What is happening in Egypt to the Copts is the Kristallnacht of our times.
Whatever the origins of the West's unwillingness to recognise the existence of religion as a causal agent of conflict, this is a naivety which we can no longer afford to possess.
Some years ago in Dover I fell into conversation with an elderly man on a bus. He expressed an admiration for our nation whose depth I found perplexing.
He said this was due to the “restraint” Britons had shown when reacting to 7/7, an attack which had then only recently taken place.
He was genuinely amazed. Had the religious minority in his own country perpetrated such an act, he told me, the churches that were regularly set ablaze there, would be being torched with their congregations still inside.
The churches he was speaking of are some of the oldest sites of Christian worship in the world. The gentleman was the first Copt I had ever met.
He told me of people forced to scavenge on rubbish dumps for food. About adolescent girls kidnapped into “marriage” by police officers who killed their relatives. And of countless and appalling tortures endured while Westerners sunned themselves on the beaches of Sharm el-Sheikh.
What stunned me the most was not the horror of what he described, but the gentle stoical endurance with which he somehow put up with it. It was both pitiable and admirable.
Here was the endurance against adversity that had somehow built the pyramids.
And this may be why the Copts (unlike the Assyrians or Zoroastrians) have survived in the numbers they have; in spite of the recent explosion in the rest of Egypt’s population, and despite a subservient status spanning thirteen centuries.
A status specifically designed, to quote the 18thcentury Sufi author Ibn ‘Ajiba, to be “a killing of their souls”.
If it comes it will not be an unforeseeable occurrence, like the sudden Rwandan genocide was. It is gradually unfolding before our eyes.
There are steps we can take to attempt to prevent it.
China will not have ignored the Muslim Brotherhood’s threat to close the Suez Canal and the menace to the container ships of its export-driven economy this represents. Russia too, with an increasingly muscular Orthodox consciousness, will have cause for concern.
The stage is set for the Security Council to do something it has never accomplished successfully: coming to grips with an intra-national conflict. Getting the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to grow up as a diplomatic entity will be a prerequisite to this.
Britain too should take note. Nations that, whether rightly or wrongly, make the defence of “minority rights” a defining moralistic aspect of domestic policy cannot abandon the logical obligation of incorporating this into foreign policy as well.
No one can say they were not warned.
They all came up against a kind of geo-political infantilism. A collective madness which poured scorn on anyone not willing to close their eyes, cross their fingers, and believe really, really hard that everything would just turn out okay.
The scales must fall from our eyes, before millions die.
Neither should we continue to fool ourselves that religion is not the primary driver of some of these events; and the overwhelming direction that this drive is coming from. (The BBC’s attempt this week to paint incidents as even-handed “clashes” has been dangerously close to complicity in the murder of a gentle and submissive people.)
It is indeed right to critique criticism of Islam that is unsophisticated in its non-recognition of the intense diversity and variation across the Islamic world.
Nevertheless, the treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim majority territories is one area possessed of a complete lack of ambiguity on both the historic and contemporary level. We do no one any favours by refusing to grapple with the theological roots of this.
The most perceptive scholar of the subject is Dr Mark Durie, who has pointed to the unwillingness of policy-makers to recognise the existence of religion as a causal agent. He correctly calls this one of the most profound analytical blind-spots of our age.
In comparing North and South Korea, we have no conceptual obstacle to recognising that the differences between them have been determined by their political ideologies. Ideology affects belief, which in turn governs behaviour.
This same simple causality has become something we refuse to face, when what is at stake is religious ideology: theology. And the non-existent reaction of politicians to the fate of the Copts underlines the extent to which this stifling cognitive paralysis has spread from social policy to geo-political strategy.
Whatever the origins of such thinking are, as the 21st century darkens before our eyes, these are naiveties which we can no longer afford to possess.
George Igler is the managing director of Discourse, the UK’s institute for free speech. A City-based political analyst and strategist, he also researches both religious and political extremism
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