Muslims, Christians and religious violence
One of the most interesting news stories last weekend was the one about Muslims turning out to Christian services in Egypt to act as human shields after the bombing of a church the previous weekend. In Egypt, ministers and movie stars turn out for trouble-free Christmas mass – Ahram Online: “Amidst high-security and in an unprecedented show of solidarity, Muslims and Copts gathered at churches across Egypt Thursday night to observe the Coptic Christian Christmas eve mass”.
And it appears that it wasn’t just ministers and movie stars, but a lot of ordinary Muslims attended the Coptic Christmas services (the Coptic Church follows the old calendar). This interview with the Egyptian Ambassador in Germany is particularly interesting: tehran times : Muslims are standing side by side with the Copts: Egyptian ambassador:
Q: Mr Ambassador, after the New Year’s Day attack on a Coptic Christian Church in Egypt that killed 21 people, Copts in Germany fear assaults by extremists, and police are guarding Coptic churches. Are you planning to visit a Coptic community to show your solidarity?
A: Of course I will join the Christmas church service in the Egyptian Coptic church in Berlin — as I do every year. I will express my heartfelt condolence to our citizens in my function as their ambassador. Egyptians are Muslims, Copts as well as Jews — the country has always been multireligious. While the overwhelming victims of the terrorist act were Coptic Christians, it was clearly directed against Egypt as a whole.
Q: Dutch Muslim organizations offered to guard Coptic churches. Is that reasonable?
A: Of course it is. Similar things are also happening in Egypt: Muslims are standing side by side with the Copts. We are all one people.
Interreligious violence is nothing new. Though Samuel Huntington predicted an increase of such things in the post-Cold War world in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, they were not uncommon even during the Cold War, though they were not perhaps as widespread or as frequent. India, especially in the period preceding partition in 1947, Northern Ireland and Lebanon were notorious for such clashes in the Cold War period. But such clashes seem to have become more widespread and more frequent in the post-Cold War period, as Huntington predicted.
Perhaps what we are now seeing in Egypt is a sign of a growing public revulsion against such things, with more people being prepared to take a stand against them. The idea of “human shields” is not new, and it is not likely to be immediately effective. Many people from various parts of the world went to Iraq to be human shields to deter the American bombing of that country, but they failed to prevent it. Islamist terrorists are unlikely to be deterred by the presence of Muslims in a Christian church. Most of the victims of Islamist terrorists are Muslims anyway, and in Iraq as many mosques have been bombed as Christian churches in the last 8 years or so.
What might be effective, though it might take many martyrs before the message sinks in, is the fact that many people are prepared to make a public stand, and to demonstrate their revulsion against violence by being willing to place themselves in danger. It remains to be seen whether this is just a flash in the pan, or the beginning of a real popular movement.