After mass martyrdom of Egyptian Christians in Libya, President Obama compared it with the Crusades. Islamic State has now aimed its sights at Rome and the Vatican.
Jamil Malik was a Coptic Christian university student living in Egypt when I last heard from him. I say “was” because he corresponded with me in 2011 and 2012, and posted several comments on These Stone Walls, but we have heard nothing from him since then. Some of his comments were sharply critical of America. I interpreted that to be aimed not so much at this nation, however, but efforts to coerce religion to accommodate its moral teaching to the current Administration’s social agenda.
I wrote of this, and of a remarkable connection Jamil discovered with me, in “Accommodations in the Garden of Good and Evil.” “Jamil Malik” was not his real name. He told me that he was warned by Muslim family members not to use his real name “on the websites of the infidels.” That story is worth repeating.
Jamil is a “Copt,” one of a small sect of Christians who have coexisted – sometimes under great persecution – with the 95 percent Muslim majority since the Islamic conquest of Egypt in 642 A.D. The word, “Copt,” from the Arabic “Qubt,” is a translation of the Greek “Aegyptos” meaning, “Egypt.” The Coptic Church is ancient, having arisen among the earliest Jewish converts to Christianity in the First Century A.D. Tradition holds that Christianity was brought to Alexandria by Saint Mark the Evangelist.
Shortly after Jamil began reading TSW, his community mourned the death of Patriarch Shenouda in March of 2012. Pope Shenouda led the Coptic Church of Egypt for four decades. As an Egyptian student and a Copt, Jamil has studied the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen Gnostic Christian texts dating as far back as 150 AD. The texts were written on papyrus in Greek and hidden, perhaps by early Christian monks, by the Fifth Century. The texts were found 1,500 years later in Nag Hammadi along the Nile River in 1945.
One of the world’s leading scholars and translators of the Nag Hammadi Library was my late uncle, Father George W. MacRae, a Jesuit Scripture scholar who, at the time of his sudden death at age 57 in 1985, was Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard and its first Roman Catholic dean. My late uncle’s texts and papers on the Nag Hammadi Library were used in formal studies by Jamil, a connection that surprised us both.
THE DESCENT OF RELIGION IN THE WEST
Jamil explained to me that his Muslim cousins’ urging that he refrain from using his real name “on the websites of the infidels” did not refer to These Stone Walls. He used the phrase to refer to those who appear unfaithful to their own profession of faith. Its use by Islamic State, in contrast, refers to anyone who is not within a very narrow fundamentalist framework of Islam.
Jamil wrote that some of his Muslim cousins were born in the United States, and thus are U.S. citizens, but more than anything they fear being judged by their Egyptian Muslim kin as entering into too much accommodation with suspect American values – suspect because of the way America is seen among Middle Eastern and Northern African adherents to Islam. A comment Jamil posted on “Accommodations in the Garden of Good and Evil” laid out his primary criticism:
“Americans and American Catholics are divided over many issues, but the majority of these issues are the issues of the elite while the rest of the world’s peoples struggle to preserve their freedoms and basic human rights.”
Whether this is an accurate perception or not is beside the point. The fact that it is the perception of Jamil and his many contacts in Egypt and Libya, both Muslim and Christian, very much clouds their world view. In regard to what Jamil had been reading on TSW about me and many other accused priests in America, he wrote:
“My struggling Christian friends in Libya and Iran have something to say to American Catholics ready to disown their faith on the advice of pocket-lining lawyers…. I have friends who have been killed for their faith – in the last few months, not forty years ago…. Over here priests are sacrificed by fundamentalist terrorists. In America they are sacrificed by insurance companies, contingency lawyers, and Catholic bureaucrats.”
The point Jamil made above was driven home in a January opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz. Mr. Dershowitz has been accused of sexual misconduct, attributing the source of the claims to lawyers seeking monetary settlements. His article, “A Nightmare of False Accusation that Could Happen to You” generated 443 comments, one of which was this one from me:
“This nightmare told first hand by Alan Dershowitz is terribly sad, but by no means new. This is a tale that has been spun by the tort bar and the media for a dozen years against Catholic priests helpless to counter claims that are 20, 30, even 50 years old, but surfacing for the first time. The U.S. bishops threw $3 billion into settlements in which the accused has no say and cannot refute. The clamor of many of them reached into the criminal courts where in many states ‘rings true’ is evidence enough for a prison sentence…”
What I wanted to add, but didn’t, is that the rules for all this were created by Alan Dershowitz’s peers in the tort bar, not mine. Many other comments pointed that out.
But this is not the point I want to make, nor is it Jamil’s whole point. Catholicism in America has been degraded by scandal, but it was degraded further still when the scandal was used to promote a proliferation of false claims. These have eroded the civil liberties of priests accused, destroying their good names and their freedom, and then barred them from ministry for life.
This is an example of what Jamil meant by the dangerous American accommodation to the demands of secular government, and he insists no similar such erosion could ever happen in the Islamic world. For Jamil, scandals past and present were not a reason to derail the Church’s moral voice, but an excuse.
ISLAMIC STATE’S CRUSADE
I thought about Jamil with concern and alarm when I saw the recent, horrific news accounts of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt marched onto a beach in Libya and beheaded in broad daylight. It was a gesture of contempt for the Western World and for Christianity. Most of the martyrs were young men who had gone to Libya for work to support their families. One ISIS militant proclaimed in the video:
“Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for. We will conquer Rome by the will of Allah.”
One week earlier, President Barack Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast with an outrageous revisionist history broadcast globally. It was just days after Islamic State burned alive a Jordanian pilot in a cage, then aired the gruesome video. President Obama said that the actions of Islamic State are not “Islamic” at all. Then he added:
“Lest we get on our high horse… remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
Even overlooking our President’s ignorance of Catholic history in favor of some virulent, but inaccurate, anti-Catholic slurs, I simply cannot see mere coincidence in the fact that a week later Islamic State is slaughtering Christians citing the Crusades as their motivation. Columnist Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com pointed to a glaring double standard in this President’s remarks:
“He is comfortable blaming Christianity for slavery, the Crusades, and the Inquisition, but he still insists that the butchers of [Islamic State] are not Islamic. How is it that the sins of Christianity are eternal but the sins of Muslim fanatics right now are not even Muslim?”
Today, Islamic State boasts some 30,000 fighters, a force that would rival any nation’s army in the Middle East. It is no longer acting like a terrorist group but as a pseudo state capturing broad swaths of territory in failed or failing nations, like Libya and Syria.
“This chaos is a consequence of President Obama’s decision to lead from behind,” wrote Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. In Libya, according to an editorial in The Washington Post, “NATO countries simply walked away after toppling Qaddafi,” leaving a failed state in the hands of radicalized Islamic agendas.
THE EYES OF ISLAMIC STATE ARE NOW ON ROME
Now, with a stated goal of revenge for Crusades 1,000 years ago, the sights of Islamic State are aimed at Rome and the Vatican. The video threat when 21 Coptic Christians were executed in Libya warned that Islamic State is already “south of Rome.” Its propaganda magazine, Dabiq, ran a photo-shopped cover photograph of the Vatican with Islamic State’s black flag flying from the obelisk in Saint Peter’s Square under the headline, “The Failed Crusade.”
Coupled with the fact that Pope Francis resists many security measures, these threats are dire and serious. The Italian government, known for its excellent foreign intelligence, has placed the country on high alert, has boarded up its embassy in Tripoli, Libya, and warned of military action against extremists who would attack Italy. Five hundred troops have been stationed around symbolic targets in Rome.
Some have suggested that Islamic State is waging a psychological war to deter tourists from visiting the Vatican in a sort of economic terrorism, but I don’t want to be the Catholic blogger who promotes that view – not after the Soviet KGB managed to shoot a previous pope at point blank range in 1981, an event I described in “The Divine Mercy Canonization of Saint John Paul II.”
Islamic State continues to kidnap scores of Christians in Syria, Egypt, and Libya. Just days after posting an online threat against Rome, Islamic State kidnapped hundreds of Syrian Christians, and the Western world knows their fate is ominous. The current captors include men, women, and children, and among the men are some who are suspected to be priests, a special category of target reminiscent of the early Twentieth Century anti-Catholic terrorism in Mexico which led, ironically, to the victory of the Cristeros.
Meanwhile, for Jamil Malik at least, Christianity comes with a price most of us in the West can’t imagine ever having to pay. In “Accommodations in the Garden of Good and Evil,” I wrote:
“It must seem an utter abomination to Jamil Malik – whose faith and those with whom he shares it has endured 1,500 years of open persecution without ever caving in – to see so many American Catholics passively accept the secular suppression of their Church’s moral voice in the American public square.”
In my recent post, “Je suis Charlie?” I described Islamic State as operating under a banner of historical ignorance, avenging perceived sacrilege against Islam when the real sacrilege is Islamic State itself. For the leader of the free world to today compare that rampant ignorance and gross distortion of religious fervor with the 1,000 year old Crusades gives Islamic State a new target.
A far greater force than tort lawyers, SNAP agendas, and smarmy reporters has its sights aimed at the Catholic Church. We had best not be consumed with our “Catholic Tabloid Frenzy about Fallen Priests” when it comes.
A note from Father Gordon MacRae:
I want to thank readers for the vast outpouring of prayer and support before and during Tuesday’s hearing in United States District Court. It may be some time before there is a ruling published. I do hope to obtain transcripts of the hearing, and I hope to have them published at the National Center for Reason and Justice site that lists the legal proceedings in this case.
Editor’s Note: In 2015, we’ll need to replace our aging publishing equipment. In your kindness, please take a moment to read the details and share the link on your social media accounts. Thank you for such a strong kickoff!