Attack on Egyptian Christians Could Spark Change in Islamic World

Tuesday, 04 Jan 2011 01:57 PM

By Tawfik Hamid

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A powerful bomb, possibly from a suicide attacker, exploded in front of a Coptic Christian church on Jan. 1 as a crowd of worshipers emerged from a new year’s mass, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than 90. The attack raised suspicions of an al-Qaida role.

This barbaric act raised many concerns and discussion points.

The reactions by some commentators and politicians to say that the attack was on both Muslims and Christians, as televised on several Arab TV stations, can be perceived by some as a desire to show unity between Muslims and Christians. However, on the contrary, it can be seen by others as a thinly veiled attempt to underestimate and dilute the threat posed by radical Islamists to the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt.

The selection of this time of the year to conduct the attack clearly demonstrates the desire of the attackers to kill as many Christians as possible in the church, and not the mosque, since Muslims do not have formal prayer at such a late time of the night. Furthermore, attempts to avoid mentioning that Christians were targeted in this attack added fuel to the fire and can partially explain the furious reaction of some Coptic Christians after the attack.

However, in the final analysis, it is fair to say that the attackers — while targeting Christians — had a bigger mission in mind, which is to ignite a civil war and destabilize the secular regime in Egypt to allow radical Islamists to rule the country. The terrorists simply tried to “get more than one bird with the same stone.”

The reflexive response of some commentators and politicians to point a finger at unspecified foreign powers claiming that they are behind the attacks without having any concrete evidence to prove this point is counterproductive and unscientific. It is wiser to wait for the police and intelligence reports before jumping to such conclusions.

In fact, some well-known Arabic news media such as Almesryoon.com did not hesitate without any proof to point the finger of blame at Coptic groups that are “supported by the Israeli Mossad” as being behind this attack. Blaming others without concrete evidence instead of admitting that there is a problem that must be fixed limits the ability to solve this problem. Problems can be solved only if we are objective and honest. This lack of honest objectivity is the signature response today across the broader Islamic world.

Looking at the new year’s attack in the context of other recent terror acts against Christian minorities in Iraq and past attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt such as the attack on the Cathedral of Nagaa Hammadi Jan. 8, 2010, (Nagaa Hammadi is a city located 700 kilometers south of Cairo) there is little doubt that Christian minorities are being targeted by Islamic terrorists. The shooting of crosses by al-Qaida members in their training camps in Afghanistan that were videotaped and released a few years ago further illustrates the purposeful targeting of Christians.

However, it would be naïve to presume that the al-Qaida threat is only limited to Christians. In fact, the group has attacked and indiscriminately killed thousands of Muslims including Shi'as in Iraq, Sufis in Pakistan, and Sunnis in Algeria. Radical Islamist groups also killed hundreds of innocent Jews in Israel and slaughtered many Buddhists in Thailand.

Attacks on followers of different faiths, views, or beliefs by Islamic Radicals illustrate that the problem of the Christian minorities in the Middle East is part of a global threat that we must confront. Such violence elucidates the true and underlying cause of the problem of radical Islam, which is failure to accept the “other.”

Inability of radical Islamists to tolerate the “other” has undeniable roots and a strong basis in the current mainstream teachings in the Muslim world, which undervalue the life of others if they are different. Leading Islamic scholars do not necessarily teach young Muslims to conduct suicide bombings. However, they teach them intolerance and under-appreciation of the lives of those who are different from them. Such teachings are the initial step and the first building blocks in the creation of the mind of a suicide bomber.

These teachings specifically include the following:

1. The “Redda Law” that justifies killing Muslims if they reject Islam

2. The unchallenged Islamic jurisprudence rule that justifies killing non-Muslims if they refuse to convert to Islam and reject paying a humiliating tax (Jizya)

3. The rule that the compensation for the life of Christians or Jews is only half of that for a Muslim if they were killed by a Muslim

In other words, if the Islamic scholars reject these teachings and provide an alternative that respects others and tolerates diversity, it will be much more difficult for the terrorists to promote their suicidal and homicidal ideology.

It is important and fair to mention that the current secular laws in Egypt do not follow such teachings. However, the mainstream religious educational system continues to promote such values without challenging them or providing an alternative.

The calamity of Jan. 1 must not make us ignore the other side of the coin. This disaster can be the spark that might start the needed change. The reaction of the Egyptians, including the unprecedented media coverage of the incident, the fast response of President Mubarak to address the nation, addressing the role of ideology and education in creating the problem by some leading government officials in Egypt such as Dr. Mustafa al-Fiqi (Chairman of the Committees of the Arab Relations, Foreign Relations, and National Security in the Egyptian Parliament), and the demonstrations of both Muslims and Christians together who raised the cross and the Quran to show solidarity with one another gives hope that a change in the Islamic world may be starting.

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