The challenge posed by integration
The attack in Alexandria emphasises a problem the seriousness of which goes far beyond the despicable act of terrorism seen as a threat involving the Islamic world’s cultural self-mutilation through the progressive annihilation of Eastern Christianity. And Alexandria is not an isolated case; in just two years the number of Christians present in Iraq, often members of some of the most ancient communities in the world, has halved. For those who kill in the name of purity the most serious provocation is the integration that takes place in the most natural way, without fear, the one on which the great strength of open societies is founded.
This article was originally published by the magazine Die Zeit on January 4th 2011
Now they call her a martyr. And yet Mariouma Fekry had other projects for her still very young life. Just before going to Midnight Mass, the 22-year-old had updated her page on Facebook. The last message posted by Mariouma reads, “2010 has gone now; it was a year that brought the best memories of my life. I hope that 2011 will be even better. I have so many wishes for 2011. Please God, stay close to me and help me achieve my objectives.” But soon after midnight a bomb exploded near the Church of Saints Mark and Peter in Alexandria, the Egyptian harbour city, killing Mariouma and another twenty Coptic Christians as well as wounding more than one hundred.
The profile posted on Facebook by Mariouma, who loved Harry Potter and the Linkin Park, is still there. Below the photograph of the radiant young woman there are now hundreds of comments protesting against the insaneness of extremist terrorism. There are also many Muslins among the authors of these messages. They have obviously understood that what happened has brought to light a problem the seriousness of which goes far beyond the despicable act of terrorism seen as a threat involving the Islamic world’s cultural self-mutilation through the progressive annihilation of Eastern Christianity. And Alexandria is not an isolated case. Only a few weeks ago a similar tragedy involved the parish community belonging to the church of “Our Lady of Salvation” in Baghdad, when a commando of suicide bombers broke into the church during Sunday Mass on October 31st killing 58 people with their bombs and machine guns. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for that massacre.
In just two years the number of Christians in Iraq, often members of some of the most ancient communities in the world, has halved. Those who could afford to fled to the West while the poorer ones sought refuge in the more peaceful and more tolerant Kurdish north, or in Turkey. Then came a new wave of departures, following the atrocities in Baghdad. In the meantime, disoriented and ill at ease, the world has been watching the Christianity of the Chaldeans and the Syrians slowly fading day after day, while still today in those land one can attend Mass said in Aramaic. It is cruelly ironical that some have labelled the war in Iraq as a “new crusade.” And yet, shouldn’t the fact that one of its direct consequences has been precisely the expulsion of Christianity from some of its most ancient and traditional places lead us to reflect? Today the ancient communities that inhabited Egypt and what is now Iraq many centuries before the advent of Islam, have simply become scapegoats. Extremists consider them extraneous bodies to be eradicated and Western “fifth columns” to be dismantled. Al Qaeda’s Sunni extremists promise a religious “cleansing” of the Muslim world. In their delirious vision of a new caliphate extending from Baghdad to Marrakech there is no room for Christians and Jews. Nor is there room for the Shiites considered heretics by Sunni extremists.
The New Year’s Eve attack bearing Al Qaeda’s unmistakeable signature is also a slap to the regime led by Hosni Mubarak. In September in fact the Egyptian people will be summoned to the polls to elect a new president. Ferociously repressing all opposition, be it secular or Muslim, Mubarak wishes his son to take his place. Those attacking the Copts, who are eight million and the largest Christian minority in the Near East, are also attacking the most pro-western regime in the Arab world. In the meantime, however, the “pharaoh” Mubarak plays his own game trying to blame the miserable conditions experienced by Copts in Egypt on the attacks of Islamic extremists. One must, however, not forget that it was precisely his regime that allowed a creeping islamisation to take place in Egyptian society, as well as fomenting intolerance and bigotry against those who are heterodox. Copts are not permitted to build places of worship and their chances of improving their positions within society and in their professions are in practice wiped out by a profoundly corrupt state apparatus. Just one year ago, during a Coptic Christmas celebration, a number of attackers shot and killed seven Christians outside the Nag Hammadi Cathedral. The victims were Egyptians, and yet, it took the president two full weeks before he decided to condemn this attack.
It will not be necessary to insist very much to ensure that Islam’s representatives in Germany will assume a position, since only a few hours after the massacre in Alexandria, the “Council for the Coordination of Muslims” “severely condemned this cowardly and terrible attack.” This is a learning process; Muslims have understood that by unhinging the foundations of reciprocal respect, Islamic extremists wish to also destroy the foundations of civilised coexistence in this country. It is absurd to demand that after every terrorist attack innocent Muslims should distance themselves from violence they never endorsed to begin with. Such ignorant demands would render law-abiding citizens hostages to the so-called “jihadists.”
It is essential that one should understand this, since the real front in this war is not between one religion and another, as the enthused believers in an apocalyptic clash of civilisations would like one to believed. Today’s conflict instead opposes those who wish to live in a multidenominational society to the extremists of purity, and now, more than ever, this is happening in Islam. For those who kill in the name of purity, the most serious provocation is the integration that takes place in the most natural way, without fear, the one on which the great strength of open societies is founded. Nowadays in fact, every Muslim who lives peacefully in the West with a spirit of neighbourliness, represents the personified refutation of any Bin Laden. This is a point we all too often neglect in our excited debates on Islam. Instead, with every Christian who abandons Egypt and Iraq, the Muslim extremists believing in a delirious Absolute come closer to achieving their objective. It is precisely for this reason that Muslims, including those who live in the West, must fight to defend the rights of Christians in the East. This is a battle that concerns them too, and it is also up to them to prove that Islam has nothing to do with the aggressive ideology that made Mariouma Fekry an involuntary martyr.
Translated by Francesca Simmons