During a recent ceremony that was attended by more than 50 ambassadors and diplomats, many from Western nations, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II reportedly said “that Egypt had a long history and civilization and has been a model for coexistence between Christians and Muslims for 14 centuries,” to quote the online website, Egypt Independent (I cannot locate his original speech in Arabic to confirm his precise words).
This assertion raises a host of questions, from its veracity, to the reason it was uttered by the representative head of the nation’s indigenous Christians.
As to the claim itself—that “Egypt … has been a model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims for 14 centuries”—this is somewhat literally true: from Islam’s initial invasion of Egypt in the late 630s, to the present, Egypt has indeed been a “model”—a paradigm—of what happens to native Christians when Muslims conquer their territory. Even the word “coexist,” though connoting living peaceably with others, literally only means to live together (including its Arabic form, ta‘ayush).
At any rate, and as documented in my new book, Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, those 14 centuries saw a continuum of hostility ranging from wholesale persecution (in the worst of times) to mere discrimination (in the best of times) in Egypt. Much of this is confirmed by the History of the Coptic Patriarchs (which no doubt the latest Coptic patriarch is aware of). This multivolume account, compiled over the course of a millennium, covers the history of the Coptic Church under Islam till 1894.
Unmitigated Muslim persecution of Christians permeates it pages, including the burning and banning of churches and crosses; the fiscal extortion, slaughter, enslavement, mass rape, and forced conversion of Christians. Think what the Islamic State (“ISIS”) has been doing to Christians and others but on an exponential scale. Moreover, the persecutors weren’t “radicals” who have “nothing to do with Islam,” but leading heads of Islamic states, whether Arabs, Fatimids, Ayyubids, Mamluks, or Turks.
Following a brief respite and “golden age” for Christians under colonial rule, when freedom of religion and equality were expected and enforced, the persecution of Egypt’s Copts is back in full force. Since Tawadros became Pope in late 2012 alone, hundreds of Christians have been massacred in repeated church bombings, monastery attacks, and random killings. The mere rumor that a church is being renovated or built, or that a home is being used as a church, prompts Muslim mobs to riot and destroy Christian property, often with the support of officials (as happened only recently). And of course, young Christian girls continue to be targeted for kidnapping, rape, and conversion to Islam.
So why did Tawadros say what he did (whether it was meant as a double entendre or not being irrelevant)? Because real politick dictates that his speaking the ugly truth would only exacerbate the plight of his flock: most Western diplomats in attendance would at best do nothing, at worst criticize him for being an “Islamophobe.” Either way, he would be left alone to deal with his Muslim overlords; and they would be displeased—and manifest their displeasure in the usual way—because a dhimmi, who is tolerated inasmuch as he meekly submits, dared tarnish Islamic Egypt’s image.
From the start, many in the West have failed to understand this hostage-like relationship. For example, years before the First Crusade was launched, Peter the Hermit (b. 1050) went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When he finally reached the Holy Sepulchre, “he saw many forbidden and wicked things occurring there. . . . [So] he sought out the patriarch of the holy church of Jerusalem and asked why gentiles and evil men were able to pollute holy places and steal away offerings from the faithful, using the church as if a stable, beating up Christians, despoiling pilgrims through unjust fees, and inflicting on them many sufferings.” The frustrated patriarch threw up his hands in exasperation: “Why do you reprimand me and disturb me in the midst of my fatherly cares? I have but the strength and power of a tiny ant when compared to those proud men. We have to redeem our lives here by regular tribute payments [jizya] or else face death-dealing punishment.”
Then and now, not a few Mideast Christians have also had to “redeem their lives” by, among other forms of “regular tribute,” not tarnishing Islam’s image—even as Westerners wonder why they don’t “speak up.”
Which leads to the real question: If Christian minorities living under Islamic authority have little choice but to speak well of their “coexistence” with Islam, why are Western leaders, politicians, and talking heads of all varieties—who are not under Islamic authority—also behaving like cowed dhimmis?
Put differently, if the Coptic pope is hostage to his Muslim masters, exactly who or what is the Catholic pope—who covers up for Islam even more—a hostage to?