British journalist Rupert Shortt documents and examines the persecution of Christians around the world – a problem of which many Westerners are unaware.
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Regarding the Muslim world, Shortt demonstrates that the problem is not merely one of rampant religious fanaticism, which sometimes means that there are groups worse off than Christians (Bahais in Iran, Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan), but involves deliberately blurred definitions of the sources of legal authority. For instance, in several countries, constitutional and other guarantees of religious freedom and women’s rights are often vitiated by the proviso that legislation must not violate Sharia. The author observes of the Pakistani government, one such example, that “taking away with one hand what it has given with the other” falls within its means.Skip to next paragraph
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In addition to Pakistan, Shortt provides a solid overview of discrimination against indigenous or long established Christian communities in the predominantly Muslim states of Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia, as well as the horrendous violence targeting Christians in Iraq, though he does not probe the mindset of Islamists keen to exterminate this defenseless and dwindling minority. The author also illustrates the extreme vulnerability of Muslim converts to Christianity; according to most interpretations of Islam, apostates deserve the death penalty. Possibly because of their large numbers and international media attention, the Iranian converts whose stories Shortt relates have, by his admission, generally been spared torture while in custody. But he shows that from Egypt to Pakistan, extreme physical violence, including murder, is the usual treatment for ex-Muslims. The perpetrators are vigilantes – sometimes including family members of the victims – or the security services, even in those Muslim countries (the majority) that do not explicitly outlaw apostasy.
In the book’s incisive concluding section, Shortt plunges into the prickly question of whether longstanding Muslim attitudes to non-Muslims are intrinsic to Islam, and therefore possibly unregenerate. He emerges with a powerful and heartening reminder of Islam’s historical malleability over the issue of “People of the Book.” The Quran confers this status upon Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sabians, and those “who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness.” During the days of Islamic rule in India, several Muslim political leaders as well as religious scholars decreed that Hindus fall into this category, thereby demonstrating – perhaps unintentionally – that Islamic tenets can be refined.
Yet Islamic doctrine prescribes discrimination against non-Muslim “People of the Book,” which is what Christians and others in much of the Muslim world remain in practice, even if they have become full citizens in theory. They are to be tolerated in exchange for their submission to Muslim political authority and acceptance of social disadvantages. Shortt refrains from recommending specific actions, but for non-Muslim “people of the book” to become equal citizens, and for Muslims who abandon Islam to gain acceptance, it is evident that a two-pronged approach is critical. Christians in the West will have to lobby their governments, while moderate Muslims in the Islamic world will have to close ranks with their Christian compatriots against the forces of religious tradition, repression, and violence.