Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center
A little known fact: When Muslims persecute religious minorities in their midst, they often justify it by projecting the worst aspects of Islam onto the “infidels.” A well-known phenomenon, “projection” is defined as “the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people.” One academic article dealing with violence and projection states, “Projection allows the killer to project his (unacceptable) desire to kill (torture, rape, steal, dominate, etc.) onto some target group or person. This demonizes his target, making it even more acceptable to kill.”
Accordingly, anyone who listens to the last video made by ISIS inciting violence against Egypt’s Copts would think the Christian minority is oppressing the Muslim majority, hence the need for “heroic” ISIS to “retaliate.” Similarly, after ISIS slaughtered 21 Coptic Christians on the shores of Libya in 2016, it made a video portraying its actions as “revenge” against the Coptic Church, which ISIS bizarrely accuses of kidnapping, torturing, and forcing Muslim women to convert to Christianity. (Apparently the killing of nearly 60 Christians in a Baghdad church a few years earlier—which the jihadis then also portrayed as revenge to the Coptic Church’s forced conversion of Muslim women—was not enough).
When a Muslim cleric said that “whenever they [U.S.] invade a Muslim country, they strike on a Sunday. Always,” he too was projecting what he knows of Muslim attacks on infidels. Look to almost any report of Muslim mob uprisings against Christians and their churches, especially in Egypt, and they are almost always on Fridays—and naturally so: for that is the one day of the week when Muslims congregate in mosques for prayers, only to invariably hear sermons that rile them up against infidels.
But perhaps the best example is Ayat Oraby—the smiley-faced, pink-hijab wearing, Muslim woman and activist with many Muslim followers on social media. In a video she made some months back (around the same time that one authority said Egyptian Christians were suffering attacks “every two or three days”), this Muslim woman who often resides in America sought to foment as much hostility for the Copts as possible; and she did this by accusing them of doing to Muslims what Muslims are always doing to them. After calling the Coptic Church a “bunch of gangsters” and a “total mafia” that “rules [Egypt] behind the curtains,” she accused it of “stockpiling weapons in churches” and “striving to create a Coptic statelet” in an effort to continue waging “a war against Islam.”
Meanwhile, back in the real world—which consists of some 200 nations—Egypt is the 21st worst nation for Christians to live in, where they experience “very high persecution,” according to one Western authority. The abduction of Christian women and children and their forced conversion to Islam is par for the course; entire Christian villages and churches are regularly set aflame on the rumor that a Christian somewhere “blasphemed” against Muhammad on social media, or that a Christian man is dating a Muslim woman.
But many Muslims, such as this Ayat Oraby, ever seeing themselves as victims, are blind to such facts; their notions of reality are informed by Islam. And if Islam calls for constant hostility against the “other”—the non-Muslim, the infidel—who must be subverted or subjugated one way or the other, that must mean the “other” is constantly working to subvert and subjugate Muslims. This sort of thinking goes right to the beginning: the 7th century Islamic conquests—those wonderfully “altruistic openings”—are constantly portrayed, not as offensive warfare, but defensive. Muslims left Arabia, conquering and plundering their way through the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, and into France, to preempt the infidels who apparently were preparing to set off for Arabia to snuff out a nascent Islam. Such is how the discipline of history is regularly mocked in Islamic schools around the world.
Let’s return to al-Oraby and consider her claims one by one. She accuses Egypt’s Christians of controlling events “behind the curtains.” This is as ironic a claim as it is old. In 2010, prominent Egyptian cleric Khalid al-Jundi complained that in Egypt “Muslims have fewer rights than Christians, and even do not have the right to worship like Christians.” In reality and as is well known, Christian churches face immense restrictions; just talk of building one sets off mass riots and attacks on Christians. Facts speak plainly: there are 114,000 mosques in Egypt but only 2,000 churches; that’s 57 mosques for every one church, even though Christians are at least ten percent of the population.
Moreover, in a country where Islam reigns supreme, where Sharia (which mandates the subjugation of non-Muslims, a la the Koranic verse 9:29) is part of the Constitution, where Copts have been conditioned over centuries to be content with just being left alone—is it reasonable to believe that these selfsame, down-trodden “infidels,” who make up ten percent of the population, are planning a violent takeover of Egypt?
As for Oraby’s claims that Egypt’s Christians are “stockpiling weapons in churches,” and “striving to create a Coptic statelet” to continue waging “a war against Islam,” this is another tired charge. Muhammad Salim al-Awwa, former secretary-general of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, once appeared on Al-Jazeera and, in a wild tirade, accused the Copts of “stocking arms and ammunitions in their churches and monasteries”—imported from Israel no less, “the heart of the Coptic Cause”—and “preparing to wage war against Muslims.” He warned that if nothing is done, the “country will burn,” inciting Muslims to “counteract the strength of the [Coptic] Church.”
In reality, all that ever burns are Coptic churches at the hands of Muslim mobs and terrorists—as when nearly 70 churches were attacked and many destroyed following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi. As Coptic activist Mounir Bishai once put it: “Suddenly we [Copts] have shifted from complaints to self-defense, from demanding [our] rights to [trying to] convince the public that we are not depriving others of their rights… now we are being accused of amassing weapons… How have we suddenly turned from persecuted into persecutors, from the weak [party] into the strong and tyrannical [one], from the attacked [party] into the infamous attackers, and from the poor [party] into the rich exploiters? How did these lies become widespread, without us gaining any ground or improving our situation one whit?”
There is perhaps no clearer example of Muslim projection than in the field of theology, whereby Muslim doctrines are projected onto Christianity. For example, in the midst of the accusation that the Copts are stockpiling weapons to wage war on Muslims, the Al Azhar Scholars Front, which consists of Al Azhar alumni, declared: “Christianity…is constantly defining its overt and covert policy of eliminating all its rivals or degrading [the followers of other religions] and depriving them of every reason to live so that they will be forced to convert to Christianity.”
In fact, this is precisely what Islam does: through jihad, “eliminate all its rivals,” or, through the institution of dhimmitude, “degrade [the followers of other religions] and deprive them of every reason to live so that they will be forced to convert to” Islam. This is both historically and doctrinally demonstrable.
Similarly, when Bishop Bishoy declared that Egypt’s Christians are reaching the point of martyrdom due to the increase in persecution, this, too, was thoroughly “Islamicized” as a declaration of “war-to-the-death,” including by the al-Awwa, who, during his aforementioned Al Jazeera rant, asserted that “Father Bishoy declared that they would reach the point of martyrdom, which can only mean war. He said, ‘If you talk about our churches, we will reach the point of martyrdom.’ This means war!”
Of course, the notion that a martyr is someone who wages and dies in jihad, or “holy war,” is intrinsic to Islam (e.g., Koran 9:111). Even the authoritative Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary translates shahid (“martyr”) as “one killed in battle with infidels.” On the other hand, Christian martyrdom has always meant being persecuted and killed for refusing to recant Christianity—and this is precisely the definition that has for centuries applied to Egypt’s Christians, the definition that Bishop Bishoy clearly meant (see this article for more on the important differences between Christian and Muslim notions of martyrdom).
- Muslims regularly abduct, abuse, brainwash, and compel Christian girls to convert—and now Christians are accused of doing the exact same thing;
- Muslims regularly smuggle and stockpile weapons, including in their mosques—and now Christians are accused of doing the exact same thing;
- Muslims are constantly either trying to break away or conquer infidel nations—and now Egypt’s Christiana are accused of doing the exact same thing;
- Muslims seek to eliminate or subjugate the infidel according to the doctrine of jihad and dhimmitude—and now Christians are portrayed as seeking the exact same thing;
- Islamic violence regularly pops up on Fridays, and now Christians (or merely Westerners) are accused of targeting Islam on Sundays.
- Islamic martyrdom means killing others and oneself while waging jihad to empower Islam (see Koran 9:111)—and now Christian martyrdom, which has always meant accepting death rather than the renunciation of faith, is defined as the exact same thing.
This lengthy excursion into Islamic projections onto Christians using Egypt as a paradigm serves another purpose: it suggests that, if civilizational projection so pervades the Muslim world, despite reality, could that also be why the people of the West—most of whom either profess Christianity or are at least influenced by its ethics and mores—cannot accept the realities of Islam: because they too project the ideals of their religious heritage—one that preaches love and tolerance for enemies—onto Muslims and Islam?