The assault on Christians living in Muslim nations has reached boiling new levels as members of Egypt’s Coptic Church continue to be the target of increasingly violent attacks from Muslims. According to Coptic Christians living in Cairo, Muslims looted and burned St. Mina’s Church and the Church of the Virgin Mary and attempted to burn St. Mary and St. Abanob Church. Twelve Christians were reported to have been killed, although official government accounts say that the final tally was six Christians and six Muslims dead.
According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), approximately 3,000 Salafi Muslims participated in the attacks, even as Egyptian troops and police did little or nothing to stop the violence. Salafists are strongly influenced by the ultra-fundamentalist Wahabbi teachings that dominate the mindset of Al Qaeda and like-minded terrorist organizations. In addition to the dozen dead, over 200 Christians were injured in the violence according to AINA.
The Egyptian government downplayed the violence, essentially portraying the incidents as unfortunate misunderstandings between Christians and Muslims and calling on Christians to forgive and reconcile with Muslims. This strategy attempts to divide responsibility for the violence equally among the two religions, while the reality is that the Coptic minority is doing nothing to provoke the Muslim majority – except refusing to abandon its Christianity.
Approximately ten per cent of Egyptians are Christians (the vast majority of those are Copts), while the overwhelming remainder of the population are Sunni Muslims. This is not, therefore, a squabble between two equally powerful and influential groups. This is bullying, plain and simple. If the new regime in Egypt is not actively encouraging persecution of the Christian community, it’s certainly not doing anything to discourage such outrages either. The Coptic Bishop of Giza, Anba Theodosius, took the government to task for abandoning Egypt’s Christians. “These things are planned,” he said. “We have no law or security, we are in a jungle. We are in a state of chaos. One rumor burns the whole area. Everyday we have a catastrophe.”
Under Mubarek, the Salafists kept their more violent and extremist tendencies in check for the most part. If and when they crossed the line, Mubarek’s very effective (and yes, often very brutal) security forces came down on the transgressors hard. There is little to hold the fundamentalists in check any longer, so they continue to push the envelope in order to find out how much they can get away with. The early returns suggest that the government isn’t going to do anything to restrain them anytime soon.
The mainstream media in the West is blissfully oblivious to the religious warfare that’s consuming Egypt of course. Having declared the Egyptian revolution a wonderful development, they can hardly be expected to acknowledge the ugly violence and bigotry that’s spreading throughout that ancient land. The New York Times, for example, wrote off reports of violence as a dispute fueled by unemployment woes and other economic pressures. Why economic pressures led members of one religion to attack the places of worship of another religion with Molotov cocktails was not explained in the Times’ coverage.
But, we have seen the mainstream media ignore religious persecution many times before, most recently in Iraq. It is sublimely ironic that a war of liberation led by the world’s most religiously tolerant nation, which was in turn led by an evangelical Christian President like George W. Bush, should result in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Christians. Yet, that is exactly what happened in Iraq. The Christian community in that nation was small, but historically quite significant, with roots that reach back to the founding of Christianity itself. No matter. Once the Muslim-dominated government of Iraq took control of the nation after liberation, Christians living there found themselves subject to more and more persecution. To date, the Christian community in Iraq has decreased by more than fifty per cent since Saddam was dethroned.
Fundamentalism has been on the rise in the Islamic world since Khomeini displaced the Shah and there are no signs that suggest the trend is shifting anytime soon. In Iraq, we saw that even the world’s only remaining superpower isn’t strong enough to head off the religious persecution that is so much a part of Islam. An Israel under siege more than ever emphasizes the point. And, if we needed any further proof, the fate of the Coptic Christians in Egypt demonstrates more than ever how the “religion of peace” is anything but that – especially when it has the power to enforce its main tenet if jihad.