It was a familiar sight: the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmed at-Tayyeb, and the Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, side-by-side as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the ousting of Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013. Front seats were granted to the two grey-bearded clerics who had donned their customary robes for the occasion. Since the founding of the Republic of Egypt in 1952, the Church and al-Azhar have often joined efforts with the state authorities. This time another, pious actor befriended the triad: the-Salafist Nour Party. With Egypt then standing on the verge of entering a new adventure, the formation of this curious alliance suggested that religion as a political instrument would not perish.
The ongoing destruction and dislocation of the Christian population in Iraq and Syria as a result of brutal persecution is a profound human tragedy. Entire communities, having fled their historic homes, now face the terrible choice imposed by the jihadists of the Islamic State: submit to Islam, leave, or be killed.
Images from the rolling deserts of Northern Iraq represent only the most recent episode in a harrowing trend. While Christian populations in the region have experienced ongoing decline over the past 60 years — comprising an estimated 18% of the regional population in 1948 vs. less than 8% in 2010 — the emergence of fundamentalist, political Islam has resulted in a dramatic escalation of violent persecution of Christian groups.
President Obama’s rhetoric on religious freedom and actions reflect a disparity in priorities. Throughout the summer we have seen a literal genocide targeting all religious minorities in Iraq unfold. There is a plethora of videos and reports depicting the barbaric slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’ite Muslims in Iraq. Most of the minorities fortunate enough to escape left with only the clothes they were wearing and had all possessions of value stolen by these terrorists. Some of these refugees have died of thirst and starvation on Mt. Sinjar while Western governments and the United Nations have vacillated on an appropriate response.
In the many Egyptian talk shows, known for their anti-Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric, shocking videos of Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fighters are displayed on a near daily basis. The videos show a woman stoned to death after she was convicted of adultery, mass executions, beheadings, or even show people being thrown off a mountain cliff after they have been shot.
I recently spent some time watching Shark Week on television. Being fascinated with large predatory fish, I’ve watched many shark programs throughout the years. And I’ve reached one conclusion: the “liberal” response one is accustomed to when the topic of Islam and Islamists come up—that they are misunderstood, that we need to respect their ways and be tolerant, that it’s our fault we get attacked—has become so embedded in the Western psyche that it now colors our understanding of the animal world as well.
Coptic Solidarity 2014 Conference
The Annual Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on June 26-28, 2014.