The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution
John L. Allen Jr.
320 pp., $25.00
Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack
328 pp., $26.00
Their Blood Cries Out
Shortt and Allen know that such questions are germane, but they are also impatient with how otherwise legitimate inquiries get in the way of seeing multiplied instances of egregious human tragedy. Both authors, for example, record the story of Aasiya Bibi (or Aaasi Noreen), a Pakistani Catholic imprisoned in 2009 for blasphemy, the next year sentenced to death and fined 300,000 rupees (a staggering sum), and held since that time in solitary confinement pending appeals. The occasion for this prosecution could hardly seem more trivial. This mother of five, from peasant stock in the Punjab, was harvesting berries under a blistering sun when she drank from a local well that local Muslim women considered sacred to their religion. An exchange of words followed during which Bibi was accused of slandering the Prophet.
The sequel gets worse. Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab and a Muslim, protested Bibi's trial as a miscarriage of justice, but then he was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards, Mumtaz Qadri, who objected to Taseer's complaints about the Pakistani law against blasphemy. At the trial of this killer, spectators showered the defendant with rose petals; the judge who passed sentence on the accused fled the country out of fear for his life.
Another official who protested against Bibi's treatment was Shabbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister of minority affairs and as a Catholic the only non-Muslim in the national cabinet. Like Salmann Taseer, Bhatti not only began an official investigation but also visited Mrs. Bibi in prison. He was shot and killed on March 2, 2011, by an assassin who remains at large.
The most unusual aspect of this incident is the publicity it received outside of Pakistan. That coverage responded to the self-sacrificing efforts of Taseer and Bhatti, but also to a book written clandestinely by a French journalist with Mrs. Bibi's cooperation. Other incidents—though involving much more violence, many more fatalities, but also much less international publicity—have become routine in Pakistan and many other parts of the world.
The carefully documented case studies that fill these books are important for many reasons. Most obvious is the breathtaking range of human brutality they describe that has been—and is being—visited on many types of Christians. The violence also falls metaphorically on principles of religious freedom and simple humanity. It is not pleasant reading. Whether perpetrated by Islamists in much of the Arab world and quite a few places beyond; radical Hindu nationalists in India; dictatorial regimes in Belarus, Cuba, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Eritrea, and elsewhere; and not excluding violent attacks by Christians on other Christians in Russia, Mexico, Colombia, and a few other places—whether by torture, rape, solitary confinement, decapitation, fatal beatings, gunshot, car bombs, and more—the blood of the victims, with the aid of Shortt and Allen, cries out.
A second, somewhat reassuring awareness prompted by the books, however, is to realize that many others have been paying attention. A few academics like Daniel Philpott, Timothy Samuel Shah, and Monica Duffy Toft are commended by both authors for their careful studies of religion, violence, and political systems. But mostly that work is being carried out by self-sacrificing ad hoc agencies—including Aid to the Church in Need, Barnabas Aid, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, Christian Freedom International, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide—which have been faithfully documenting such abuses (and also abuses against members of other religions) for a long time.
Another salutary effect of these books is to compel humility. Shortt and Allen do not shrink from showing that if Christians of various kinds now suffer disproportionately from religiously inspired violence, that is no cause for moral smugness. On this score, they could have quoted Montesquieu's Persian Letters: "I can assure you that no kingdom has ever had as many civil wars as the kingdom of Christ." Or Albert Raboteau's well-considered conclusion that "the suffering of African American slave Christians" at the hands of other Christians is "the prime example of the persecution of Christianity in [American] history." A checkered history should not paralyze a needy present, but neither should it be forgotten.
The authors—Shortt somewhat fuller in documentation and geographic comprehension, Allen somewhat more direct in drawing conclusions for edification and action—explore many other compelling issues. They show, for example, that "the Arab spring" has become a "Christian winter" throughout much of the Middle East. Allen also explains convincingly why, when considering outcomes, there is not a great deal of difference between believers killed because they are Christians and believers killed because their Christian callings put them directly in harm's way.