003, a person who was a convert from Islam to Christianity died while in police custody.
- When a Coptic church in Alexandria was accused of "insulting Islam" in October 2005 after putting on a play about how to resist forcible conversion, a mob surrounded the church and four people were killed.

Egyptian flag
Many of the countries discussed in this book are Muslim-majority, but the point of the book isn't to single out Islam for blame. Shortt makes a note of Senegal, a Muslim-majority country where people of other faiths enjoy a high degree of religious freedom. It is not Shortt's belief that Islam is an inherently violent religion. He points out that in many of the countries discussed in this book, religion, politics, and nationalism become entangled in a very complicated way that makes it difficult to determine the exact extent to which religious differences in and of themselves factor into violence. Most of these countries have exceptionally poor human rights records in general.

The second country discussed in one very much in the headlines today, making this book especially relevant. Although the Christian population of Iraq had fallen to around 200,000 in 2013, Christians have lived in Iraq since the second century C.E. Since 2005, Christian clerics have repeatedly been subject to kidnappings, torture, and even beheadings by both Shia and Sunni Muslims.

In Iraq's Persian neighbor, Iran, it's increasingly difficult to be anything other than a Muslim. The only religion to be banned outright is the Baha'i faith, but people who convert to Christianity from Islam are often arrested. The story is much the same in Pakistan.

The book's fifth country is Turkey. Murders of Christians are not unheard of in Turkey. Three Christians were murdered at a publishing company in April 2007, and a Catholic bishop was murdered in June 2010. Turkey has laws against "insulting Turkishness" and Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Orthodox Christians, and Jews are often suspected of being "not Turkish enough," no matter how long their families have lived in Turkey. Some parties increasingly associate Turkish nationality with Islam and are suspicious of any citizens who aren't Muslims.

Nigerian flag
The first African country to appear in the book is Nigeria. Nigeria has been in the news much recently because of a large-scale kidnapping by Boko Haram, a group discussed in this book. The problem in Nigeria is that the northern part of the country is largely Muslim, while the southern part is largely Christian, and the country's most fertile land falls in the middle. On Christmas Day 2011, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a series of bombings outside churches that killed 35 people. Another problem in Nigeria is that unmarried women who aren't Muslims are considered "prostitutes" and are subject to forced marriages and forced conversions.

Next is Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country. A particularly gruesome crime against Christians was the 2005 beheading of three teenage cousins as the girls walked to a church-run school. Buddhists and Ahmadi Muslims are also subject to persecution.

Finally we arrived at a country where persecution happens to Christians and Muslims alike at the hands of nationalists and followers of another faith: namely, Hinduism. Hindutva, a philosophy that associates Hindu identity with Indian nationalism, considers Christianity and Islam as suspicious because of their non-Indian origins. It's the same problem as in Turkey, just with a different religion.

Ditto Myanmar (which Shortt refers to as Burma). Myanmarese identity is being increasingly linked to Buddhism. Western people typically think of Buddhism as being a rather peaceful religion, but there are verses of Buddhist scripture that can be interpreted to encourage, or at least condone, violence. This shows us that any religion can be used for either peaceful or belligerent purposes.

Flag of Myanmar
Chapter 10 is about China, where imprisonment in work camps is common for Christians who are not part of the "official" state-sanctioned churches. Chapter 11 deals with Vietnam and also with what is probably the world's most dangerous place to be a Christian - North Korea. Although North Korea is thought to have as many as 500,000 underground Christians, professing faith in any religion can mean a death sentence in North Korea. In Vietnam, ethnic minorities such as the Hmong people are especially vulnerable to religious harassment and imprisonment.

Chapter 12 deals with "The Holy Land," i.e. Israel-Palestine, where Christians are sometimes subject to attacks by ultra-Orthodox Jews. Israel-Palestine is a very complex situation, and of course there is good behavior and bad behavior on the parts of Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and others) alike. Shortt has a good deal of sympathy - and rightly so - for Arab Christians whose free expression of their faith is curtailed as well as for innocent Palestinian Muslims who suffer for the sins of the minority who espouse violence. The author has less sympathy for evangelical Christians from the U.S. who insert themselves into Israeli-Palestinian geopolitics without a sophisticated understanding of the present reality.

The 13th chapter presents brief summaries of some other problematic areas of the world, including Belarus in Europe and, in the Americas, Cuba and Chile. Shortt notes, for example, that Cuba appears to be getting more restrictive since Raul Castro took over for his brother in 2008. Still, Shortt ends his book on a hopeful note.

Not only is this book an interesting supplement to what we regularly hear on the news regarding current events in Iraq, Nigeria, and elsewhere, it's also a good reminder of why freedom of religion (and freedom to choose no religion at all) is so important in modern multicultural societies. In the U.S., we often take our freedom of religion for granted. Yet we are no different from any other peoples of the world - able to fall victim to mob mentality, the ravings of charismatic sociopaths, and us-versus-them thinking like any other imperfect human beings in the world. All the more reason to cherish and protect our precious freedoms - and that includes standing up for other people, whether we share a religion with them or not, when their religious freedoms are threatened.

This is an affiliate link:

Understanding the Prophetic Times We Live In by ASR Martins. $10.26 from
This book is about the end-times. The aim of this book is to bring clarity and to counter confusion in the lives of many Christians regarding the end-times, especially regarding the prophetic time we live in at this moment. Clarity will equip and enable God’s children to follow His vision for, and in this time period we are living in right now.

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