Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Copts Under Siege

by Herbert I. London

As the remorseless Joseph Stalin once noted, "the murder of one is a tragedy; the murder of millions, a statistic," recently there have been random attacks on Christians in Egypt and the Middle East.

On New Year's Day a bombing took place in Alexandria at a Coptic church that left 23 dead -- an attack for which no one has claimed responsibility, and which came after threats from an al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq --and a deadly attack on a Baghdad cathedral on October 31.

At the same time as Pope Benedict called on Egypt and other Muslim nations to protect their Christian minorities, a new round of violence emerged. An off-duty police officer in upper Egypt checked train passengers for the green cross tattooed on the wrists of Coptic Christians in Egypt; and after identifying those who were Copts, he killed one and injured five others, firing his handgun at innocent civilians just because they are Christians. According to eyewitnesses, the gunman sought out Christians on board the commuter line and shouted Allahu Akbar [Allah Is the Greatest] as he opened fire.

A police officer -- discharged with the responsibility of protecting all citizens of the state including the Christian minority -- takes it upon himself to kill Christians wantonly, apparently because they were Christian.It would be one thing if this were the random act of a crazed, lunatic; however, the assailant is an officer of the law, there to provide stability.

Of course, not Egyptian authorities, this was an aberrational act -- but how random was it? It did not trigger a response from the Cairo paper, and it did not generate a stir in the media. The only noticeable response came from the Coptic population: 200 went to the hospital ,where the wounded had been taken, but the 200 were later dispersed by the local police.

When the Pope's emissary raised an issue about the safety of Egyptian Christians (numbering about 10% of the population), the Mubarak government reacted by recalling the ambassador to the Vatican, and noted: "We will not allow any non-Egyptian party to intervene in our internal affairs under any pretext." Presumably that includes the targeting of Christians for slaughter.

The brazen manner in which Christians are targeted throughout the Muslim world from the Sudan to Iran, and Egypt to Afghanistan, should be a source of concern for the United Nations. The rights of minorities, however, are only honored in the breach among Muslim states. When the reverse occurs, when a Muslim minority in a non-Muslim state is mistreated, it becomes an issue for the Muslim bloc nations and is immediately inserted into the Security Council agenda: the recent murder of Christians, and the Pope's appeal, will fall on deaf ears.

Clearly, it is time for Christians to assert themselves by speaking out against the continued abuse in Muslim nations. Mubarak may have lost control in Egypt, but it is not too late to restore order in other Muslim nations. Although n some instances the Copts are pawns used to promote civil unrest -- with political realignment as the ultimate goal -- whatever the motives, these murderous conditions should not be permitted to exist.

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Herbert I. London

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