- Life Style
I refuse to apologize on behalf of the terrorists who committed the atrocious massacre of the church in Alexandria.
I, as an Egyptian, regardless of the religion I believe in, or the one I was born into, demand an apology. An apology not only for this heart breaking massacre, but for the cancerous intolerance that is practiced by a great number of this country’s citizens, whatever their religion or class.
The crises in Egypt go beyond, but definitely include, sectarianism.The public reaction, opinion articles, and official responses to this tragic massacre were gravely disappointing.
Officially, we are presented by an apologetic rhetoric, whereby the state attempts to reproduce a naive discourse on national unity.
On the popular level, however, discontent manifests itself in two forms: On one hand, the denunciation of violence by “moderate” Muslims through various expressions of solidarity with their Christian “brothers” and “sisters.” The intentions of these gestures of solidarity are noble, but the consequences risk reinforcing the Muslim-Christian divide, while undermining the fact that this event was orchestrated by terrorists against everyone in this country.
On the other hand, one should be cautious not to hail this event as the “golden” proof of the persecution of Christians in Egypt. Religious intolerance does exist, but this should not be taken as an excuse for submission to dogmatic religious institutions or reproducing other forms of intolerance.
Instead, we should pause for a second to seriously analyze the mass hysteria that is triggered everyday by both Muslim and Christian Egyptians.
Religious sectarianism or rather prejudice against Christians in Egypt, specifically on the popular level, should be analyzed as part of a growing culture of intolerance that is found throughout society. Recent events have shown that Egyptians, whether Muslims or Christians, alarmingly practice or repeat racist, sexist and sectarian behavior and remarks.
For example, one wonders why the people of this country, including some well regarded intellectuals, never hesitated to label all Algerians as "barbaric" in reaction to violence perpetrated by a hysterical football crowd? Or to insensitively bash the continuous struggle of the Palestinians by ignorantly repeating appalling phrases such as “They’ve sold their land”? What about the fact that young women were chased and sexually abused by a hysterical crowd in the heart of the capital on an Eid holiday several years ago? Isn’t this a manifestation of the gender-based intolerance that we live out on a daily basis?
All this fades, of course, to the lack of shame when liberally throwing around racist comments about African refugees. This sampling of what I call everyday hysteria is practiced along all sectarian lines.
Thus, we should not be surprised when such hysteria also targets religious minorities. But if we are to discuss religious sectarianism in a serious manner, we have to realize that the question is delicate and has to be understood in a historical context.
In the nineteenth century, the (mis)treatment of Christian millets was often used as a pretext for European powers to intervene in the domestic affairs of the Ottoman empire. In the 1820s, Russia encouraged the Christian minorities of the empire to revolt, demanding a suspension of their tax payment to the sultan. Russia, wanting to find clients in the Ottoman empire, targeted the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians, eventually declaring itself the patron of Greek orthodox Christians in the empire. This revolt, however, became the first incident of ethnic cleansing (Greeks versus. Muslim Turks) in the history of the Ottoman empire.
The drama of sectarianism is, however, even starker in the Levant. When the British empire of the early 19th century was unable to find Protestant clients in the region, it began to patronize local Muslim minorities and play them against Arab Christians. The infamous rivalry between the Druze and Maronites of Lebanon was engineered by the British empire. This was in the context of British rivalry with other European powers, in this case the French, who were supporting the Catholic Maronites. As events unfolded, the Maronite-Druze rivalry chronicled one of the bloodiest civil wars in Lebanese history.
These two historical examples should warn us of the repercussions of abusing the issue of religious sectarianism. The region should address the question of sectarianism responsibly and with caution.
On the other hand, the responsibility of curbing the growing intolerance in this country falls upon all of us, regardless of our religion, beliefs, or where and how we wish to live our lives.
We need to stand up to religious dogma by institutions, preachers, and “televangalicals.” We ultimately need to engage critically and responsibly with this rhetoric of religious sectarianism and to rethink any intolerant phrase, thought, or ideology that crosses our path.