SILENCE SPEAKS

It is useful for Muslims and their Western apologists to perpetrate the myth that Christians are a naturally declining minority in the Middle East which has contributed nothing to the intellectual or moral development of the area. The increasing cultural isolation of Christians, economic migration and declining birth rate all play a part in the armoury of Islamic apologists who ignore the increasingly vicious persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and for our government to maintain its shameful silence at the religious apartheid of the Muslim states in that area.

Persecuted11

Since the rise of Islam Christians have never enjoyed equality in the Middle East. Dhimmitude, pre or post-Ottoman, is not healthy for any community. Nevertheless, Christians managed to contribute in a significant measure to the Muslim world.

Islamists and their apologists will never admit it but Christians, with the occasional Jew, played a significant part in the intellectual development of the Muslim world. During the 8th and 9th centuries the Greek philosophical works which had such an impact on Muslim philosophy were translated in Baghdad by a team of over 50 Christians. As well as the translators there were Christian doctors, philosophers, scientists, even theologians working away to give Islam the intellectual building blocks which transformed Islam from the warlike culture of nomadic people into an relatively advanced civilisation.

Even as recently as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein life for Christians in Iraq, although precarious, was bearable. With the invasion life for Christians became intolerable. Sunni radicals bombed, murdered, kidnapped and generally created havoc in the lives of Christians. Before the war there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, today it is doubtful if even 400,000 doughty souls remain.

Although their numbers are fast declining the 10% of Egypt’s population who are Copts now account for about half the Christians in the Middle East. Under Sadat and Mubarak things were not easy for the Copts, there was random and localised persecution which the government did little to stop. Since the Egyptian Revolution things have taken a sharp turn for the worse. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government have created a new constitution which directly threatens the rights of Christians.

Egyptian copts

As well as restricting Christian’s political rights and threatening church funds it makes life incredibly difficult for any who have converted from Islam. Nadia Mohamed Ali was raised a Christian but married a Muslim. When her husband died she sought permission to return to her faith and have her children’s identification paper’s changed. The result? In January a court in Beni Suef in central Egypt sentenced her and seven children to 15 years in prison.

Saudi Arabia, Britain’s greatest “ally” in the Middle East has a significant Christian population, they are the million or so Africans, Asians and Filipinos who work there, often in the most menial of positions. Saudi Arabia allows no non-Muslim worship, not even in private homes. Worship does occur but is illegal, in February 50 Ethiopians Christians were arrested and their leaders thrown in jail. It is against Saudi law to display a Bible or a cross (even on a football jersey). If anyone steps out of line there is the feared Mutawa or religious police to ensure the law is strictly enforced.

The breathtaking hypocrisy of our own government which prioritises overseas aid and our prime minister who threatens to cut that aid to countries which oppress homosexuals yet has never said a word about persecuted Christians is astounding. To be fair there have been a few low key initiatives but these have always been handled by junior ministers and lower level civil servants. The government has taken pains to ensure that there has been nothing from anyone with actual influence who might, however reluctantly, be listened to.

The idea of a politician in the West actually standing up and speaking out for the rights of Christians in the Middle East is of course preposterous. A combination of lack of clarity about their own identity and the beneficent influence of Western culture, and their own moral weakness renders our politicians speechless in the face of outright evil. Their silence speaks volumes.

It is up to Christians in the UK to pressure our denominational structures and our government to speak out for those who are unable to speak for themselves. The British government should act, it should denounce forthrightly the persecution of people for their beliefs. Aid to Muslim countries should be conditional on those governments upholding basic human rights.

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EGYPTIAN TOP GEAR

Islamists are making determined attempts to cleanse the Middle East of Christians. Throughout Egypt Christians have been driven from their homes and their historical roots.

The city of Rafah, a town on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip, used to have a Christian community. According to tradition Rafah is the place where the infant Jesus crossed over into Egypt when fleeing the persecution of Herod. Today Rafah is effectively run by Jihadis who use it as a crossing point as they smuggle arms into Gaza. The Christians of Rafah have been driven from their homes.

Grafitti On Burnt Out Church In Rafah
“It Is A Land Of Islam, No Room For Christians Here”

Last month Mohammed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt met with Coptic families in El Arish, a town roughly 30 miles from Rafah. He attempted to reassure them that the personal threats and violence, machine gun fire and church burning they had experienced in Rafah would not be repeated.

Morsi told the Coptic Christians that he would work to find them new homes and jobs elsewhere in Egypt. Unsurprisingly this did not please the Copts as their community had been settled in Rafah for close to 2,000 years, long before Mohammed invented Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood are attempting to placate two utterly opposed groups; the even more radical Islamists who wish to see Egypt ruled by strictly enforced sharia, and those who wish a free and democractic society in Egypt. Which groups gains the most influence is still to be seen. In this atmosphere Morsi’s action in naming a Christian as a deputy prime minister is seen by ordinary Christians, rightly fearful of their future, as a token gesture.

At present the Egyptian constitution is being rewritten. The committee charged with the task is dominated by Islamists of varying virulence. Playing a leading role in the discussions are Salafists, adherents of the fastest growing Islamic movement in the world. Many Salafists in Egypt have stated that when the new constitution comes to a popular vote the will reject it if it does not demand conformity with Islamic law.

One constitutional committee member, Yasser Borhamy, a physician as well as a top Salafist cleric, is of such a high intellectual standard that he recently told Egyptians not to drive Chevrolet cars as they are decorated with a cross.

Yasser Borhamy
Jeremy Clarkson with Attitude

Continuing in his attempt to become a presenter on Egypt’s Top Gear Borhamy also told Egyptian taxi drivers that they should not stop for Coptic priests. His rationale was that the priest might be going to church which would be a sin and to drive them would be to assist in their sinning.

More seriously Article 2 of the proposed new constitution is designed to ensure religious freedom. Borhamy and his fellow Salafists reject this out of hand and refuse to compromise on this as it might lead to “devil worship or apostacy from Islam.”

We can, however, be reassured, Borhamy has publicly stated that while he deeply hates Christians he is still capable of treating them justly. When the Muslim Brotherhood can appear as moderates we have to worry for the Christians of the Middle East.

EGYPT’S RETREAT FROM DEMOCRACY

Mohammad al-Mursi Egypt’s Unfettered Ruler

In an adroit political move, by seizing on a rebel attack which killed 16 soldiers at the Sinai border a week ago, President Mursi of Egypt has managed to sideline the military’s political power. The entire military leadership of Egypt has been forced into retirement; the SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces),  including Defense Minister Mohamad Hussein Tantawi and commanders of the Navy, Army and Air Force. We are assured that this is a sign of Egypt’s new democracy and that we can all breath easier when generals do not have their hands on the levers of power.

About the latter we can probably agree, apart perhaps from Americans who have had such successful generals turned politicians as Washington, Jackson and Eisenhower. We Brits, however, have only the example of Wellington, one of the most brilliant commanders in history who also turned out to be one of our worst Prime Ministers, and this in the face of some really strong competition.

It has to be questioned that this is the democratic advance suggested by much of the media. As a result of these events, when allied to the fact that there is no settled constitution in Egypt and no legally sworn in Parliament, it means that Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood can do whatever they have the political will to do. Mursi is effectively the Muslim Brotherhood dictator of Egypt.

Under the 30 March 2011 Constitutional Declaration which is supposed to regulate political affairs until a new constitution can be agreed, the president cannot rule on matters related to the military – including appointing its leaders. Nevertheless, Mursi has assumed full executive and legislative authority as well as the power to set all public policies and sign international treaties.

There is at present a constitutional Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution. Mursi has assumed the right to form a new Assembly just in case the present one is unable to perform its functions, or perhaps comes up with the ‘wrong’ constitution .

A sign of the way in which the wind is blowing is the replacement for Field Marshall Tantawi the ousted Minister of Defence. His job has gone to the head of military intelligence, Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, one of the generals who defended the controversial ‘virginity test’ used against female democracy campaigners.

Rather than being a democratic step forward in Egypt this is in effect a coup. Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood can now do as they wish without the counter balance of the army. Instead of having two powerful groups keeping each other in check Egypt now has one unchecked power group in charge, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mursi has also appointed new editors for Egypt’s top newspapers and other state controlled media outlets. On Thursday many journalist staged small protests and columnists left their columns blank in protest at the Brotherhood’s attempt to take complete control of the newspapers rather than reforming them.

In the meantime, according to Egypt’s official news agency, the Saturday edition of Al-Dustour was confiscated on the grounds that it insulted Mursi and instigated sectarian discord. This independent tabloid newspaper is owned by a Christian businessman and has been fiercely critical of Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Saturday’s edition had a long front page article warning of a Brotherhood ‘emirate’ seizing Egypt. It urged Egypt’s liberals to join with the army in preventing a total seizure of power by the Brotherhood.

Islam Afifi
Editor of al-Dustour

It has been announced today that along with Tawfiq Ukasha, the owner of the independent al-Faraeen TV station, Islam Afifi, the editor of the al-Dustour, will face trial in Cairo accused of incitement to murder Mursi and sowing sectarian discord.

So, what with controlling the only effective opposition and clamping down on the freedom of the press how’s that much vaunted Arab Spring going now?

Mob Rule Does Not Equal Stability

Way back at the beginning of February I wrote concerning the supposed Arab Spring,  “We can be glad that ruthless dictators have fallen. To imagine that they will be replaced by democracies based upon Western progressive values is ludicrous.” Unfortunately I have been proved correct. This was no flash of prophetic insight on my part, rather it was what was obvious to any who were willing to peer behind the progressive media rhetoric.

Stability does not grow from mobs. Progressives who dream it does are influenced by the same infantile romantic wishful thinking which causes countless nice, middle class students to wear T shirts emblazoned with the image of the murderous sociopath Che Guevara. Just because someone attacks a policeman that does not automatically make them a good person. Just because a mob tries to overthrow a dictator that does not automatically make it a worthy movement.

Throughout the Middle East there is only one nation which provides any semblance of democracy as we would understand it. Unfortunately the various revolts which have occurred and are still taking place in Muslim countries are hardly going to look to Israel for a role model.

It was argued that the Arab Spring was a move towards a freer and more humane society in the Muslim countries of the Middle East.  After all, they couldn’t be any worse than the dictatorships which they overthrew. If only that were so.

In Egypt last week we found state broadcasters loyal to the military junta urging ‘honourable Egyptians’ to help the army to put down the ‘sons of dogs’ (Coptic Christians) protesting the destruction of their churches. The ‘honourable Egyptians’ soon obliged, roaming the streets armed with rocks and sticks and, with the connivance and active participation of the police and army, attacking and even murdering Christians.

Egyptian Copts Protest Islamic Persecution

At the funerals of 17 of those killed by army and police in Cairo last Sunday night Muslim onlookers pelted the funeral procession with bricks and Molotov cocktails. The mourners were also attacked on their way home afterwards. The police failed to intervene and stop the attackers.

The Copts who constitute the oldest faith group in the country are now leaving Egypt en masse. Since May 90,000 Christians have fled Egypt, if this rate of departure keeps up a third of the 8,000,000 Coptic population will have left within a decade.

The Arab Spring has not, as predicted by progressive politicians and media, led to a flowering of democracy and an atmosphere of toleration and mutual acceptance. It has led to the unleashing of the hard line Islamist mob.

In Tunisia a television station was attacked by 300 Islamic hardliners. The station had shown the animated film Persopolis concerning the fall of the Shah in Iran and the rise of the ayatollahs and the attackers thought it disrespectful towards Islam. Their solution, they tried to burn down the television station. Cartoons and Islamic fundamentalism do seem to have an unhealthy relationship.

Also in Tunisia the university of Sousse, about 93 miles south of the capital, refused to enrol a student who insisted on wearing the niqab, the full face veil. The university was attacked by a two hundred strong fundamentalist mob wielding stones, knives and batons.

Tunisia has a long history of secularism and liberal attitudes. With the main point of tension in the upcoming elections being the place of Islam in the state it is doubtful that Tunisia is going to know stability for a long time.

Elsewhere, can we seriously imagine that Libya after undergoing such a violent revolution is going to be transformed into anything recognisable as a representative democracy?

From the French Revolution onwards it is evident that mob revolts do not lead to democracy, only to further despotic rule. Throw in autocratic Islam and you have a recipe for theocratic influenced despotism.

Persecuted Christians

Those delightful, liberal, freedom loving types in Egypt who were cheered on as they overthrew Mubarak are doing pretty much as we expected.

Last Saturday evening a mob of nearly 4,000 Islamists mounted an attack on a church in the village of Soul 30 km from Cairo. The attack came after a local imam Sheik Ahmed Abu Al-Dahab, following the exposure of a relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, issued a call to “Kill all the Christians.” The church was destroyed by exploding gas cylinders and a number of homes looted and burned down.

This week in Cairo Christian demonstrators protested against the attack.

Christians Protest The Soul Church Attack

They in turn were met with what is described by a senior church leader from Cairo as “a well-organised and deliberate attack” by Islamists. The result? 13 dead and 140 wounded. The army did send in tanks, supposedly to quell the disturbances. They sat around until the evening and then indiscriminately fired shots into the air before moving off.

The new ‘free democratic’ Egypt has form in this regard already. On 22nd February church leader Dawoud Botorous was stabbed 22 times near his home near Assiut, Upper Egypt. His murderer shouted “Allahu akhbar.”

Next, the Egyptian army, the ‘guardian of democracy,’ attacked the St. Bishoy monastery outside of Cairo and the St. Makarios monastery near Alexandria, using APCs, heavy weapons and rifle fire. One monk and 6 workers were wounded, two remain in hospital seriously injured.

During the disturbances at the time of Mubarak’s overthrow the monks had built walls to defend themselves and the Christians who had taken shelter in the monasteries. The army had previously denied the monks protection. The army used APCs to flatten the walls so that they will not be available to defend Christians in future.

In the province of Minya the governor has ordered the destruction of a church-led welfare centre for disabled children. On 28th February more than 10,000 Christians protested about the treatment they were receiving from the governor. The same day he had ten newly-built houses belonging to Christian families bulldozed.

There are reports of the same pattern of anti-Christian violence in newly free Tunisia.

It is naïve in the extreme to expect that sweetness and light will spread throughout the Middle East following the present unrest. What results may well be worse than what went before.

As our politicians discuss no-fly zones and other 21st century versions of grandstanding gunboat diplomacy perhaps we should reflect on the lives squandered in establishing and maintaining ‘democracies’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nations where the people are as badly off as they were before the invasions, and the Christians even worse off.

Foundations Shape The Building

Recently we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of both Westminster and Washington flailing around with ever changing policies regarding the Middle East. The uncomfortable truth is that both Washington and London don’t know how to react in this new arena of Middle East unrest.

In part this is because both the Prime Minister and the President are, by inclination, less interested in foreign policy than domestic politics. Prior to gaining office Cameron had evidenced no interest in anything other than winning power and Obama’s main experience was in the sewer of Chicago local politics. Both of them have to find a way to come to terms with a challenge that has leapt up at them out of the dark and is beyond their skills set.

It is not helped when their officials take pot shots at each other’s statements. The economic recovery of both countries rests upon a constructive approach to the demand for democratic freedom in this unpredictable and unfortunately strategic part of the world.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that both Cameron and Obama are pragmatic politicians. Their primary concern is with the ever changing problem of what is going to work right now. Both underlying principle and long term view are foreign to their personal political outlook.

Behind their problems is that fact that the West and the Middle East operate on contradictory underlying principles. Our conceptions of the summum bonum are entirely at odds. When the mob in Cairo or Benghazi shout for freedom they do not yearn for Western democracy as envisioned in the bistros of Notting Hill or the upscale restaurants of Georgetown.

If, in the West, we think that blanket voting rights constitute democracy and the basic elements of political freedom we shall never make meaningful contact with the Middle East. For the man or woman brought up in an entirely alien environment the concept that the vote of a promiscuous binge drinking 18 year old female is accorded the same weight as that of an experienced sober elder of the tribe is simply laughable.

Whatever emerges in the Middle East it won’t be liberal democracy. Egypt, the Middle East bellwether, has already reverted to military autocracy.

Progress in relations with the Islamic world will only take place when in the West we take Islam seriously. Progressive power brokers in the West imagine that everyone is like them, that people only pay lip service to religious ideals. Muslims, however, actually believe what they say they believe.

This means that whatever emerges in the Middle East will not accord with Western concepts of freedom and democracy. Apart form Western influenced Israel there is not a single country in the Middle East which has the simplest notion of democracy as we in the West understand it. Democracy as understood in the West is a product of an emphasis on the doctrine, shared by Christians and Jews, that every person is made in the image of God; as such it is inimical to Islam.

Politicians in the West fail to realise that our concept of civil society is undergirded by a fundamental set of structures and values which are based on Scriptural principles. We still live on the legacy of Christianity. When this legacy is squandered there is no foundation and society is open to whatever alien ideology is willing to enter in and reshape civil discourse.

Where Now For Egypt’s Christians?

Mubarak has fallen. The mob rejoices, Robert Fisk rhapsodises in today’s Independent, Obama smirks and the internet boasts “It was Twitter what done it.”

In the midst of the fireworks and acclamation there is one group who look to the future with trepidation.  Egypt’s Christians fear what will happen next. When last week Pope Shenouda, leader of the Coptic Christians, said he wanted the anti-Mubarak protesters to stand down it wasn’t because he loved dictators.

There are about 8,000,000 Christians in Egypt, the vast majority of them Coptic Christians. They look around and see the steady ethnic cleansing of Christians as the collateral damage of western oil dependency and Islamic imperialism.

Palestine has seen an exodus of Christians from the land of Jesus birth. In 1990 it was estimated that 60% of Bethlehem’s population were Christians, that figure is closer to 15% today.

Iraq has seen the persecution and murder of Christians as a common occurrence. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees between September and December last year more than 1,000 Christian families fled central Iraq for the Kurdish north. Christian sources in Iraq consider this an underestimation.

One convent in Hamdaniyah in the north of Iraq has been attacked 20 times since the start of Iraq’s inter-Muslim civil war, and according to reports it is now down to four nuns out of an original 55.

Before the invasion approximately 1,500,000 Christians lived in Iraq, today more than half have been forced out.

Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute notes of the recent attack on a church in Cairo resulting in the deaths of more than 20 Christians that “the context is a government that has failed to make the rights of religious minorities a priority.” And this took place under a relatively secular dictator, dependent on Western aid.

What will happen when the Muslim Brotherhood comes to the fore? In terms of public opinion, the Brotherhood may be pushing at an open door as it attempts to push pro-Islamist policies. According to a Pew survey in Egypt last year, 84% of Egyptian Muslims support executing apostates.

Earlier this week James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence in the USA, described the Muslim Brotherhood as “largely secular.” Even I would hesitate to describe American Episcopalians that way never mind a militant Islamic group explicitly devoted to violent jihad.

Perhaps Kamal al-Halbavi, a senior member of the Brotherhood, was just teasing when he told the BBC the other day that he hoped Egypt soon would have a government “like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad.” We all know these militant Islamists and their zany sense of humour.

Gaza is ruled by a Brotherhood offshoot, as is Egypt’s southern neighbour, Sudan. The Brotherhood  seized power there 1983 (when it was only the third largest of the Muslim parties), killed its opponents, and engaged in two genocidal wars. Last month the largely Christian south, after decades of violent persecution, overwhelmingly voted to break away from the Islamist north. Egypt’s Christians will not get the same chance.

Egypt is very unlikely to be another Sudan, but when two of Egypt’s neighbours are already run by Muslim Brotherhood offshoots it suggests that an Egypt with a strong Brotherhood is going to be a grim place, especially for Christians.

Back on 12th Feb, 1979, Time magazine reported “. . . a sense of controlled optimism in Iran. . . . Iranians will surely insist that the revolution live up to its democratic aims. . . . Those who know [Khomeini] expect that eventually he will settle in the Shi’ite holy city of Qum and resume a life of teaching and prayer. It seems improbable that he would try to become a kind of Archbishop Makarios of Iran, directly holding the reins of power. Khomeini believes that Iran should become a parliamentary democracy, with several political parties.”

We all know how it worked out that time.