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Christians in the Muslim World

An Inquiry into a Massacre and Martyrdom

Author: John W. Kiser Title: The Monks of Tibhirine Publisher: St. Martin's Press, New York, 2002, pp. 352 French Edition: Passion pour l'Algérie, les moines de Tibhirine Publisher: Nouvelle Cité, Paris, 2006, pp. 478

This book by John Kiser tells the story of the kidnapping and murder of Rev, Christian Chergé and six of his Trappist monks of the Algerian monastery of Notre-Dame de l'Atlas in Tibhirine. The authors of this kidnapping and murder, and their specific motives, have still not been identified. From this point of view, this work reads somewhat like a detective novel. The suspense and the results expected of the inquiry would capture the enthusiasm of the lovers of American thrillers, even though here a real drama is narrated, and with all due seriousness and respect. The various scenarios are explored and in the end the mystery remains. This is without doubt one of the reasons for the great attention paid by the mass media to the murder.

 

But the second aim of John Kiser is to understand what, within the context of the history of Algeria, might explain the violence that struck seven innocent men, the victims, amongst thousands of other victims, of an increasingly violent armed struggle. Thus the political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of the Algerian malaise are addressed in all their complexity. Going back to the deep and ancient roots of the crisis, the author finally comes to pose a fundamental question: 'what is the identity of contemporary Algeria?' This question leads to a series of analyses that bestow upon this example of investigative journalism the richness of a historical study. This reflection on the causes of the violence that refers to Islam has become extremely topical after 11 September, the second Iraq war, the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, and terrorist attacks on a world scale.

 

Lastly, the third theme, which is intertwined with the above two, is the specifically religious, spiritual and mystical character of a human adventure that refers constantly to God. Thus the Christian monks accept the risk of dying because of their love for their neighbour, observing the single divine commandment left by Christ to the Evangelists: 'Love one another as I have loved you'. At the same time Islamic terrorists have launched themselves on a vast campaign of murders of innocent civilians in the name of verses from the Koran, also invoking the words of Allah. Through a galley of fascinating portraits up to the level of the tragic events that shake the monastery of Tibhirine, this detective story becomes a socio-historical analysis, and this becomes enriched by a reflection on the nature and forms of faith in the Catholic Church and in Islam, their respective relationships with decolonisation, the advent of the idea of democracy and inter-religious dialogue, all within a context of accelerating globalisation. Expressed in other terms, the death of the monks of Tibhirine continues to generate interest because one is also, and above all else, dealing here with what is a great event in the spiritual history of mankind.

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