Á mon Beyrouth…
“That’s it. We are finished,” My grandmother proclaims over breakfast. “Khalas, there are no more Christians left in the Middle East. Our turn is not far away.”
It was the day after the Iraqi church bombing, and the depressing feeling in the gutt of my stomach hung there for the rest of the day, as I drove around the tiny city of Beirut; the city where every rock has a history, every tree a survival instinct. My darling city that is engulfed in pain, love, hate, cursed with beauty and ugliness, revered and raped by its own people and their occupiers…
In Lebanon people start decorating for Christmas around mid-October. Some areas like Zalka are too lazy to remove their decorations thus leaving their permanent nativity scenes and Christmas trees all year long. Shops from Dahiya to Hamra to Ashrafiyeh on my way to university had the Christmas season started and proudly displayed. AUB and decorations hung from its age-old trees which survived the Lebanese real estate obsession in the last century, and LAU had started to plant poinsettias all over the place, surrounding the central Christmas tree on campus. I wondered, for how long will Lebanon hold its incredibly weird and controversial love-hate relationship between the different religious sectarian groups…
So much has happened since then, as I wonder today, how much worse did I ever imagine it would have gotten…
Egypt’s Coptic community have been discriminated against for years, not just by society but by their own government. A law that had previously banned them from maintaining churches was revoked when the Egyptian authorities felt that the Copts were gaining too much freedom in fixing up their churches. Continuous massacres had occurred against the Copts throughout the years, since the second half of last century. Some of the highest peaks between Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt occurred on such occasions, such as the Kosheh massacre, where the Egyptian government turned a blind eye.
However the Nad Hammadi massacre has sparked new events. There is something that I don’t understand though. There were religious clerics who praised the attacks and called for the Copts to be wiped out from Egypt. Ignorance comes from reading books, yet the least one might expect from a religious cleric is that he had read his Holy Book the Quran through and through..
“for Mohammed -the Prophet of Islam-, who had an Egyptian wife named “Coptic Maria” (mother of Ibrahim his son), preached especial kindness towards Copts: “When you conquer Egypt, be kind to the Copts for they are your proteges and kith and kin”.
I am pleased to say however, that most Eqyptians, Muslim and Chrisitans, are fed up. I salute the
” thousands of Muslims who showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside to offer themselves as “human shields” during mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.
“We either live together, or we die together,” the slogan by of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.”
It is heartening to see Egypt’s population take matters into their own hands actually do something about it, unlike their government. Yet I hope that this is one of many steps that will take place in unifying Egyptian nationalism.
A grieving community that did not celebrate Christmas this year. The attacks on the Christians in Iraq prompted reaction from the Muslims in the Middle East. Some regard it as a Holy duty to protect the People of the Book. Others regard it as an Arab duty, and others just say that its a basic principle to protect fellow Arabs whose historical influence in the region is immeasurable. Like Egypt, it has prompted more support from their Muslim co-nationals than I had personally ever expected. As tragic as the rising attacks are growing in number and gravity, I feel heartened at the support and awareness that is growing among Arab Muslims towards their Christian co-nationals yet things need to be done on a bigger scale and the only greater crime that can happen now is if this incident is put behind and ignored. (Link to interview with the wonderful Daniel Pipes; at times paranoid, at times amusing, yet sometimes right)
Not in the Middle East, yet Al-Qaeda stretches far and wide. Indonesian churches are being attacked, suppressed and the government has been bowing down to the demands of the fundamentalists.
United Arab Emirates
I grew up in this country. I remember when it was still not very open to the rest of the world, my mother would take us to the American Community school, were we would wait for four hours till Baba Noel (Santa Claus) would come down in his helicopter in the heat of the city which had once been a desert. Today Christmas has overwhelmed the holiday season. Palm trees on the streets had little red balls hanging, malls have been covered in decorations, trees and little houses where Santa Clause meets the kids.
In the Emirates Palace a Christmas tree had been set up with decorations worth up to 11 million dollars. The decorations were not bought, but were actually jewelry from a shop which was displaying its ornaments in a form of advertising. Of course, rather than getting the point behind this, the story drew criticism from a large number of people who claimed that the UAE had no right to commercialize Christmas. I suppose it is okay for businesses all around the world to commercialize Christmas, as though it hasn’t been commercialized enough already. But it is a problem when the Muslims do it. When Muslims are intolerant, it’s obviously a problem, when they are tolerant and festive, it seems to be a bigger problem.
I remembered that my high school Christmas party was organized by my Muslim friends when I came across this site a few weeks ago. www.xmasisevil.com …
sigh… I think Muslim fundamentalists in European countries are way more terrifying than any fundamentalist I have encountered in the Middle East. Aren’t there laws on hate crimes or hate advertising in the UK?
Anyway, I think it is important to mention two important factors about the United Arab Emirates.
1. Even though the UAE is a 100% Muslim country, it has over 30 churches in the country to serve the different sects of Christian expatriates living there.
2. Egyptian Copts are not allowed to build churches in their own country, yet in the UAE, they have a Coptic Church in almost every major city, the last of which opened, was in Al- Ain a few weeks ago, and has opened a mass which was attended by Emirati Muslims to celebrate its opening.
As usual I celebrated Christmas in Abu Dhabi, as I have done all my life. We never felt a lack of Christmas spirit
among our friends and family. On Christmas Eve as we got down from our car to visit our friends, we encountered several young Emirati men walking by. They smiled at us warmly, put their hand to their chest in a form of greeting and wished us a Merry Christmas. That was more than any Christmas gift I could have asked for.
Back to Beirut
Already late for Professor Norman Finkelstein’s lecture, I passed by the Church near my home to pick up my cousin from her scout who were attending mass to celebrate St Anthony’s day. Even though it was the last five minutes of mass, out of habit, my feet stayed clear of entering mass whenever it could be avoided, yet my cousin dragged me inside to watch her scout salute at the end. They sang their scout song and held up their cute flags until it was time to leave. As usual there was always a notice to keep us in church a minute longer than we wanted to. A nun goes up to the microphone to say:
“Just one more question please, before you go..”
The audience turns to her as she continues. “When you hear such lovely voices of our youth, do you fear the plight of Christians in the Middle East.”
Then, like the cute African American audiences I watch in the movies who answer back to their pastor when he asks them a question, and unlike the silent catholic character of the eastern church audiences, they suddenly cried out: No!
“Do you fear for our Coptic and Iraqi brothers and sisters?”
“Do you fear for the future of our country, Lebanon, and our existence?”
“Thank you that’s all I needed to know.”
Laughter, and we retire to the outside open air. The scouts gave out Halawas (arabic sweets), and I rushed with my cousin to my car, pleasantly amused and somewhat slightly relaxed.
Other relative links: