by Erin Rodewald // May 23
PBS launched a summer series this week called The Great American Read — a celebration of reading and a challenge to book lovers to weigh in on their choice for America’s best-loved novel. In the spirit of the PBS project, which showcases great fiction, I offer my own challenge: a sobering summer reading list that highlights the important nonfiction topic of international religious freedom (IRF).
Religious freedom conditions are deteriorating around the world. One need only scan the global headlines to recognize the grave consequences born of a disregard for religious freedom. We read of genocide, ethnic cleansing, rape, imprisonment, enslavement, forced displacement, forced conversions, intimidation, harassment, destruction of property, and marginalization of women and children. Indeed, nearly 80% of the world’s population lives in countries with high or very high levels of restrictions or hostilities associated with religious freedom.
This IRF Summer Reading List features a short selection of books that wrestle with the sobering themes of human dignity, religious persecution, and freedom of conscience. I encourage readers to include one or more of these titles alongside that great American novel this summer.
The Last Girl by Nadia Murad
In August 2014, Islamic State militants swept across the Nineveh Plains in a bloodthirsty campaign of murder and destruction. They targeted ancient Yezidi, Christian, and Shi’a communities, executing thousands and capturing women and young girls, who were then bought and sold as sex slaves. Nadia Murad was one of those young women, a witness to genocide and a survivor of unspeakable atrocities at the hands of ISIS. This is her “testament to the human will to survive, and a love letter to a lost country.”
They Say We are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz
They Say We Are Infidels is far from a sterile accounting of the atrocities meted out against the Christian community in Iraq and Syria after more than a decade of war. Rather, it introduces the real faces of conflict, the human predicament attached to a region afflicted by deeply rooted sectarian hatred and violence. Author Mindy Belz first stepped foot in Iraq in 2003 to report the stories few were covering. She did not go looking for Iraqi Christians, but over the next dozen years, it was the Christian community and its underreported plight that would draw her back time and again. Read a full review here.
Saturday People, Sunday People by Lela Gilbert
Lela Gilbert went to Israel to fulfill a lifelong aspiration of visiting the Holy Land – the only place in the Middle East where Jews, Christians and Muslims live side-by-side. She arrived in the midst of a war, but to her great surprise and delight, she remained for more than 10 years. In Saturday People, Sunday People, Lela recounts stories of everyday life in a country where navigating religious, political, and cultural currents can be perilous. Hers is a clear-eyed, first-hand account of the intrinsic beauty and struggle of Israel’s diverse people.
Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities by Farahnaz Ispahani
When Pakistan gained its independence in 1947, inclusivity was the watchword. Yet modern-day Pakistan is racked with radicalism and violence. While the nation holds regular elections and operates under a competitive multiparty political system, rule of law has been profoundly compromised. Islamist militants routinely carry out attacks against religious minorities with impunity under cover of draconian apostasy and blasphemy laws. In this book, former member of the Pakistani National Assembly Farahnaz Ispahani takes a penetrating look at how Pakistan’s policies toward religious minorities have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the wholesale erosion of a once-promising pluralistic and tolerant country.
Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh
Marziyeh Amirizadeh describes Iran’s Evin Prison as that notorious place where “people who committed crimes against Islam — which were also crimes against the regime — were held indefinitely, often tortured, and sometimes killed.” Marziyeh should know. She and friend Maryam Rostampour spent 259 days as inmates in this Hell on earth. Their crime? Sharing their Christian beliefs. Captive in Iran is the story of how these two messengers of the Gospel not only survived confinement and constant threats, but also brought a message of hope to fellow prisoners and guards.