It’s certainly not one of the endearing Christmas traditions, but exploiting Christmas for political purposes is unfortunately becoming a sort of Christmas ritual for activists who regard themselves as pro-Palestinian – and who are, in any case, fiercely against Israel. But as so often, the relentless focus on blaming Israel reflects a cynical approach that cares little about any kind of abuse or persecution that can’t be blamed on the Jewish state.
As I’ve noted in a previous post, even though Christianity is doing very well globally, the picture in the region where it originated looks rather grim: today’s Middle East has the lowest concentration of Christians (just 4% of the population) and the smallest number of Christians (some 13 million) of any major geographic region.
Contrary to what pro-Palestinian activists like to insinuate, Palestinian Christians under Palestinian rule in Gaza and the West Bank are affected by the very same dynamics that have diminished the ancient Christian communities all over the Middle East – and before they came for the Christians, they came for the Jews.
Focusing on minorities in the Middle East, Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, notes in a recent op-ed:
Nearly a century after they rose on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab states have failed to cause the mosaic of ethnic, national and religious communities which form them to coalesce into nations with common goals and aspirations. Those societies have been torn by ceaseless internal and external squabbles, political and economic discrimination, revolts, civil wars and military coups – resulting in an estimated five million dead and countless wounded as well as a growing number of refugees.
But if the Arab Middle East was often hostile to its minorities while secular Arab nationalism held sway, the now emerging Islamist-ruled Middle East is already threatening even Egypt’s ancient Coptic community whose roots go back centuries before the establishment of Islam and whose very name is associated with ancient Egypt. A depressing report in the Wall Street Journal notes that “[for] decades Copts have suffered attacks by Islamists who view them as ‘kafir’—Arabic for nonbelievers. [...] This year, mobs have looted and attacked Coptic churches, homes and shops throughout Egypt. Churches have been burned down, and one Copt had his ear cut off by a Muslim cleric invoking Islamic law.”
One woman quoted in the report says that she faced harassment because she did not go out veiled, and that she was openly told by a fellow-Egyptian: “We want to clean our country of you.” Hardly less alarming was her experience when a doctor who checked her 12-year-old daughter for a fever suggested that the girl should have her genitals mutilated.
Estimates by human rights groups indicate that as many as 100,000 Copts may have already fled Egypt in the wake of the “Arab Spring.”
But for Egypt’s Copts, the year had already begun with sorrow and anguish when the bombing of a church in Alexandria killed 21 and wounded nearly 100 people leaving a New Year’s Mass. One of the victims was a young woman named Mariouma Fekry who, just before attending the mass, had written on her Facebook page: “I have so many wishes in 2011 … hope they come true … plz god stay beside me & help make it all true.”
The Egyptian government eventually blamed the Gaza-based “Army of Islam” for the bombing; according to press reports, the group denied responsibility, but expressed praise for the perpetrators. This praise is hardly surprising given that also Gaza’s tiny Christian community faced violence and threats by Islamists already shortly after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. Ever since, Gaza’s Christians have been aware that they can’t celebrate Christmas publicly. Moderate Islamism in action.