In the introduction to his focused yet far-ranging
Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack, Rupert Shortt points out
that "[o]ne 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 'radicalized,' and
persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence."
Another reason for the silence, he adds, stems from the fear that
criticizing Muslims will prompt charges of racism. A third
explanation lies in the fact that many liberals in the West look
askance at Christianity in the developing world due to a simplistic
and often historically inaccurate belief that its spread was bound
up with Western imperialism.
Shortt, religion editor at the (London) Times Literary Supplement
and biographer of Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury),
begins with the premise "that freedom of belief and association are
unqualified goods" and proceeds to examine countries - including
several non-Muslim ones - that deny them to Christians.
Shortt relies on interviews he conducted in seven countries he
visited, reports released by international Christian aid
organizations as well as Amnesty International, and scholarly and
other books. In some ways, he follows in the footsteps of Paul
Marshall and co-authors, who have long written about persecution of
Christians and whose findings are among the references he cites.
Throughout, he eschews polemics and unhesitatingly criticizes both
historical and recent Christian violence against Muslims and others.
Shortt makes a very good point regarding the title of his book,
which, technically, would refer to fear of Christianity. "I am aware
that 'Christianophobia,' like 'Islamophobia,' is an elastic term,
perhaps implying a passive attitude, unlike the more active 'anti-
Semitism'; and that prejudice should be distinguished from more
overt forms of ill will manifested in state ideology or various
sorts of behavior," he observes. "However, neither 'anti-Muslimism'
nor 'anti-Christianism' has caught on, so Christianophobia seems to
me a valid term."
So, why are Christians discriminated against and even persecuted?
Reasons are varied, and Shortt strives, with a good deal of success,
to provide context. In Vietnam, China, and North Korea, all of which
are totalitarian and have been Communist to varying degrees, the
regimes fear alternative sources of authority, as well as some
Christians' association with the West.
This has also historically applied to Myanmar - which Shortt
refers to by the older name of Burma - though the situation is
changing there. It remains the case in Turkey, where the mere
presence of missionaries sends security services into a tizzy.
Myanmar, Indonesia, Turkey, and Vietnam are countries where
Christians are often also ethnically distinct from the majority
population, thereby highlighting differences.
Relying on the work of Eliza Griswold, Shortt explains that in
central Nigeria, an economic conflict was exacerbated by the
differing ethno-religious identities of two groups competing for
resources, though in the heavily Muslim north, where several states
have applied Sharia, the friction is more inherently religious.
Shortt's exploration of religio-cultural attitudes fueling anti-
Christian movements enriches his narrative. The chapter on India
(concentrating on the states of Orissa and Karnataka), proves most
informative, what with the author's discussion of Hindutva, or Hindu
nationalism. The treatment of Myanmar and Sri Lanka will disabuse
many a reader of comfortable assumptions, "[s]ince the standard view
of Buddhism in the West tends to be even more rose-tinted than that
Shortt's chronicling of Buddhist campaigns against Christians in
Myanmar and Sri Lanka is also notable given the more recent outbreak
of anti-Muslim violence orchestrated by Buddhist monks in both
countries. When it comes to Egypt, however, Shortt does not tackle
anti-Coptic stereotypes among ordinary Muslims (as opposed to
Islamists), of the sort that depict Copts as treacherous
manipulators of the economy, and the Coptic Orthodox Church as a
sinister and disloyal institution. …