A Church under siegeMICHAEL COREN
A $60-million bounty on a Coptic leader is just one sign of the threats facing Egypt’s Christians.
Last week I was supposed to interview Father Zakaria Boutros on my television show. It would have been the second time I had spoken to this gentle, thoughtful man, one of the leading figures of the Egyptian Coptic Christian community and now obliged to live in exile in the United States after twice being arrested in his homeland. But on this occasion the interview was suddenly cancelled. A $60-million bounty had just been put on his head by Muslim extremists in Iran and Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda were thought to be intent on fulfilling the fatwa and it was considered too dangerous to allow him to travel to Canada. The fact that the United States government bounty on Osama bin Laden is a mere $25-million rather puts the case of this disarmingly gentle and jovial priest into proportion.
Because while he is anonymous to most North Americans, Boutros is famous or notorious throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, where his daily television broadcasts attract enormous audiences and his Web site millions of hits. His style is uncompromising. Speaking in Egyptian accented Arabic, and fluent in Islamic scholarship and the various sub-cultures of the Muslim world, he carefully unwraps the layers of the Koran and the life and teachings of Muhammad and presents his viewers with a virtually unprecedented critique of their faith. It's the combination of accessibility and originality that makes him so threatening to militant Islam.
"We know people are leaving Islam because of what I say and they know people are leaving Islam because of what I say," he explains. A long pause, then: "People in the West simply don't understand the significance of this in a world that has not and probably will not embrace pluralism. The Islamic response is not to argue with me but to try to kill me."
Nor is this just the sordid reaction of wealthy fanatics and terror mobs. Last month the Iranian parliament voted on a draft bill, the "Islamic Penal Code," whereby any woman who left Islam would be punished with life in prison and any man with execution. 196 parliamentarians supported the bill, seven opposed it. The world's reaction, including the United Nations', to this contravention of myriad international laws has been screamingly silent.
Iran is in fact merely attempting to institutionalize what is already reality in Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Even in areas of the Islamic world, such as Palestine and Iraq, where Christianity has traditionally been tolerated, conversion is still seen as socially and morally criminal.
Egypt is a particularly acute and troubling case because of the size of the Christian minority, the horror of their treatment and the systematic and cynical denial by the Egyptian government and their puppets and fellow travellers abroad. There are between eight and 10 million Christians in Egypt, around 10% of the population and for the last 30 years in particular they have faced organized discrimination in the law, education, employment and housing. As a consequence they leave Egypt in disproportionately large numbers.
Beyond this now regular, degrading oppression there are numerous cases of grotesque violence. In January, 2000, for example, in El-Kosheh, Upper Egypt, 21 Christians were killed in rioting by local Muslims, aided by the police. When authorities eventually reacted, they arrested more than a thousand local Christians, many of whom were tortured. There are numerous cases of Coptic girls being kidnapped by Muslim gangs and then being forcibly converted and married to Muslim men. If they flee these marriages and try to return to Christianity they are killed as apostates.
Church desecration is common, as are public burnings of Bibles and Christian literature. There are also documented cases of Christians being ritually crucified, the rape of Christian girls and the prolonged beating of children, some of them babies. These are not isolated incidents condemned by the state, but part of a reoccurring pattern often ignored and, in some regions, actively encouraged by police and militia. Egyptian apologists will point to certain Christians in positions of influence or, more frequently, argue that these accusations are propaganda -- lies told by Christians and Jews in North America and Europe.
They are not. Spend time with an Egyptian Christian living in forced exile and the stories and the pain tumble forth as the toxins of dark experience flow from their memory. Or speak to Father Zakaria Boutros, if he is allowed to travel and manages to survive the multi-million dollar bounty on his head.
Michael Coren."A Church under siege." National Post, (Canada) October 23, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of Michael Coren and the National Post.
Michael Coren (born January 1959 in Essex, England) is a Canadian columnist, author, public speaker, radio host and television talk show host. He is the host of the television series The Michael Coren Show. His articles and speeches often include stories of his own personal spiritual journey. Coren is half Jewish through his father.
He converted to Evangelical Christianity after a conversion experience as an adult, greatly influenced by Canadian televangelist Terry Winter. In early 2004, he embraced Catholicism. He cites St. Thomas More, C.S. Lewis, Ronald Knox and his God-father Lord Longford as spiritual influences, but remains connected to the ecumenical scene in Canada and beyond. He is the author of twelve books, including Mere Christian: Stories from the Light, Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis: The Man Who Created Narnia, J.R.R Tolkien: the Man Who Created 'the Lord of the Rings'. He is published in many countries and in more than a dozen languages. He is currently writing a book entitled Socon, A Handbook for Moral Conservatives. Michael Coren is available as a public speaker. Visit his web site here.
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