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Heinz Gstrein

Bloody New Year:
Christians under Islamic Violence
© 2010 KNA. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.

 

From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 3/2010, P. 34
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

A trail of open persecution of Christians runs from Algeria in the west over the Egyptian Nile Valley and Iraq to the Far East. In a number of Islamic countries Christians had to suffer under a wave of violence on the eve of the new year. The arson attack on the White Fathers' Institute for Arabic literature in Tunis, where the priest and librarian Gian Battista Malli was killed is particularly baffling. The news agency "Asia News" reported that the number of attacks against Christians in Iraq has multiplied in recent months. In the Algerian Tizi Ouzou, on the other hand, a group of radical Muslims devastated a Protestant church.

In Egypt, in Nag Hammadi at the Upper Nile where the Christians have been discriminated and oppressed for almost 1400 years by Muslim rule but still make up half of the population, in front of the episcopal church fanatics shot at those who attended the Christmas mass. Seven of them and a policeman were killed instantly, another died in hospital, where many severely injured are still fighting for their lives. The authorities and the media controlled by the government quickly laid the actual blame for the bloodbath on the Coptic Christians. In November a young Copt had indecently approached a Muslim girl in a neighboring village. The otherwise peaceful Muslims had now expressed their indignation by the punishment action at Christmas.

While even foreign agencies and correspondents in Cairo spread this euphemistic version, in the Egyptian capital in front of the Supreme Court Christians and well-meaning Muslims demonstrated against a justice that for decades has been protecting the aggressors after such excesses against Christians, and suing or often even punishing the victims. Thus, in Nag Hammadi 28 Coptic Christians were now again arrested as "accomplices".

Also in Cairo, at the seat of the Egyptian Human Rights League one pointed to the continued deterioration of the situation of Egyptian Christians under the presidents Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak; although Nasser still was less hostile to them. However, for political reasons he formed an alliance with the global Islamist movement. Anwar al-Sadat took openly action against the Copts and ordered that their Patriarch Schenudah III was imprisoned in a desert monastery. While Mubarak in turn made some cosmetic concessions to the Christians, as e.g. the elevation of Christmas on 7 January as national holiday. But he uses the Christian minority (fifteen per cent) as a scapegoat in order to distract the growing radical Islamic movement from his own regime.

In Nag Hammadi there are still demonstrations against this Christian-hostile attitude of the authorities. There were recently new clashes, when about 200 young Christians in front of the cathedral in chorus criticized the police of treating members of the Christian minority as second-class citizens. The Coptic Bishop Anba Kyrollos backed the young people. He emphasized that there could be no talk of an act of retaliation for a moral offense to a Muslim woman. Such a crime of a Copt had never been reported to the police. Rather, the bishop stressed, not only his faithful but above all he personally had been the target of an assassination plot.

 

Pressure of the Islamic Ummah

Much further east of Suez, in Malaysia, churches of various Christian denominations were set on fire. Christians of Chinese and Indian descent form a minority of nine per cent among the 28 million Malaysians. One reason for the violence might be the controversy whether "Allah" may be regarded as the same, one, and sole God of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Radical Muslims demand - unlike the traditional Islam - that their God alone should be called "Allah". A verdict by the Supreme Court had initially allowed the Catholic Church in its magazine "Herald" to use as name of God "Allah". However, the government has appealed, whereupon the court - probably in response to traditionally-minded politicians - had suspended the verdict (see CIG No. 2, p. 22). Now, the originally issued prohibition applies, which forbids to pray to the Christian God under the name of "Allah".

From the world's most populous Islamic state, from Indonesia it is reported that church officials got worried because of the incidents in Malaysia. The Divine Word missionary, George Kirchberger e.g. explained that Indonesia was always "a bit under pressure of the Muslim world," the Umma. Now conflicts as that in Malaysia could easily spill over. In the Philippines, there was at the beginning of the new year a hand grenade attack on the Cathedral of Joli. It is imputed to the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sajaf. Nobody was hurt.

In the background of the violent developments from the North African Maghreb over Egypt to the Far East is - in addition to the respective local cause - a common origin: an arch-conservative, but popular Muslim preacher stirred up hatred against the Eastern Christians. The 83-year-old Sheikh Yusuf al-Kardauwi, who in Doha, the capital of the usually rather moderate emirate of Qatar, also leads an Islamic research centre, said "We Muslims should no longer allow Christmas." In Islamic countries one had to prohibit Christians from celebrating Christmas, if necessary by "Islamic national resistance." Al-Kardauwi is considered to be the influential "grey eminence" in the Islamic world. His appeals have more weight than the decisions of most of the official representatives of Sunni Islam.

At Christmas especially the Coptic Christians mourned over the - natural - death of one of the most upright advocates for religious freedom in Egypt: Adly Abadir Youssef, who died at the age of nearly ninety, had primarily espoused the human rights in his homeland, and had established a foundation for that purpose. He came into conflict with President Nasser and fled in 1961 to Switzerland. There, Youssef also increasingly made a name for himself as the advocate of the deprived, disenfranchised and oppressed of all types, most recently by his own Copts Symposia, which in 2004 and 2006 also found international attention.

 

Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'