A Faith Under Attack
by Robert Shortt
In the video he made in early 2005 before committing suicide and mass murder, Mohammad Sidique Khan, ringleader of the 7 July London bombers, justified his action as revenge for the recent killing of Muslims by Western armies. Much has been said since about the moral vacuity of this statement, but far less made of its sheer incoherence. Looking beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, and on a time frame stretching back well before 11 September 2001, we can see innumerable Christian communities on the defensive against rampant forms of intolerance, both religious and secular. The problem has worsened dramatically since the turn of the millennium: about 200 million Christians are now under threat, more than any other faith group. This ought to be a major foreign policy issue for governments across a vast belt of the world. That it is not tells us much about a rarely acknowledged hierarchy of victimhood.
Sidique Khan and his associates were allowed to practice their religion openly in Britain, yet there is scarcely a single country from Morocco to Pakistan in which Christians are fully free to worship without harassment. Muslims who convert to Christianity or other faiths in most of these societies risk harsh penalties. There is now a severe risk that the Churches will vanish from their biblical heartlands in the Middle East. The suffering is no less acute elsewhere. Before the partition of Sudan in 2011, for example, the regime in Khartoum was responsible for the deaths of 2 million Christian and other non-Muslim civilians over a thirty-year period. Before East Timor gained independence from Indonesia, 100,000 Catholic noncombatants were killed by agents of the Suharto government during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. As I write, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Amdullah, has officially declared that ‘it is necessary to destroy all the churches’ on the Arabian Peninsula, and 50,000 Christians are thought to have been ousted from the city of Homs in Syria.
Christians in parts of Nigeria live in regular fear of violent attack; what is more, there is clear evidence that the attitudes underlying such aggression are fomented through official channels. One reason why Western audiences hear so little about religious oppression in the Muslim world is straightforward: young Christians in Europe and America do not become ‘radicalised’, and persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence. Another explanation is linked to the blind spots that can affect bien-pensant opinion-formers. Parts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition. This has further distracted attention away from the hounding of Christians, helping to cement the surprisingly widespread idea that Christianity is a ‘Western’ faith.
Elsewhere in the West today, Christians are mocked or caricatured as soft targets by an irreverent media. Some complaints about these (very varied) developments are fair; others overlook the benefits of a free press and a robust public conversation; others again are in my view marks of special pleading. Whatever their status, though, none of the opinions, insults, or laws judged offensive by many Western Christians amounts to persecution as chronicled in this book.
Excerpt from Christianophobia: A Faith under Attack by Rupert Shortt, pgs. ix-xi, xxii, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.