by Raymond Ibrahim
In 2006, when Pope Benedict quoted history deemed unflattering to Islam, Christians around the Muslim world paid the price: anti-Christian riots ensued, churches were burned, and a nun was murdered in Somalia. That was then. Days ago, when a Christian in Egypt was accused of dating a Muslim woman, twenty-two Christian homes were set ablaze to cries of “Allah Akbar.” Countless other examples of one group of Christians in the Muslim world being “punished” in response to other Christians exist.
In fact, the recent carnage in Baghdad, wherein Islamists stormed a church during mass, killing over fifty Christian worshippers, was a “response” to Egypt’s Coptic Christian church, which Islamists accuse of kidnapping and torturing Muslim women to convert to Christianity (even if the well documented reality in Egypt is that Muslims regularly kidnap and force Christian women to convert to Islam). Even more so, the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists who perpetrated the Baghdad church massacre have furtherthreatened Christians around the world:
All Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them… Let these idolaters [Christians of the world], and at their forefront, the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican [Pope Benedict], know that the killing sword will not be lifted from the necks of their followers until they declare their innocence from what the dog of the Egyptian Church is doing.
Of course, the clause “wherever they can reach them” is an indicator that it is the Islamic world’s Christians who will especially be targeted — since they are most easily reached.
This phenomenon — attacking one set of Christians, or non-Muslims in general, in response to another — has roots in Islamic law. The Pact of Omar, a foundational text for Islam’s treatment of dhimmis (i.e., non-Muslims who refused to convert after their lands were seized by Islam) makes this clear. The consequences of breaking any of the debilitating and humiliating conditions Christians were made to accept in order to be granted a degree of surety by the Muslim state — including things like giving up their seats to Muslims, as a show of “respect” — were clear: “If we in any way violate these undertakings for which we ourselves stand surety, we forfeit our covenant [dhimma], and we become liable to the penalties for contumacy and sedition [that is, they become viewed as “unprotected” infidels, and thus exposed to the same treatment, including slavery, rapine, and death.].”
Moreover, the actions of the individual affect the entire group — hence the “hostage” aspect (everyone is under threat to ensure that everyone behaves). As Mark Durie points out, “Even a breach by a single individual dhimmi could result in jihad being enacted against the whole community. Muslim jurists have made this principle explicit, for example, the Yemeni jurist al-Murtada wrote that ‘The agreement will be canceled if all or some of them break it…’ and the Moroccan al-Maghili taught ‘The fact that one individual (or one group) among them has broken the statute is enough to invalidate it for all of them'” (The Third Choice, p.160).
This notion, that the actions of one affect all, plays out regularly in Egypt. According to Bishop Kyrillos, “every time there is a rumor of a relationship between a Coptic man and a Muslim girl [which is forbidden under Islamic law], the whole Coptic community has to pay the price: ‘It happened in Kom Ahmar (Farshout) where 86 Coptic-owned properties were torched, in Nag Hammadi we were killed and on top of that, they torched 43 homes and shopsand now in Al-Nawahed village just because a girl and a boy are walking beside each other in the street, the whole place is destroyed.”
Worse, as the world continues to shrink, the Muslim world’s indigenous Christians become conflated with their free coreligionists in the West: perceptions of the latter affect the treatment of the former; race or geography is no longer important; shared religion makes them all liable for one another. Adhimmi is a dhimmi is a dhimmi.
For example, aside from the Baghdad church massacre, Iraq’s Christians have long been targeted “over their religious ties with the West … Christians specifically were targeted by Church bombings and assassination attempts owing to a perceived association with the aims and intentions of the occupying forces.” Little wonder more than half of Iraq’s Christian population has emigrated from the country since the US toppled Saddam’s regime.
Historical precedents to this phenomenon are aplenty. Whereas the Copts today are cited as the reason behind the massacre of Iraqi Christians, nearly a millennium ago, Copts were massacred when their western coreligionists — the Crusaders — made inroads into Islam’s domains. Again, the logic was clear: we will punish these Christians, because we can, in response to those Christians.
It should be noted that this approach applies to all non-Muslim groups — Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. — living amidst Muslim majorities. Yet, because Christians are the most visible infidel minority in the Islamic world, most modern examples relate to them. The Copts are especially targeted because they comprise the largest Christian bloc in the Middle East. (Centuries before the Muslim conquests, Egypt was a bedrock of Christianity, and Alexandria arguably equal to Rome in authority. The result is, after centuries ofpersecution, there is still a viable Christian presence in Egypt — much to the Islamists’ chagrin.)
Treating non-Muslim minorities as hostages can even have international consequences. According to Jewish writer Vera Saeedpour, the Turkish government pressured Israel’s policies, including by threatening “the lives and livelihood of the 18,000 Jews” in Turkey:
In the Spring of 1982 when Jews scheduled an International Conference on Genocide in Tel Aviv, they invited Armenians to participate. Ankara protested. The Israeli Government moved swiftly to get organizers to cancel insisting that the conference as planned would threaten “the humanitarian interest of Jews.” TheNew York Times explained what “humanitarian interest” meant. Organizers were told by Israeli officials that Turkey meant to sever diplomatic relations and had threatened “the lives and livelihood of the 18,000 Jews” in the country. (NYT 6.3.82 and 6.4.82) To drive home the message, Ankara even sent a delegation of Jews from Istanbul who warned that they could be in jeopardy if the conference included Armenians. Chairman Elie Wlesel was first quoted as saying, “I will not discriminate against the Armenians, I will not humiliate them.” Later, citing threats to the lives of Jews in Turkey, he resigned.
All this is a reminder that yet another aspect of Islamic doctrine and history — to be added to jihad, taqiyya, wala wa bara, etc. — is alive and well in the 21st century. Treating one set of non-Muslims as hostages, to be abused as a form of retaliation to their coreligionists — far or near, singly or collectively — is just another tactic to assume leverage against the infidel.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.