• 11:38
  • Tuesday ,30 March 2010
العربية

Tolerating the intolerant

BY-SHERIF EMIL,FREELANCE

Opinion

00:03

Tuesday ,30 March 2010

Tolerating the intolerant

The Copts, Egypt's indigenous Christians, like many other Eastern Orthodox Christians, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, according to the Julian calendar. The midnight mass and Christmas day are joyous celebrations for Egypt's Christians, as they are for Christians around the world.

But there was no joy among Christians in Egypt at the start of this new decade. As celebrants were leaving a Coptic church in Nagi Hammadi shortly before midnight on Jan. 6, a hail of machinegun fire abruptly changed the giggling of children and the well-wishes of adults into screams of pain and agony.
 
Six people, aged 16 to 26, were murdered on the spot. Two others died later in hospital. A Muslim guard at the church was also killed.
 
Over the next two days, more Christian families were attacked by Muslim mobs, resulting in widespread destruction of property and businesses.
 
When I shared the event with my colleagues on Jan. 8, hardly anyone had heard the news. There was very little coverage in the Western media. And in the days that followed, hardly anyone was concerned when five churches were destroyed in Muslim Malaysia or when a Protestant church had burned to ashes in Muslim Algeria. A massacre of Christians in the Muslim part of Nigeria soon followed. Vicious attacks on Christian minorities occurred in three supposedly moderate Muslim countries within a single week. But not an eyebrow was raised.
 
In the meantime, we here in Quebec, like many other Western societies, are fully invested in finding ways to reasonably accommodate Muslim immigrants. We debate whether women should be allowed to wear the niqab when receiving public services. We argue whether groups that promote terrorism, murder, and Islamic revolution in Western societies should be tolerated, as is happening now in Britain. We ask whether it is reasonable accommodation to allow the azan, the loud and public Muslim call to prayer, to echo five times a day in American neighbourhoods, as was debated and allowed in Hamtramck, Mich., a few years ago.
 
We blame victims for living dangerously when a Dutch director is stabbed to death for criticizing Islam in a movie, or a Danish cartoonist narrowly escapes with his, and his 6-year-old granddaughter's, life, as occurred recently. We apologize to Muslims when they go on a rampage of anger and destruction in response to what the pope said or what a newspaper published.
 
And, yes, we lament how Islamophobic the West has become when the Swiss decide to ban minarets, not mosques, conveniently forgetting that Saudi Arabia bans the building of non-Islamic houses of worship, "moderate" Egypt requires Christians to obtain a presidential decree to repair a church bathroom, and building a church or synagogue in a Muslim country is often an insurmountable feat.
 
As we debate how to further accommodate our Islamic minority, who already enjoy full equal rights, and are asking for special ones, we are happy to ignore the plight of the Muslim world's Christian minorities, who in almost all cases are the indigenous inhabitants of the land, not immigrants to it, and yet have no rights.
 
Egypt, my native country, is a prime example. Egypt's Christians, the descendants of the pharoahs, live in increasing isolation. Christians are denied the top opportunities in academia, politics, medicine, law, business, or any other venue, with few exceptions. Violence against Christians and their properties is increasing. Those who commit it are typically set free by a government and judicial system afraid of the repercussions of punishing those who are considered heroes for shedding Christian blood. Hatred of Christians and Jews is institutionalized and taught from the earliest stages of public schools. Widespread animosity toward Christians is supported by governmental collusion to subjugate and humiliate them. Only one group in Egypt experiences more persecution than the Copts - Muslims who convert to Christianity.
 
The Palestinian Christians are another sad example. On a recent visit to Bethlehem, now under Palestinian Authority control, I learned that half of the town's Christians have fled since the turn of the century. On the entrance to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, an Israeli Arab town, was a billboard in Arabic and English quoting a Quranic verse, "And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers." Ethnic cleansing of Christians has been taking place in the Middle East and Muslim world for decades, picking up where the Ottoman Empire left off.
 
I was raised in a financially comfortable family in Egypt. But as a Christian, my fate in Egypt was sealed. I was deemed to be a third-class citizen, behind Muslim men and Muslim women. I went to the U.S. at age 17, not in search of economic opportunity, but in hunger for equal citizenship. I now live and work in Canada, and I continue to be thankful daily for the gift of openness, tolerance, and free expression.
 
But I am also astonished by the naïveté of many Quebecers, who think that the niqab, the burqa, the insistence to be served by another female, and so on are simple matters of free religious expression. They do not understand that those who ask for such accommodation are also those who espouse fundamentalist Islam. Their goal is to "Islamize" the society they have immigrated to. Those requesting accommodation have never accommodated indigenous minorities, do not acknowledge the continuous ethnic cleansing of Christians from the Middle East, and will never raise a voice to criticize the persecution and oppression of religious minorities in the societies they left behind. Organizations that lobby hard for Muslim rights in Canada, such as the Muslim Canadian Congress, have yet to shed their hypocrisy and look back at the complete lack of accommodation of their native religious minorities.
 
Why should a secular society, engaged in debates about reasonable accommodation, care about the non-accommodation, not to mention the chronic intolerance, persecution, and murder of Christians in Muslim countries? The answer is simple. It is an issue of morality. It is an issue of decency. It is an issue of fairness.
 
Canadians are dying in Afghanistan to create the conditions hoped for by the Muslim world's minorities, and we denigrate the sacrifice of those brave men and women when we turn our face away from the chronic intolerance and persecution in those same lands.
 
If we decide to stay silent and accommodate the same hatred, closed-mindedness, tribalism, and violence in the Islamic world, we will be on a slow, but sure, path to decline as a society.
 
Let us not be so tolerant, to the point of tolerating intolerance. Those who come to Canada seeking opportunity and freedom should be welcomed as full participants in the Canadian experience with equal rights and equal responsibilities as all others.
 
But those who come with religious or political agendas should not be accommodated, regardless of any false explanations they might give for their behaviour.
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