Sunday, January 23, 2011

Righteous Muslims Protect Christians in Egypt

Bill Levinson

Israel has compiled a long list of Righteous Gentiles who risked and sometimes suffered death while trying to save Jews and other from the Holocaust. It would be appropriate to compile a similar list of Righteous Muslims who work to save “infidels” as well as persecuted Muslims from the savagery of Sharia law. We previously reported that Pakistani governor Salman Taseer was killed for opposing savage “blasphemy” laws under which a Christian was sentenced to death.

As reported by Egypt vs. Extremism in today’s Wall Street Journal, righteous Egyptian Muslims emulated Danish Gentiles who wore Stars of David to prevent the Nazis from determining who was actually a Jew. On Jan. 6, the eve of Coptic Christmas, thousands of Muslims showed up at Mass to act as human shields and show their solidarity with the beleaguered Christian community.

The battle against militant “Islam” requires more than condemnation and exposure of evildoers who act under color of Islam. It also requires recognition and honor of righteous Muslims who, like Gentiles who concealed Jews during the Holocaust, risk and sometimes lose their lives (as Salman Taseer did) to protect Jews, Christians, and other infidels from the Nazis of the 21st Century.


Cairo, Egypt

As a Christian and an Egyptian, I was heartbroken by the New Year's Eve terrorist attack on the Coptic Church of Alexandria that killed 21 of my countrymen. Whether this heinous act was carried out by Egyptians or by terrorist groups from outside the country, the intention was surely the same: to sow discord between Muslims and Christians in a country long known for its religious tolerance.

The attack seems to fall within a larger pattern of violence against Christians elsewhere in the Middle East. Indeed, extremist groups that target Christians in Iraq explicitly stated their intention to bring their war against Christians to Egypt.

But while the recent attack led to an outpouring of anger among Copts, Egypt—unlike other countries in the region—has been remarkably immune to the scourge of sectarianism.

The Copts in Egypt are the largest Christian population in the Middle East, and today they make up some 10% of the population. Christians in Egypt exercise their faith freely, and they occupy leading positions in government, business and public life. There's no such thing as "Muslim neighborhoods" or "Christian ghettos" in Egypt.

Egypt's history—a millennium and a half of peaceful Muslim-Christian coexistence, and a civil state-building project that dates back to the early 19th century—has been a model of religious tolerance in the region. That legacy was made clear following the new year: On Jan. 6, the eve of Coptic Christmas, thousands of Muslims gathered around churches across the country to act as human shields, protecting their Christian neighbors during their Mass. This coincided with huge demonstrations during which Muslims and Christians held up the Koran and the cross in unison as a symbol of national unity.

My own family story is a testament to this history. Beginning with the appointment of my grandfather as prime minister over a century ago, my family has been privileged to hold positions of high office as part of a proud tradition of Coptic public service. His sons, my uncles, then went on to join Egypt's independence movement, alongside its leader Saad Zaghaloul.

Still, there's no denying that recent events could mark a turn for the worst. Simmering tensions between Egypt's two main religious communities threaten to permanently erode our historic culture of tolerance.

View Full Image
David G Klein

Egypt is a deeply religious society. Historically an anchor of pluralism, this piety has gradually come to be defined in exclusive terms. On satellite TV and social networking websites, outward signs of religiosity are exploited to erode any sense of national identity.

Improvements in state institutions have certainly strengthened the principle of equality before the law. But the contest for Egyptian identity has shifted to the social and communal realm. This has paralleled an unfortunate failure on the part of religious leaders to emphasize the nearly identical values of mutual respect and human dignity in Islam and Christianity.

The only solution is to strengthen Egyptians' sense of citizenship. It's a goal that I have been deeply committed to as chairman of the National Council on Human Rights, which has already taken serious steps to reinforce the civil nature of the state.

The constitution was amended in 2007 to establish Egypt as a civil state, while outlawing political and partisan competition on the basis of religion and enshrining the principle of absolute equality before the law regardless of religion, race or creed. Coptic religion and culture have steadily been brought into the public sphere, with major Christian holidays broadcast on national television and Coptic Christmas declared a national holiday.

Coptic Egyptians continue to hold positions in all levels of government, from ministers to ambassadors serving overseas. Licenses for church construction are now easier to secure, since provincial governors now oversee such decisions. Meanwhile, the National Council for Human Rights reviews public-education curricula to make sure they are consistent with the principles of mutual respect and equality.

More can be done. As a first step, the state should remove the remaining barriers to building and renovating churches. The Unified Building Code for Houses of Worship, drafted by the National Council on Human Rights, must be signed into law by Parliament as soon as possible.

Secondly, increased diversity within the government will reinforce the value of religious pluralism among the public. Political parties should commit to nominating more Christian Egyptians to elected office.

Third, Egypt should institute a zero-tolerance policy for sectarian violence. The public prosecutor's office could establish a special unit dedicated to prosecuting acts of discrimination and other sectarian crimes. As with America's hate-crimes legislation, stiff penalties could serve as a deterrent. Such a unit should also keep a close watch on inflammatory religious rhetoric.

Finally, a better understanding of Coptic culture and Christianity will spread tolerance and increase awareness of Egypt's long and rich Christian history. There should be required courses about Coptic history in our schools, and the media should do a better job of covering Coptic events.

Egypt's tradition of tolerance is now being tested by rising tensions from within and terrorism from without. Historically, my country has shown tremendous resilience, and I am hopeful that Egyptians can come together to defeat this scourge of religious extremism. It is a battle that neither Egypt, nor the region, can afford to lose.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali is the president of the National Council of Human Rights in Cairo. He served as the sixth secretary-general of the United Nations and was Egypt's minister of state for foreign affairs.

1 comment:

snoolan said...

Watching what is going on in Egypt from the other side of the world (Australia), I am heartened, encouraged and in awe of what is happening in Egypt. The courage shown by the protesters in the face of organised thugs is truly profound.
As a Christian, I am deeply touched by the love, compassion and support shown between the Muslim and Christian communities. I am sure that the one true GOD is smiling over this display of love, in the midst of the crass grasping at worldly power and hatred endemic in our world.