Archive for bombing

Egypt’s Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as “human shields”

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by loonwatch

Don’t expect to see this news on Spencer’s blog.

Egypt’s Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as “human shields”

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’ eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”. Around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one.

The attack has rocked a nation that is no stranger to acts of terror, against all of Muslims, Jews and Copts. In January of last year, on the eve of Coptic Christmas, a drive-by shooting in the southern town of Nag Hammadi killed eight Copts as they were leaving Church following mass. In 2004 and 2005, bombings in the Red Sea resorts of Taba and Sharm El-Sheikh claimed over 100 lives, and in the late 90’s, Islamic militants executed a series of bombings and massacres that left dozens dead.

This attack though comes after a series of more recent incidents that have left Egyptians feeling left out in the cold by a government meant to protect them.

Last summer, 28-year-old businessman Khaled Said was beaten to death by police, also in Alexandria, causing a local and international uproar. Around his death, there have been numerous other reports of police brutality, random arrests and torture.

Last year was also witness to a brutal parliamentary election process in which the government’s security apparatus and thugs seemed to spiral out of control. The result, aside from injuries and deaths, was a sweeping win by the ruling party thanks to its own carefully-orchestrated campaign that included vote-rigging, corruption and rife brutality. The opposition was essentially annihilated. And just days before the elections, Copts – who make up 10 percent of the population – were once again the subject of persecution, when a government moratorium on construction of a Christian community centre resulted in clashes between police and protestors. Two people were left dead and over 100 were detained, facing sentences of up to life in jail.

The economic woes of a country that favours the rich have only exacerbated the frustration of a population of 80 million whose majority struggle each day to survive. Accounts of thefts, drugs, and violence have surged in recent years, and the chorus of voices of discontent has continued to grow.

The terror attack that struck the country on New Year’s eve is in many ways a final straw – a breaking point, not just for the Coptic community, but for Muslims as well, who too feel marginalized, persecuted, and overlooked, by a government that fails to address their needs. On this Coptic Christmas eve, the solidarity was not just one of religion, but of a desperate and collective plea for a better life and a government with accountability.

 

Ahmed Rehab: A Silver Lining in Egypt’s Dark Cloud

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by loonwatch

An inspiring and heartening post by Ahmed Rehab on the bombing of the Coptic church. We were alerted to this late but this is certainly thus far one of the best posts on the subject. (hat tip: Ivan)

A Silver Lining to Egypt’s Dark Cloud

by Ahmed Rehab

The recent bombing outside a Coptic church in the Egyptian seaport of Alexandria that claimed 21 lives and 96 injuries sent shockwaves throughout Egypt and made headlines around the world.

Much of the global media has limited its interest in the story to the bombing itself and the subsequent angry street protests by Coptic youth; more savvy journalists included some discussion of government negligence and the context of sectarian strife that plagues Egypt today.

Still, an integral part of the story remains untold outside of Egypt: the strong response of everyday Egyptians – Muslims and Copts.

A popular storm of anger, defiance, and national unity is sweeping the country expressed by political leaders, members of the clergy, movie stars, students, and men and women on the street all reiterating one resounding theme: this is an attack against Egypt and all Egyptians.

While sectarian strife – even violence – is a serious problem in this mostly Muslim nation with a sizable Coptic population, Muslims and Copts generally live in peace side by side and have for many centuries.

Ali GomaaEgyptians of all stripes seem to concur that the Alexandria bombing – the most serious act of terrorism in a decade – is an attack on the Egyptian way of life with the intent to drive a wedge between faith communities and push the nation into turmoil.

“This is not just an attack on Copts, this is an attack on me and you and all Egyptians, on Egypt and its history and its symbols, by terrorists who know no God, no patriotism, and no humanity,” said Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt.

Khaled El Gendy“This cannot be classified as religious extremism, this can only be classified as religious apostasy,” said sheikh Khaled El Gendy a popular Muslim TV personality. “I do not offer my condolences to Christians, but to all Egyptians and to Egypt, All Copts are Egyptian and all Egyptians are Copts; their places of worship are national places of worship, a bomb that targets them bleeds us all.” A high ranking member of the Coptic clergy who sat beside him echoed his words.

“An act like this is wholly condemnable in Islam. Muslims are not only obligated not to harm Christians, but to protect and defend them and their places of worship,” said Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt’s seat of Orthodoxy.

Adel Imam“Let us hang black flags from our homes and black ribbons on our cars to mourn this cowardly attack against our brothers and sisters, let us send a symbolic message of defiance against those who are trying to divide us”, said a visibly enraged Adel Imam, Egypt’s most popular living actor, a Muslim, and a long time advocate for Coptic rights.

The message was not much different on Egypt’s most watched talk shows that were abuzz with Muslim and Coptic guests in the studios and on the streets, expressing their solidarity with each other and defiance against what they see as a common enemy trying to drive a wedge between Egyptians.

Muslim college students in Alexandria and Cairo have vowed to join Copts at their upcoming Christmas celebrations (January 7th for the Coptic Church). “We will be there with signs bearing the Crescent and the Cross, celebrating with them, standing with them, and falling with them if necessary,” said a young, veiled student leader surrounded by her colleagues.

As an Egyptian, I am as invigorated by the current mood in Egypt as I am distraught by the bombing. However, I pray that this welcome surge of unity and camaraderie is seized and eternalized. I hope that it becomes ingrained into our societal fabric and that it is leveraged to induce long needed reforms.

I agree that an attack such as this has the bearings of Al Qaeda and its imitation groups therefore taking us outside the realm of common sectarian strife and into one of national security; nonetheless, Egyptians should see the current atmosphere of empathy as an opportunity to address Coptic grievances and strive towards a more equal society.

We can no longer deny that since the rise of Muslim extremist ideology in the 1970′s, Egypt’s once exemplary Muslim-Coptic relations has deteriorated significantly.

My father tells me that growing up in the 50′s, he often did not know if one of his friends was a Muslim or Copt except by sheer coincidence, and then when he did it mattered little. This was not my experience growing up in Egypt where my religion teacher made sure to warn me against the “treachery” of my Coptic colleagues.

Naguib El RihanyIn the 40′s, no one seemed to care that Naguib El Rihany, Egypt’s then greatest comedian and a national treasure, was a Copt; he was simply Egyptian. Likewise, Copts did not bat an eyelid when Omar Sharif, a Christian, converted to Islam in the 50′s, at the height of his celebrity, a far cry from today’s intense reactions against conversions.

As far back as the 12th century, Egyptian Muslims and Copts fought side by side against the Crusaders, viewed then as a national security threat and not a religious war. Together, they stood tall against British colonialism – a lasting image of the period depicts Muslim sheikhs and Coptic priests marching together side by side and chanting “long live the crescent and the cross!”

One needs not look farther than the Alexandria Church itself to gain a glimpse of the sort of religious cohabitation that is uniquely Egyptian: the church is brightly lit up by flood lights perched up on a Mosque, only 30 feet across the street.

Egyptians are asking today privately and publicly, where has all this gone?

But we need to do more than ask and lament. We need to act.

The post-Alexandria solidarity between Muslims and Copts – the likes of which Egypt has not witnessed in decades – represents a silver lining in Egypt’s dark cloud of sectarian strife and mistrust.

We would be wrong not to acknowledge and applaud it, but equally wrong to settle for it; a silver lining never made for a brighter day.

We need to carry the momentum forward into the realm of real change:

When extremist religious discourse at Mosques (and in Coptic circles) is regularly and unequivocally condemned and countered with a proactive and effective discourse of respectful coexistence, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptians no longer have to list their faith affiliation on their official government ID’s, it will be a brighter day.

When Copts no longer need a special government decree to build churches (or fix bathrooms in their churches), it will be a brighter day.

When I see talented young Coptic men playing on the Egyptian football national team at a rate proportional to the Coptic talent in my 6th grade class in Cairo, it will be a brighter day.

When the glass ceiling barring Copts from reaching the highest levels of government is shattered, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptian law, prosecutors, officers, and judges treat Muslims and Copts as merely Egyptians – that is as equal citizens – with merit being the only qualifier, it will be a brighter day.

Given the candid conversations happening all over Egypt today, I believe that a brighter day is within reach. It is up to us “to change this tragedy into an opportunity,” to borrow the words of Sheikh Ali Gomaa.

Clearly, the immediate priority is security, but that must be followed – if not paralleled – with addressing Coptic civic grievances. For this to stand a realistic chance of success, the Coptic cause must become a national cause led and fought for by Muslims under a program of comprehensive civil rights reform.

Ahmed Rehab is a board member of the Egyptian American Society and a co-author and signatory of the Chicago Declaration, a practical document calling for equal treatment of Copts under the law, submitted to the Egyptian government in 2005.

 

The Guardian: Against terror, our liberty is our best defence

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2010 by loonwatch
Wajahat AliWajahat Ali

by Wajahat Ali

The arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old US citizen of Pakistani descent, as the alleged driver of the vehicle used in the failed Times Square bombing represents an opportunity to respond effectively to a potential act of terrorism – instead of reacting with fear and hysteria that will inevitably be manipulated by extremist elements.

As of Tuesday morning, details are slowly emerging regarding the potential motives of suspect Shahzad, who was arrested at JFK airport as he planned to fly to Dubai, having recently returned from a five-month trip to Pakistan. Despite initial evidence and statements from law enforcement agencies suggesting this incident lacked the sophistication and planning of an international operation, the Pakistani Taliban has nonetheless claimed responsibility for this amateurish and failed attempt.

Their eagerness speaks volumes about their desperation to instil fear in the hearts of the American public by an act of terrorism on the US mainland. The instant resumption of New York’s kinetic lifestyle following such an incident clearly demonstrates American resilience and immunity to such intimidation.

Regrettably, however, similar moments of tension – though isolated – have in the past been used cynically by bigoted ideological pundits in both non-Muslim American and Muslim communities to sow dissension and enmity. We saw this tendency recently, when a mentally unstable Army major, Nidal Hassan Malik, opened fire and killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. A Nigerian student, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, forever known as the underwear bomber, tried to ignite himself on an airplane on Christmas Day after, staggeringly, getting past security despite having been previously flagged (an unacceptable internal administrative mistake, revealing a lack of communication between security agencies).

Five young American Muslims were arrested in Pakistan for attempting to join a terrorist group after the children’s parents and Muslim American community members proactively contacted the FBI and assisted in their investigation (although the five have since protested their innocence). And, most recently, two clowns known as “Revolution Muslim” made veiled threats towards the creators of South Park for making a cartoon mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

These incidents of violence or attempted terrorism by radicalised individuals in America – as well as the blank space in the New York skyline that was once graced by the World Trade Center towers – serve as unending fuel for the rightwing commentators. And those bellicose pundits will inevitably squeeze every drop of righteous anger and fear from this failed Times Square plot, in order to promote a dangerously inaccurate image of an Islamic monolith comprising 1.5 billion diverse individuals as having an innate homicidal aversion to “our freedoms”. Attacks will, no doubt, be made on Barack Obama’s efforts at conciliation and partnership with Muslim communities – as evidenced by his al-Arabiya interview, his historic speech to Muslims in Cairo, and his outreach to Muslim American organisations and leaders.

Sarah Palin and her ilk will argue passionately on Fox News to “profile away” evil-doers – in effect, advocating racial profiling of ethnic minorities, especially of Middle Easterners and South Asians. Anticipating public anxiety, Obama reacted to calls for “greater security” following the failed Christmas Day bombing by implementing catch-all measures – recently amended – to extend special pat-downs and heightened profiling to individuals returning from 14, mostly Muslim, countries.

Despite overwhelming evidence showing that racial profiling and the erosion of civil liberties and due process are counterproductive in fighting terrorism, I worry that fear and divisive rhetoric will be used to undermine the mutual trust and co-operation that has been painstakingly built over the past two years between American Muslims and law enforcement agencies.

Rightwing demagogues who proclaim the virtues of the west, and argue that terrorism is unique to the “Muslim world”, should be reminded of evidence to the contrary. The recent arrest of nine members of the Christian terrorist militant group, the Hutarees, for conspiring to kill police officers and wage war on the United States government has largely been labelled an anomaly. The suicide flight of disgruntled Joseph Stack into the IRS building in Texas, which killed an innocent public employee, has been overlooked, even as Tea Party-type anger at federal government institutions has been allowed to fester.

Islam, too, has its reckless demagogues. Radicalised Muslim elements manipulate asinine episodes such as satirical cartoon depictions of the Prophet as categorical proof that the “imperialist” west is perpetuating its war on all of Islam and Muslims. Recent violence and threats against those cartoonists who have depicted the Prophet in a disrespectful manner do not emerge from a vacuum, but rather they are symptomatic of a sustained belief in a skewed and simplistic narrative of the “war-mongering west” that finds its evidence in the Iraq war, US support for Israel, civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and cozy US relations with brutal Arab dictatorships. These thugs ultimately bear the greatest blame for betraying the legacy and spirit of their Prophet, who urged moderation and civility.

In the face of the threat from extremists, the greatest mistake Americans could make would be to revisit the rhetoric and security policies of George W Bush, which proved to be disastrous in curbing global terrorism but highly successful in eroding the US’s standing in world opinion, and which damaged co-operation with Muslim communities. Ultimately, the best defence is the very same values of freedom, liberty and democracy they wish to defend and protect.

The sad reality of modern, globalised 21st century existence is that the threat of terrorism and violence is a constant, yet manageable and containable, aspect of daily life. Reactionary posturing, rampant ethnic stereotyping, scapegoating of minorities, and provoking mistrust of Muslim Americans and allies have only ever exacerbated the risks. Recent history has shown that a reasoned and moderate perspective, along with sound security measures, vigilant policing, protection of civil liberties and mutual aid are our best hope.

As more evidence in this case emerges in coming days, let us hope this philosophy prevails.

Wajahat Ali is a Muslim American of Pakistani descent. He is a writer and attorney, whose work, The Domestic Crusaders is the first major play about Muslims living in a post 9/11 America. He is the Associate Editor of Altmuslim.com. His blog is here

source: The Guardian