By Raymond Ibrahim – Special for Coptic Solidarity –
While statues, monuments, and buildings dedicated to and/or named after heroes of American history—including abolitionists who died fighting slavery—get vandalized, toppled, removed, and/or renamed, a terrorist, religious persecutor, and mass-slaver was lavishly honored in Egypt earlier this week.
On Sunday, June 3, 2023, the thirteenth century Sultan al-Zahir Baibars Mosque was reopened in Cairo following 16 years of restoration work commissioned by Egypt and Kazakhstan and costing more than 181 million Egyptian pounds.
The reopening ceremony in Cairo was attended by several dignitaries, including the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb. During that event, Maulen Ashimbaev, a Kazakh head of the country’s senate, said:
President Tokayev [of Kazakhstan] conveys warm greetings to all participants in the events dedicated to the 800th anniversary of Sultan Baibars [b.1223]. Over 600 events were organized as part of the anniversary, including some held in Egypt…. Sultan Baibars, a renowned commander, also dedicated himself to the construction of mosques and madrasas, as well as the advancement of science and education. The reopening of the Sultan al-Zahir Baibars Mosque, after restoration, rightfully recognizes it as a unique object of world cultural heritage. Therefore, today’s event holds great importance on an international scale.
Actually, if “Western standards” were used to evaluate this event, it would indeed “hold great important on an international scale”—but in a very negative way. After all, for all of Baibars’ achievements—including playing a pivotal role in halting the Mongols destructive advance into the Middle East at the Battle of Ayn Jalut, 1260—he was everything (and then some) that Western progressives claim to detest in the heroes of history.
For starters, this former slave-soldier (mamluk) assassinated, poisoned, and killed his way to the sultanate. A “radical” Muslim, once in power, Baibars ushered in one of the most horrific persecutions of Coptic Christians since Islam’s invasion of Egypt six centuries earlier: churches and monasteries were desecrated, burned or transformed into mosques; Christians were randomly executed in brutal ways, including by being sawn in half or thrown into pits and burned alive; the Coptic Orthodox Church was regularly extorted into paying exorbitant bribes. At one point, Baibars decreed that all Christian and Jewish scribes—who then formed the majority of the government (or diwan)—either convert to Islam or be beheaded. Some converted; others were martyred. (For more on the persecution of Copts at the hands of both Baibars and the Mamluk sultanate he ushered in, see Adel Guindy’s A Sword Over the Nile.)
In Syria, which also fell under his sway, Baibars, in 1263, “gave orders,” his biographer, Ibn Abdul Zahir approvingly writes, “that the church of Nazareth should be demolished, this being the most important place of worship for them; it is said that the religion of the Christians had its origin there.”
Having ravished the Christians under his authority, Baibars next turned to the much-weakened coastal Crusader kingdoms. In 1265, he conquered Caesarea and Haifa and massacred every Christian who could not flee. He then besieged Arsuf, which was defended by 260 Knights Hospitaller. They eventually accepted Baibars’ terms of surrender, which included allowing them all to go free. Once they opened their gates, the sultan reneged on his word and ordered them all shackled and enslaved and sent to march through the streets of Cairo—to jeers, slaps, and spits—wearing heavy wooden crosses around their necks. Then he turned to the undefended Christian village of Qara, massacring all the adults and enslaving their women and children.
Of especial note is Baibars sack of the Christian kingdom of Antioch in 1268. After the sultan’s men had breached the city, which was swollen with Christian fugitives, especially women and children, Baibars ordered its gates shut behind them. An orgiastic bloodbath—also known as the “single greatest massacre of the entire crusading era,” to quote Thomas Madden—followed. In a letter to Bohemond VI, who was not present at Antioch’s fall, Baibars gloated over what took place in explicitly jihadist terms:
You would have seen your knights prostrated beneath the horses’ hooves, your houses stormed by pillagers and ransacked by looters…your women sold four at a time and bought for a dinar of your [own] money! You would have seen the crosses in your churches smashed, the pages of the false Testaments scattered, the Patriarchs’ tombs overturned. You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate the mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests, and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the Patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes. You would have seen fire running through your palaces, your dead burned,…your palace lying unrecognizable, the church of St. Paul and that of Qusyan [Cathedral of Saint Peter] pulled down and destroyed.
Such is the man that Egypt has spent millions in order to rededicate a mosque to—even as “progressive” Americans fall over themselves trying to “cancel” the heroes of U.S. history—including Washington, Jefferson, and even Lincoln—on the charge that they were simply not good enough.