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Giovanni Sale, Stati islamici e minoranze cristiane

Giovanni Sale, Stati islamici e minoranze cristiane (Islamic States and Christian Minorities), Jaca Book, Milan 2008

A historian by trade and a Jesuit by vocation, well known for his work on the Church and modern Catholicism, Giovanni Sale looks in this book at the recent historical evolution of Islamic states and the situation of their Christian minorities. He does so through a number of case studies that include the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, West Africa, the Maghreb, Iraq, plus an annex on Christians, Muslims and Jews living together in the Mediterranean. Some of the studies have already appeared in the journal La Civiltà Cattolica but have been reviewed, expanded and updated. Some cases like Palestine and Lebanon are not covered but justifiably so because they deserve a separate treatment and "do not represent, for now at least, significant examples of Islamic states."

 

The title clearly suggests what all these individual case studies have in common. Each study analyses the process of political-religious radicalisation observable in these Muslim nations and its impact on Christian minorities.

 

Given the limits imposed by the cases the author cannot go more into the broader issue of Islam's politicisation; sometimes he even makes questionable claims. For instance, he views Pakistan's Ali Jinnah as a moderate Muslim leader. This might be correct in cultural terms but not from a religious point of view since the latter was either agnostic or even an atheist. He also jumps the gun a bit in equating Sufi Islam and political militancy. Overall though, the book gives non-specialist readers a good introduction to a phenomenon that is front page news today.

 

Despite a variety of geographic, political and social contexts, a more or less homogenous picture emerges. In almost all the countries scrutinised the existence of formal legal guarantees has failed to protect religious minorities, not only because the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has progressively worsened the living conditions of Christian communities in the Islamic world but also because the legal status of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries has never been properly addressed.

 

Generally speaking, two situations exist. On the one hand, some countries have traditionally not had any significant Christian minority and have simply viewed Christians as outsiders. On the other, historical Christian communities have existed and do exist in countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire. Under the aegis of the empire, religious minorities were organised as millet, self-governing communities legally subordinate to Muslims but with substantial autonomy.

 

Despite the passing of the millet system, the status of minorities did not improve because equality within newly-created national states was only formal; leaving entirely unresolved the issue of how shared citizenship could actually work.

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