January 6, 2011

A Watershed Event in the History of Christianity

The attack of a suicide bomber that took place in Alexandria, Egypt, as worshippers were gathering for a service shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve marks a watershed event in the history of Christianity. And this not so much for its brutality or its catastrophic effects—21 people killed—as for the fact that this time, unlike the many other times, the international news media coverage is quite good and comprehensive. This is, at any rate, the biggest news, also because, unfortunately, the murders of Christians are no news at all (see here for a brief summary of how things stand in this respect).

The other news is that, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Egyptian analysts said that al-Qaeda, which has had little impact locally in the past, appeared to be “announcing its presence.” Last, but not least, while preparing for their traditional Christmas on Friday, Coptic Christians worldwide are on high alert and their churches in Europe and Egypt are receiving extra law enforcement protection. Also highly alarming, more precisely, is that

[t]he Mujahidin Network has threatened more attacks against Christian Copts in Egypt. The warning was addresses directly at the Copt Pope Shenouda III, announcing an “imminent attack.” Threats were published on the ‘al-Shumukh’ website, the same on which on December 2nd a list of 50 targeted Coptic churches had been published, including the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria attacked on New Year’s Eve.

Which is also no surprise, since Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar University, after condemning on Saturday the attack to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria—he spoke of “atrocious act prohibited by Islam”—had the nerve to criticize on Sunday the call of Pope Benedict XVI to the world leaders to protect the Christians, saying it was an “unacceptable interference” in Egyptian affairs—something one couldn’t ever imagine, beyond any level of tolerance. This man seems, or pretends, not to know what he should be well aware of, namely, that—as a recent study (pdf) by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows—64 nations and nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people have high or very high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities, and that the Middle East-North Africa is the part of the world which has the highest government and social restrictions on religion. The worst nations include Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, and Pakistan. And it is no accident that four of the five are Islamic.

Yet, as I said above, a new awareness is emerging. Well, more in the media than at a policy level, but one-third of something is better than a half of nothing. Those 21 victims won’t be the last, but their sacrifice was not in vain.


  1. To be fair, other muslim leaders in Egypt condemned the attacks and were worried of their conseguences.

    To the others, it would be useful to remind them Niemöller's words.

    In the case of the islamofascists, first they came for the Jews (most were made the flee from Arab countries), now they come for the Christians, then they will come for the Sufis, and other (to them heretic) strains of Islam (in Pakistan it has already begun).

    Either there is freedom of worship for everybody, or there would be freedom only for the most violent ones.

  2. I read the "nonviolent" link of the first commenter. It advocates ridiculing islamic faith, so that muslims would see the light and convert to Buddhism or Christianity.

    This is wrong in so many ways I don't know where to begin. First, although religion is highly used in Bin Laden's islamofascists rethoric, religion is not the point. Is there anybody who thinks that if NATO troops were replaced by soldiers from muslim countries (say, Indonesia or Turkey) the Taliban would promptly surrender?

    Consider Mussolini's fascism. He too used religious rethoric, posing as defender of the Catholic Church from the Communist. Suppose the USA had proposed a campaign of ridicule targeting the Pope to defeat Mussolini. Do you think that would have been successful?

    Secondly, while the islamofascists have some support in the general muslim population, most muslims are a little or more than a little uneasy about the terrorists' methods. A ridicule campaign targeted at the islamic faith would prove Bin Laden right and reinforce his support.

    Not to mention that a believer's reaction to an attack to his religion is almost never to acknoledge the criticism and leave that religion.

  3. The Copts consider themselves direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. They were there long before the Muslims and were persecuted by the Romans for their faith during the 3rd century. Although the Arabs invaded and Islam was imposed 400 years later, by the 11th century, half of the Egyptian population was Christian Orthodox and the Coptic cultural centre was Alexandria.

    But maybe for certain radicals who claim to be faithful followers of the Prophet, it would seem that there are facts of history that are best ignored. Perhaps this could also apply to the history of Israel.