The New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, leaving at least 23 dead and scores wounded, and the murder of a leading politician in Islamabad, Pakistan a few days later were not distant events or unconnected.
They highlight the systematic strangulation by Islamists — at war with modernity and the reason, freedom and democracy it represents — of what remains of a sick and battered civilization that long ago did inspire people to make their world admirable and beautiful.
The meaning of the New Year’s bombing is evil and transparent as daylight.
Islamists are determined to drive Christians and other minorities out of the greater Middle East — the region between the Nile and the Indus — through pogroms and intimidations.
Those remaining meekly submit to their degraded status of “dhimmi” or subject people among Muslims.
Copts of Egypt — their number is estimated around 10 million — are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. Their origin goes back to the early decades of the first century in the Christian era, and predates by several centuries the arrival of Arabs bringing Islam with them.
The campaign against Copts is old and in recent decades has turned increasingly ugly. While imams regularly pillory Copts from their pulpits — as did Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind imam serving a life term in a U.S. prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — the conduct of the Egyptian government in protecting minorities, to put it mildly, has been shameful.
Here is how Hani Shukrallah, an editor of the English edition of Al-Ahram (Egypt’s largest newspaper) and of Coptic origin, expressed his anguish following the New Year bombing:
“I accuse those state bodies who believe that by bolstering the Salafi trend they are undermining the Muslim Brotherhood, and who like to occasionally play to bigoted anti-Coptic sentiments, presumably as an excellent distraction from other more serious issues of government.
“But most of all, I accuse the millions of supposedly moderate Muslims among us; those who’ve been growing more and more prejudiced, inclusive and narrow minded with every passing year.”
A few days after the church bombing, Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, was gunned down by a member of his elite security detail in Islamabad, the country’s capital.
Taseer represented the rapidly dwindling number of Pakistanis who may publicly describe themselves as “liberal” or “secular” Muslims.
Taseer’s crime — according to the accused killer and the majority of Pakistanis who likely approve of the murder — was his request for presidential clemency for a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, detained on death row under the country’s blasphemy law, and his effort to repeal this reprehensible statute.
The accused murderer of Taseer, when brought to court for indictment, was greeted with a shower of rose petals, and by several hundred lawyers prepared to defend him at no cost.
Forty years ago in 1971, Pakistan broke apart as the army and its Islamist allies perpetrated genocide in what is present-day Bangladesh.
I witnessed that genocide first-hand. And now I watch from some distance the predictable implosion of a nuclear weapon state and the slide of a whole region into the dark bowels of barbarism.