By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, NOV. 23, 2012 (Zenit.org).- More Christians are under threat than any other faith group, some two hundred million, according to a recent book published by journalist Rupert Shortt.
Shortt, the religious editor of the Times Literary Supplement and author of several books on religious topics, recently published his latest book, “Cristianophobia,” (Random House).
Well before the September 11 attacks, many Christian communities were faced with severe problems of intolerance, he noted in the book’s introduction, and in the last decade the problem has worsened dramatically.
“This ought to be a major foreign policy issue for governments across a vast belt of the world,” he stated.
Shortt highlighted the many difficulties faced by Christians in a large number of Muslim-majority countries. Those who convert to Christianity in such countries face harsh penalties and there is also a risk that Christian churches will vanish from their biblical heartlands in the Middle East, he observed.
He cited a 2008 survey carried out by Freedom House which demonstrates that while some religiously free Muslim countries do exist, such as Senegal, they are the exception.
"Is there a problem with Islam or such?" Shortt asked. There are elements of Islam that do justify violence, but he also judged that selective quotation from the Qur’an does not prove a great deal.
It is the case, however, he continued that the right to criticize the dominant faith is more limited than in Christianity. As well, Islam has not developed as Christianity did by becoming more self-critical and tolerant.
His book, Shortt specified, is not based on a premise of a supposed clash of civilizations, and he was not uncritical of Christianity’s shortcomings in the past.
Faith, he pointed out, has mobilized millions of people to work for democracy and support human rights, as well as working to relieve human suffering. It has also, however, played a part in civil wars and conflicts.
Egypt is one of the countries examined by Shortt and he pointed out that the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak did not bring any relief to the difficulties faced by Christians.
After documenting a large number of cases of persecution in the years prior to the Arab Spring Shortt went on to describe various episodes of anti-Christian acts following the overthrow of the government in Egypt.
In another chapter Shortt looked at the situation in Iraq, saying that few Christian populations have suffered as acutely as Iraq’s in recent years. The difficulties have led to an exodus of Christians, whose numbers in Iraq have gone from an estimated 1.2 million to fewer than 200,000.
It would be wrong to think that Saddam Hussein’s regime protected Christians, he argued, as Christians suffered displacement and discrimination in past decades. The situation did, however, worsen dramatically after the American invasion in 2003 with both clergy and the Christian faithful being targeted by extremists.
By early 2011 no less than sixty-three churches had been bombed or invaded since 2003.
Many in the West are ignorant of the rich history of Christianity in the region, Shortt commented. For many centuries Iraq had a flourishing Christian community with a rich cultural life and a large number of churches and monasteries, but the prospects are now very bleak for Christians.
Turkey, Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia are other countries covered by book, but Shortt also looked at some non-Muslim majority nations. He chronicled the many acts of persecution faced by Christians in India as well as harsh government restrictions in China.
Shortt also briefly examined some other countries such as Cuba and Venezuela. In relation to Cuba he noted that one resemblance between Muslim governments and communism is the denial of alternative sources of authority.
The situation of Christians has improved in recent years he admitted, but Cuba cannot yet be classified as an open society.
Shortt argued in his conclusions that injustices committed against Christians are under-reported. In part, he said this is due to a conventional wisdom that considers religion as a greater cause of conflict than other factors.
Since many hold that religion is an irrational source of violent behavior sympathy for the plight of believers is withheld. Shortt also judged that in some former colonies of Western nations Christianity is seen by some to be an offshoot of imperial power and that Christians in countries such as Pakistan are viewed as some kind of anomaly.
Shortt finished on a mildly optimistic note, expressing the hope that just as Christianity has evolved so too will Islam. To what extent this will happen is hard to say, he admitted, but he concluded by affirming the virtue of hope. It is a virtue that many Christians are going to need in large doses as they continue to face very difficult circumstances.