Describing Coptic massacres as 'sectarian clashes' makes the West look stupid

by - 18th May 2011

PAUL MARSHALL, the Hudson Institute researcher and media commentator whom I admire enormously for his relentless championing of disenfranchised Christians around the world, has a nice turn of phrase.

He says that describing the massacre of Christians in Egypt as ‘sectarian clashes’ is like describing KKK lynchings as ‘racial clashes’. But this is just what the media including the BBC are doing on a daily basis.

Here’s a few examples: ‘There has been an increase in sectarian clashes since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February.’ BBC Online 15 May reporting attacks on two churches with the death of 12 Christians. 

‘Tough measures promised following Christian-Muslim clashes that have killed 12 people and led to scores of arrests.’ Al-Jazeera 8 May

‘Over the weekend, fighting in Imbaba between hundreds of Muslims and Christians left at least 12 people dead, more than 200 wounded and two churches in flames, in the latest outbreak of sectarian violence since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.’ Time magazine 12 May

Now, ‘sectarian clashes’ implies equal fault. All religions are the same. As between religions, journalists must stand neutral (at least that’s what the law says its own stance is).

It’s like saying that (alleged) assaults by powerful men on chambermaids and journalists are ‘gender clashes’. 

Here’s what Paul Marshall had to say in the Weekly Standard earlier this week: ‘On March 20, in Qena, Salafists, including an off-duty policeman, accused a Copt named Ayman Mitri of renting an apartment to a prostitute, cut off one of his ears, mutilated his other ear, and slashed his neck. The attackers then informed the police that they had carried out the punishment required by Islamic law. As was usual under Mubarak, the police refrained from pressing charges and called for a “reconciliation” meeting between the religious communities.

‘Also as under Mubarak, the authorities’ refusal to punish attacks on Christians has led to more attacks. On March 23, Salafists surrounded St. George’s Church in Beni Ahmad and successfully demanded that a church expansion approved by the government be stopped.

‘On March 27, they blockaded St. Mary’s Church in Giza, saying it did not have a permit. After yet another “reconciliation” meeting between Copts and Muslims, services at the church were forbidden until it acquired a new permit.

‘On March 28, Salafists attacked a liquor store in Kasr El-Bassil owned by a Copt, destroyed other stores, and demanded that coffee shops be closed. One villager was killed and eight others injured.

On April 5, hundreds occupied St. John the Beloved church in Kamadeer, stopping repairs after heavy rain, and told Copts that they were not allowed to pray there any more. After yet another “reconciliation,” Copts were told to build a church 200 meters away, one without a dome, cross, bell, or any other external feature marking it as a church.

‘Beginning on April 15, over 10,000 demonstrators, mostly Salafists, protested in the southern province of Qena against the appointment of a new governor, Emad Mikhail, who is a Christian (the previous governor, Magdy Ayoub, was also Christian). Protesters blocked main roads, stopped buses to separate men and women passengers, and disrupted the main rail route in Upper Egypt for eight days. There were threats to bar Mikhail from the province and even to kill him.

‘Some protesters were concerned simply that the new governor, like so many others appointed throughout the country in recent years, had no experience and was being rewarded for previous service to the regime. But Salafist concerns soon dominated, with one speaker complaining, “A Copt won’t implement Islamic law,” and demonstrators chanting, “We will never be ruled by a Christian governor” and “Mikhail is an infidel pig.”

‘There were also declarations that Qena was an “Islamic Emirate.” Tensions ran so high that local Christians stayed inside and couldn’t celebrate Palm Sunday. The armed forces refused to intervene, and, although Egypt’s cabinet initially rejected calls for the governor’s resignation, on April 25, Prime Minister Essam Sheraf surrendered and said he would “freeze” the appointment for three months.

‘Salafists are also attacking other Muslims. On March 30, one killed a Muslim colleague for not praying at the requisite time. They also target Sufi mosques and shrines, because Salafists regard veneration of saints as heretical. Since Mubarak stepped down, dozens of shrines on the outskirts of Cairo have been burned or have simply disappeared, and there have been attacks throughout Alexandria and in Beheira and Monufiya.

In turn, leaders of Sufi orders have threatened to attack those destroying shrines, especially the shrines belonging to the prophet’s family. Sheikh Gaber Kasem al-Kholy, the highest-ranking Sufi in Alexandria, declared in early April, “I don’t underestimate people’s fears concerning Salafists. Of course, Coptic Christians are a main target for those extremists, but we need to speak out about the suffering of the Sufi people.”

‘Egypt’s small Shiite community is another target. Shiite leader Mohamed al-Derini has denounced the attacks, and some Shiites believe that the Saudis also bear responsibility for the violence. During the demonstrations in Qena, some demonstrators waved Saudi flags.

'It is also rumored that the Saudis fund the Salafists, and this, coming on top of the Saudis’ support for Mubarak and their condemnations of Shiites, Sufis, and shrines, has increased tensions.

'On April 9, Shiites protested at the Saudi embassy in Cairo and waved banners denouncing Saudi fatwas that condemn Shiites and permit the demolition of shrines, as well as the kingdom’s rejection of calls to prosecute ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. One banner read: “You defended Mubarak, pushed Salafis to sow sedition, and pressed for not trying the tyrant.”’

Neutrality is not truth

All of that doesn’t look like clashes to me. It looks like war.

Journalists try hard to be fair. But such fairness is not truth.  Indeed, neutrality promotes genocide by default, as the expert statement in our News Focus this week claims.

Perhaps as one commentator said to me recently, it’s because ‘persecution of Christians seems so counter-intuitive’. Eh? Oh I see.  The West, associated with Christianity, has exercised hegemony for so long, that anyone described as ‘Christian’ must also benefit from power by association.

In fact absolutely the reverse is the case.  Fragile newly-believing communities all over the non-Western world such as those in Nigeria, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, have no support at all from our secular media and masters - who are blind to their existence.

Neither do the Copts who are an ancient and long-suffering ethnic minority under dire threat as Mubarak’s demise exposes social tensions that his regime kept under control with brute force. But ethnic minority in itself is a weaselly phrase. It implies ‘newcomers’ or perhaps exoticism, even illegitimacy. Yet the Copts are the indigenese, now just ten per cent of the population in the land they never left.

They derive their liturgy from pharaonic temple worship. Some scholars like Gunther Luelling say that even the Qur’an itself contains patterns and motifs also found in early Coptic hymnody.

The Copts have nothing to gain from causing strife – they are far too out-numbered and their very religion invokes ‘a peace the world cannot give’.

Muslims stood with them outside the al-Qiddissin Church in Alexandria after a New Year’s Eve bomb attack when 21 people were killed and 70 hurt. Muslims and Christians took turns to protect each other in Tahrir Square, as we all witnessed on our TV screens.

I have seen a Coptic priest being warmly embraced in public by a Muslim professor at SOAS here in London – such is the natural identification of men with Egypt in their blood.

But what’s happening now in Cairo and elsewhere with the outrageous destruction of ancient churches and cold-blooded murder of believers on the basis of mere unsubstantiated rumour shows the ugly mark of a kind of Islam that will not rest content until the whole world is won for their hideous brand of Islam.

And it is strange that no one condemns it by name.

Its name is Wahhabism. It is predatory, cunning and utterly ruthless. It legitimized the Saudi royal family in the 18th century, and continues to do so in a land where even to be Christian can be a capital offence.

Al-Qaeda derives from Wahhabism. Wahhabism seeks the caliphal rule of the world, by insinuation or coercion, and is as repressive of Muslims who do not toe the line as of others.

Its teachings can be exploited by whichever group in the Muslim world sees them as a lever for power – and there the confusion for the media begins.

You cannot kill an idea - except with the truth.  An idea is like an infection whose carriers can only be isolated and neutralised - and that takes time and a much better educated media.

One commentator who has just returned from teaching Iranian pastors in Dubai said to me this week: ‘What an amazing story is going on there. It gives me hope that the more fanatical Islam gets, the more its followers turn away from it, but it takes at least 20 years of wearisome extremism to turn its adherents off.'

As for the Arab Spring? 'I might project a hard 10-15 years ahead for the church as Islamism in various guises moves into the new vacuum, but after that, could be tremendous for the church.’