*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

This suffering should be recognised

25 October 2013

Anti-Christian violence can stem from many sources, suggests Elaine Storkey

THIS autumn marks the 20th anniversary of Samuel Huntington's essay "The Clash of Civilisations". Arguing that in Europe the "velvet curtain of culture has replaced the iron curtain of ideology", Huntington went on to predict that the future driving force for international conflict would be culture and religion rather than geopolitics or economics.

For example, he said, the conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilisations was likely to become more virulent, and we could expect continued battles between Muslims and neighbours.

The essay, and the book that followed, were treated with derision by many of the intellectual élite. The writer Fouad Ajami was one of the first to insist that Huntington had "underestimated the tenacity of modernity and secularism" in places where they had previously been absent. This expanding mindset would act as a preventative force against civilisational conflict. Yet, just eight years later, the optimism of these critics was put to the test by the carnage of 9/11.

There are problems, of course, with Huntington's thesis. Some civilisations are vast - "Western civilisation" envelops countries and whole continents. Some civilisations, such as the Islamic, are religiously defined, with Arab, Malay, or Turkic subdivisions; others, such as China, have old religious undertones. And although civilisations have certainly clashed over the past 20 years, almost as many clashes have occurred within them. The conflict between Sunni and Shia shows that single religions may have their own fault lines.

The Roman Catholic writer John L. Allen offered another perspective ("The War on Christians", The Spectator, 5 October). He quotes the secular International Society for Human Rights, which says that 80 per cent of all acts of religious conflict have been directed at Christians. The Study of Global Christianity at Wenham, Massachusetts, reports that this translates to an average of 100,000 Christians killed each year for the past decade.

Huntington was right, in that many of these are Christians who have suffered at the hands of Muslim militia. But he was wrong in identifying Christianity simply as a subset of Western civilisation. Christianity is a global movement of 2.3 billion adherents. The Christians who have been maimed or raped are not those in North America or Europe, targeted by competing "civilisations", but are indigenous in those civilisations themselves, sometimes speaking the same language and eating the same food.

Over the past 20 years, two-thirds of the Christian population of Iraq has gone - exiled, or killed. A survey by the Pew Forum, in the United States, suggests that, from 2006 to 2010, Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in 139 nations.

Mr Allen cites recent examples from Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Burma, and Korea to reinforce this point. He insists, however, that this is not "limited to a clash of civilisations between Christianity and Islam". Hindu radicals were responsible for 500 deaths and 50,000 made homeless among Christians in Orissa. The 300,000 Christians who disappeared from North Korea, feared dead, were persecuted for refusing to join the cult around its founder, Kim Il Sung. Mr Allen's conclusion is: "In truth, Christians face a bewildering variety of threats, with no single enemy."

The debate over Huntington will continue, but a more urgent need is to address the human-rights violations and anti-Christian persecution across the world; vehement opposition to it has to be on the agenda of all civilisations.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)

*Until the end of June: we’re doubling the number of free articles to eight, to celebrate the publication of our Platinum Jubilee double issue.