Is “phobia” the right term for religious intolerance?

ParliamentParliament in Britain has scheduled a debate on Christianophobia for Wednesday and interest in it seems to be almost zero. It’s on the parliamentary agenda and the BBC has done a story on it. But the usual Google searches find no other articles about it and few blog entries (for example here, here, here or here).

OK, it’s not the hottest topic right now and there’s a much bigger religion story out there today — the return of “teddy row teacher” Gillian Gibbons from Sudan. But that’s not all.

Christianophobia doesn’t seem to be catching on as a useful term denoting a clear injustice to Christians. There was disagreement about it among Christians when the Vatican led a successful drive about three years ago to have it recognised as a social evil equivalent to the hatred of Jews or Muslims. The United Nations adopted the term and reports regularly on cases of Christianophobia, but these reports have little impact.

Coffins of 15 Pakistani Christians shot dead in church by gunmen, Bahawalpur, 29 Oct. 2001Human rights groups regularly document clear cases of persecution of Christians in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to mention only the most frequently cited offenders. Christians such as British MP Mark Pritchard, who initiatied the parliamentary debate, express concern about the way Christian traditions such as Nativity plays are being sidelined in western societies. This recalls the criticism of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI that Europe is forgetting its Christian roots .

All this is happening, but is a word ending in “-phobia” the right way to describe it? A phobia is an irrational fear. Fear can certainly be one of several motivating factors in anti-Christian views. But aren’t we really talking about prejudice, discrimination and persecution here? Aren’t those who persecute Christians or try to keep Christianity out of the public sphere doing this out of their cold calculation of their own interests?

Italian far-right uses pig to “desecrate” future mosque site

A pigItaly’s far-right Northern League has come up with some provocative ways to protest against the construction of mosques. One of its members, Senator Roberto Calderoli, has called for a “Pig Day” to demonstrate against a planned mosque in Bologna. In December 2006, protesters left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque being built in Tuscany. Their latest idea was to parade a pig around the site of a planned mosque in Padua last weekend to “desecrate” the property.

Italy’s Sky TV has the video here. It’s in Italian but you’ll get the point.

The woman leading the protesters is former deputy Education Minister Mariella Mazzetto, a Northern League member. She told the journalist: “We have blessed the ground that the city of Padua wants to transfer for the mosque … It is a question of defending Italian identity.” Muslims and non-Muslims joined in denouncing the protest.