Future Remains Clouded for the Christian Copts in Egypt
To date the fate of the Coptic Christian community remains uncertain in a post revolutionary Egypt. This uncertainty is vividly depicted in two recent court rulings: one hopeful, the other crushing. But I see only one hope for Coptic Christians, a fundamental change in the mindset of the Muslim people.
Coptic Christians demonstrate in front of the High Court in Cairo in response to the Abu Qurqas ruling
The first ruling reaches back to an incident that occurred on January 11, 2011, shortly before the revolution broke out. The incident involved a Muslim police officer on a Cairo-bound train who killed a 71 year old Coptic man and wounded his wife plus four others. Witnesses said they saw the deranged police officer roaming the train looking for Christians and yelling "God is great" as he shot them.
On March 12, 2012, a judge sentenced the police officer to death. Samia Sidhom, the managing editor of a Cairo newspaper, said the ruling came as a surprise. It was rare, she added, because it went against an unwritten rule that says judges are not to give the death penalty to Muslims for killing Christians. It was so rare that it had to be approved by the state appointed Grand Mufti.
Although this ruling seems hopeful on the surface, the second court ruling did not go so well. This case involved a riot that broke out in the village of Abu-Qurgas on April 18, 2011. The riot began after a bus driver became angry about a speed bump placed in front of the home of a wealthy Christian. The incident resulted in the death of an elderly Christian woman and two Muslim men and dozens of Coptic homes and businesses being set on fire.
As a result, 12 Christians and eight Muslims were arrested. The charges included murder, disturbing the peace, inciting sectarian strife, arson, and possession of unlicensed firearms. The trial ended on May 21, 2012. The judge found all 12 Coptic Christians guilty and sentenced them to life in prison, while all the Muslims were acquitted and released.
The ruling was a bitter shock to the Coptic community because, according to the article, all eight Muslims had been charged with the same crimes, and no Muslim property had reportedly been damaged. A Coptic human rights lawyer in Egypt, Athanasious Williams, said the trial was completely unjust.
He expects Christians will continue to be persecuted in Egypt regardless who wins Egypt's run-off election for president scheduled in mid June between the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Mursi and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, a former member of the Mubarak administration.
Williams said, "I am expecting the worst in all cases. Either the Islamists will take over, or Ahmed Shafiq will. If the Islamists take over, we will be like Iran, and they will enforce sharia law, and there will be no freedom of religion. There will be no freedoms of any kind. There will be no freedom in art, opinion or anything. If Shafiq takes over, it will be the same way it was before."
As far as I am concerned, hope for Egypt's Coptic Christian community does not rest on court rulings or the upcoming presidential election, although these are very important. What is really needed is a fundamental change in the mindset of the Muslim people. Without that, I do not believe there is hope for the Copts or Egypt or the entire region.
When I refer to the Muslim mindset, I am thinking of something Robert Reilly said in his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind. He said the idea of "cause and effect" does not exist in the Muslim mind. Thus, they generally do not see an inner logic to things. Nor do they learn or develop critical thinking skills. Without a foundation of fixed knowledge, he says, there is only opinion and sophistry, which promotes irrational behavior and forces people to live in a world where myth and fantasy seem real.
This social condition can be explained in large part based on the Muslim understanding of ultimate reality, that is, God. Both Muslims and Christians believe that God is all-powerful, but for Muslims this quality is supreme and essentially negates all of God's other qualities. This one idea colors just about everything Muslim's believe about God, reality, human nature, and society.
Related to this exaggerated notion of God's sovereignty, is the idea that only God is real, that reality is illusion. Thus, Muslims believe that God is unlimited, pure will and power. For them, this means that Allah cannot be bound by order in the universe or reason or anything limiting. Allah can act capriciously, and without regard for the good of the person or creation. For Muslims, then, reality is not ordered; it is unknowable and without purpose.
Therefore, reason is not valued, but neither is morality, for human behavior has no moral value beyond absolute obedience to Allah's capricious will. So Muslim law, for instance, is not necessarily tied to human experience or objective reality or truth or reason. Consequently, Muslim law does not concern itself much with individual rights. Nor does it generally contain well-defined rules or precedents. This allows Muslim lawmakers and judges much discretion, as we have seen.
Postmodernism in the West does not acknowledge Islam's all-powerful God, or any other god for that matter, yet it parallels an Islamic world view in some significant ways. Like Islam, Postmodernism sees the world as unknowable. There is no one truth. Truth is relative, if there even is such a thing. So it is not important to seek truth. Instead of truth, Postmodernism seeks power that is unrestrained by moral limitations and can be exercised arbitrarily just like Islam's all-powerful God.
Although they come from opposite ends of the spectrum, both Islam and Postmodernism arrive at a view of reality which is essentially irrational and amoral. Reilly says that both Islam and Postmodernism (secularism, socialism, liberalism, etc.), demand that reality conform to their world view. He also says they both seek earthly utopias through politics and stringent control of the population.
Christians, on the other hand, have a profound belief in a universe that is objectively ordered and intelligible. It is a universe created by an all-powerful but loving God, the triune God. Therefore, Christians believe that the universe is objectively real and that much can be known about it through the use of reason and that it is basically good and filled with beauty.
Furthermore, Christians seek to understand their faith through reason. The Christian faith is not just about great mysteries and life after death; it also speaks of our nature and our relationships with each other, and it sees intelligible order in both. We call this order natural law, and it attests to our dignity as moral beings with inherent rights. Human beings are not the puppets of capricious, amoral gods. Nor are they mere products of evolution which can be molded by the postmodern, secular state into whatever it wants.
I see a time coming when more and more people around the world will demand to be ruled based on objective truths which they can come to know through reason and freely submit to, not out of fear, but out of admiration and loyalty to the goodness and beauty of those truths. This, then, is the real hope that I see for the Copts.
The Copts have displayed great courage time and time again. This was evident as thousands of Copts risked their well-being and possibly their lives when they demonstrated this past week in front of Egypt's High Court and demanded justice for their fellow Copts from Abu Qurqas who were condemned to life in prison. But they can do only so much in such a hostile society, and greater hostility is likely after the runoff elections for president in a couple weeks.
Islamists have already gained control in parliament, and their candidate is leading in the presidential election. It is believed that an Islamist government will institute sharia law in Egypt, which is highly discriminatory of non-Muslims. So the Copts are not in a position to effectively advocate for change despite their heroic efforts.
However, Christians in the West are in a position to help: if not directly, at least indirectly. This is especially true for Christians in the United States. In addition to prayer--prayer always comes first--it would seem that one of the best things we can do to help the Copts is to protect a Christian mindset in our own country from the ravages of Postmodernism.
Our country was founded in large part on the Christian mindset mentioned above. Our constitution is based on an objectively ordered view of the world and reason. And the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence specifically mentions the natural law. If this mindset is allowed to be extinguished in the most powerful country in the world, then it is unlikely it could take hold in Muslim society. More likely is that the world would plunge into a darkness filled with opinion, sophistry, myth, and fantasy for generations.
If we show just half the courage our Coptic brothers and sisters have shown, then we can protect a Christian mindset and the light which it brings to the world. To do this, we need to stand up for truth, goodness, justice and beauty every chance we get. We also need to show strong support for leaders who will stand up for these values and oust those who do not.
While this mindset and its light will not guarantee a better life for the Coptic Christians in Egypt, it is absolutely essential because it provides the foundation for a better life. So, in this respect, just by protecting a Christian mindset in the United States, we can help keep hope alive for the Copts and all Christians and people of goodwill around the world.
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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