Al-Qaeda in Iraq Threatens Egyptian, Iraqi Christians

The Guardian argues that Sunni Arab religious radicals (“al-Qaeda”) released from US or Iraqi custody in recent months have formed newly assertive cells and that they, schooled by their time in jail with other guerrillas, are newly assertive in their bombing attacks on Baghdad. This week they targeted Catholics and then Shiites. Radicals released threats on Wednesday against the Christians of Iraq, threatening them with rivers of blood.

But in a troubling sign of Iraqi civil disturbances spilling into the rest of the Middle East, al-Qaeda in Iraq has threatened attacks now on Egyptian Christians, the Coptic community. Copts comprise some 6 to 9 percent of Egypt’s 81 million people.

The Egyptian government put in special security measures at Coptic churches on Wednesday. ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’ said that the grace period had passed for Copts to release two wives of priests who, a fundamentalist urban legend has it, had converted to Islam but were now being kept in their husbands’ houses against their will. Al-Hayat quotes Dr. Nabil Abd al-Fattah, of the al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, as saying that the Mubarak regime will probably use the al-Qaeda threats as a basis for marginalizing the Salafi (Muslim revivalist) current in Egypt, since they share some ideas and emphases with al-Qaeda and have been growing stronger in Egypt.

There is in fact likely to be a public backlash in Egypt against the threats to the Copts. After all, those are threats to Egyptian citizens by non-Egyptians and nationalism will color the response.

Coptic Pope Shenouda said Wednesday that the threats had the positive side effect of increasing sympathy for Egyptian Christians.

As for the Iraqi Christians, they do not have as many resources to resist as do Copts, and unlike the Egyptian security forces, the Iraqi ones are not very good at providing security as yet.

Social statistics in Iraq are not very solid, with much guesswork involved. From what I can tell, there were about 800,000 Christian Iraqis in 2003 when Bush invaded. It is said that as many as 400,000 have left, mainly for Syria, Lebanon and the West. I’m not sure there are any good counts one way or another, but that the Christians should have fled abroad in disproportionate numbers is plausible. Apparently what the radical fundamentalists now want in Iraq is to force the other 400,000 out, as well.

Iraqi nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists sometimes try to code Iraqi Christians as inherently aligned with the West. But of course Iraq was Christian before it was Muslim, and Iraqi Christianity is a remnant of an important cultural wave in the country of late antiquity, which long predated the rise of the West. Tariq Aziz, an anti-American Baathist, is from the Christian Iraqi community, as are pious Catholics who opposed Baathism. Generalizing about and stereotyping large groups of people is always wrong, and wrong-headed.

Aljazeera English has video on the radicals’ plan to force Christians out of Iraq:

The attacks on Christians in Iraq are serious, and hold the danger of ethnically cleansing that community. The threats against Copts, while they cannot be discounted, are less credible and may well backfire.

9 Responses

  1. Petraeus cleansed Baghdad of Sunnis — that’s called cleansing based on religiosity. What’s more, Washington has since been trumpeting that action as an exemplary success. Israel, backed by the USA, has long been engaged in the creeping cleansing of Palestinians, punctuated by episodes of all-out-warfare. American hypocrisy is unbounded.

  2. I had an interesting discussion with an Anglican theologican a few weeks ago. He was talking about the schism of 1054 between the eastern and western Catholic churches. Since that time the Roman Catholics have successfully merged the Catholic, Christian, religion with Rome and Europe, i.e. the west. (The first sacking of Constantanpole was part of that effort.) But in fact what we now consider the eastern Orthodox churches, some of which are older then the Roman church, have a long rich non-European history. But due to the successful efforts of the Roman Catholics, all Christians are regarded as European.

    One more article in the long list of the sins of Rome.

  3. Excellent post professor Cole, thank you. What is going to take for someone to believe that the security in Iraq is going down hill? How many lives should be sacrificed in order for both the American and Iraqi governments to understand what you said : “As for the Iraqi Christians, they do not have as many resources to resist” and that goes for non christian Iraqis too. I don’t for the life in me understand this dismissive attitude. Just in this post, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross said that they, we, the american forces have to see whether over time, this is a trend or a “just one off thing”. Well, this was not a one time thing, it has being going on for months. What is the cut off number of body bags?
    I am amazed that the American military actually praised this rescue effort and according to Gartenstein-Ross, the american forces played an advisory role. Is it really true that the American forces filmed this entire thing? What are they going to do with it? Turn it into a rescue attempt iphone App game? There is a WAR still going on in Iraq, call it civil, call it whatever, but for god sake someone should stop this blood shed of innocent Iraqis.
    And let me try to get this straight as I have been trying for a while. Al-Quaeda is killing and injuring hundreds of Iraqis every day and has been doing so since the transition of forces, not that it even existed in Iraq to begin with. We cant surge in Iraq to fight Al-Quaeda anymore, right? but we can fight them in Afganistan although they are not killing civilians and there are less than 200 members in that country. And we are turning to Pakistan and Yamen. Again they are not killing anyone there also. We brought Al-Quaeda to Iraq because we wanted to free it and we are just going to leave them there to finish off the country, what a comforting conclusion.

  4. Rick Best

    Traditional Catholics will tell you the Vatican Two liberalizations, among them
    untraditional sympathy for Zionism, have done plenty of harm to Arab Christians.
    But left wing modernist Protestant “Christian Zionism” (dispensationalism,)
    itself popular chiefly in Britain and America, has done much more harm.

    • Ken,

      Check out ‘Power, Faith, and Fantasy, America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present’ by Michael Oren. The Christian Zionists have been around a long time. They were called restorationists in the nineteenth century. The leaders included the distinguished professor of Hebrew at NYU: George Bush. (Yes, a forbearer and namesake of the contemporary two.)

  5. The suggestion has been made in relation to the original al Qaeda, who were tortured by the Egyptians that surprise, surprise they became dehumanized to the extent that compassion for their victims had not sway with them. So it might also seem to be the case with the Iraqis tortured by the Americans and their covert allies. Fortunately, as we are constantly led to believe, there is no such thing as cause and effect in the minds of policy makers, so this suggestion would have to be impossible.

  6. Thanks Rick. I’m aware of much of the history, and not that you were disagreeing, but if an eschatology originated in the 19th century, it’s still “modernist.” I guess some of my thrust was also, opaquely, the U.S. policy has caused more problems for Arab Christians in the past 50 years than Rome. Although when JP 2 directly contradicted a turn of the century Pope in saying that the “land promise” of the Abrahamic Covenant was still in effect and the Jews thence had claim to Palestine, it made me wonder if the Traditionalist sedevacantists are right.

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