by Benny Morris
Coptic Pope Shenouda III called for "calm" in the wake of the New Year's Day bombing outside the church in Alexandria, in which twenty-three members of his flock were murdered and dozens were injured. And he explicitly avoided condemning the presumed perpetrators, Egyptian Muslims, his neighbors.
Technically, this makes sense. The investigators have not yet arrested, let alone charged, anyone—and quite possibly never will.
But, of course, a deeper logic was at work. The Coptic leader does not want to rile, and aggravate tensions with, the surrounding dominant sea of Egyptian Muslims (though, more bravely, some of his flock took to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and clashed with the police who, they charged, had done and were doing too little to protect them).
I can also understand Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who, in a knee-jerk reaction, attributed the attack to unnamed "foreign" elements. He too prefers not to point at extremist Egyptian Muslims as the responsible party; he too worries about riling the Islamists.
Somewhat more surprising is Pope Benedict XVI, who sees all the world's Christians, including the Middle East's, as his wards. Of course, he condemned the attack, as well as the series of murderous attacks which immediately preceded it against Christians in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. But he too avoided explicitly condemning "Muslims" as the guilty party (much as Western leaders regularly vaguely speak of "international terrorism" without mentioning "Islam" or "Islamists" in this connection, as if other religious groups, say Buddhists or Hindus or animists, are also commonly engaged in this unleasant pursuit.)
So the forthrightness and explicitness of these very same Muslims, when attributing blame, is truly noteworthy. No mealy-mouthed spokesmen here.
Take Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Qabbani, Lebanon's Grand Mufti. He immediately announced: "This assault [on the Copts in Alexandria] . . . is not an individual internal Egyptian act, but a criminal act with Zionist . . . fingerprints. [They] want to sow hatred among Muslims and Coptic Christians."
Or take the spokesman of the Egyptian Bar Association: "The Mossad carried out the operation in a natural reaction to the latest uncovering of an Israeli espionage network."
Or a spokesman for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Munim Abu al Fattouh Abdel: It could not have been Egyptians. Perhaps it was the Mossad or someone else interested in sabotaging Egypt.
Iranian TV put it more definitively: the Mossad. "It goes without saying that no Muslim . . . will ever commit such an inhuman act." (Surely, this one must have been said tongue in cheek?)
These accusations are, of course, risible. But they raise a serious question. What are the bounds of credulity in the mendacity-ridden Muslim societies of the Middle East? Can preachers and spokesmen say anything, however outlandish, and expect the masses to eat it up? Is there no limit to what the infidel can be accused of—and to the expectation that the charge will stick?
Which raises the still more profound question: What are the long-term prospects for peaceful cohabitation on planet Earth between us in the West and these Muslim societies in which truth has absolutely no traction or importance, where the masses will believe—ask any pollster—that the CIA or the Mossad knocked down the Twin Towers on 9\11?
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