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Outrage Lacking on Religious Persecution

The news today from Egypt ought to send a shiver down the spines of all Americans. The protests of millions of Egyptians against the Brotherhood and their leader Mohamed Morsi backed up by the military may have derailed the attempt to transform Egypt into an Islamist state. But the Brotherhood is, as should have been expected, far from finished. The prospect of a counter-revolt or even a long-term Islamist insurgency should not be discounted. But whether or not the Brotherhood can find a way to counter the efforts of the military as well as secular and liberal Egyptians to keep them out of power, the Islamist group is lashing out at a familiar scapegoat: the country’s Christian minority.

As the New York Times reports this afternoon, the Coptic community is bearing the brunt of the Brotherhood’s resentment about the reversal of fortune in Cairo:

Since Mr. Morsi’s ouster on July 3, the activists say, a priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and angry mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported slaughtered with knives and machetes in one village last week.

The attacks have hit across the country, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.

Given the way Christians were increasingly targeted for violence—including an attack on their main cathedral—while Morsi was in power, it is hardly surprising that a movement that is determined to squelch all opposition to the creation of a purely theocratic state would focus their attention on the Copts. But while we would hope that the military—which has often been slow to protect Christians—will crack down hard on these outbreaks, these incidents should also prompt not only a strong response from President Obama but also outrage from Americans. Unfortunately, as weak as the administration’s response to events in Egypt has been, there’s also no sign that this apathy toward the fate of religious minorities in the Middle East is something that most Americans care about.

It’s a shocking yet all-but-inarguable truth that the rest of the world has been largely content to stand by indifferently as Muslim extremists have targeted religious minorities throughout the Middle East. All too many Western Christians seem to consider their co-religionists to be strictly on their own when it comes to dealing with Islamists.

As New York’s Catholic leader, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote last month in the New York Daily News:

Religious persecution isn’t just something from the history books. The early 21st century will go down as an age of martyrs, and the situation is only getting worse. It’s hard to believe, but today, more than a billion people live under governments that suppress religious liberty.

In many nations, the lack of religious freedom is a matter of life and death. Believers and non-believers alike suffer as a result of intolerance.

The news is grim. Two Orthodox archbishops on a mission of mercy are kidnapped in Syria. The ancient Christian community of Iraq is alarmingly reduced in the wake of the war. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to intimidate Christians and other religious minorities with the death penalty. And churches are bombed in Nigeria on Christmas and Easter. Shockingly, some 150,000 Christians are killed for their faith each year.

The United States has paid lip service to this issue with a Commission on International Religious Persecution that issues reports, but the gap between rhetoric and policy has often been lacking. The problem isn’t that we don’t know what’s going on so much as the general lack of interest in prioritizing this issue.

That must change.

What is needed is not so much a new set of policy pronouncements but a genuine sense of anger on the part of Americans about the possibility that ten percent of Egypt’s population will be subjected to pogroms. Rather than the chattering classes worrying about the deposition of Morsi being a blow to the cause of Egyptian democracy—a ridiculous charge since there was nothing democratic about the way the Brotherhood went about consolidating power since Morsi’s election—the question of the safety of religious minorities ought to be our top concern. If that fails to materialize, the Islamists will have been sent a message to the effect that the West doesn’t care about religious persecution. No one should pretend that such silence wouldn’t constitute complicity in what will follow.

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