PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS ‘MISTREATED’ BY ISRAEL AT EASTER CELEBRATIONS
Israel is causing “countless difficulties” for Palestinian Christians and Muslims to reach their holy sites, the Palestine Liberation Organization said late Saturday as Orthodox Christians held the “Holy Fire” ceremony in Jerusalem.
Thousands of Israeli police officers were deployed on the eve of the Orthodox Easter as throngs of Christians filled Jerusalem’s ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre and surrounding streets for the ceremony.
“It is not only that Israel has isolated our occupied capital from the rest of our country – forcing our people to apply for special military permits to access their families and holy places for religious occasions – but even Palestinians from Jerusalem were beaten when trying to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” Hanna Amireh, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and Head of the Presidential Committee on Church Affairs, told AFP news agency.
Israeli police said tens of thousands of faithful gathered in the streets around the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, causing huge delays at dozens of checkpoints.
“The Israeli forces turned a religious occasion into a battle camp scenario,” said Amireh.
“This is part of Israel’s plan to turn Jerusalem into an exclusive Jewish city.
“Palestinian Christians and Muslims face countless difficulties in order to reach their holy sites and conduct their celebrations, while Jews from anywhere are allowed to freely pray at their holy places.
“It is time for the international community to take real action,” he added.
“What was witnessed in Jerusalem was an attempt to cancel a tradition of 700 years.
“The Israeli government is doing everything possible in order to achieve its goal of changing Jerusalem’s landscape, by building more settlements, demolishing more Palestinian homes, revoking more IDs and by attempting to prevent the normal celebration of Christian and Muslim religious events…”
The PLO said Israeli police stopped a visit organized by Palestinian Christian groups with foreign diplomats and Adnan Ghaleb al-Husayni, the governor for Quds (Jerusalem) Governorate, as they tried to enter the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Even praying has become an act of resistance for Palestinians,” said Amireh.
THE MASS EXODUS OF CHRISTIANS FROM THE MUSLIM WORLD
Raymond Ibrahim, 8 May 2013
Pope Tawadros II, the 118th pope of the Coptic Church of Egypt, leads the Easter Mass at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt
A mass exodus of Christians is currently underway. Millions of Christians are being displaced from one end of the Islamic world to the other.
We are reliving the true history of how the Islamic world, much of which prior to the Islamic conquests was almost entirely Christian, came into being.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently said: “The flight of Christians out of the region is unprecedented and it’s increasing year by year.” In our lifetime alone “Christians might disappear altogether from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt.”
Ongoing reports from the Islamic world certainly support this conclusion: Iraq was the earliest indicator of the fate awaiting Christians once Islamic forces are liberated from the grip of dictators.
In 2003, Iraq’s Christian population was at least one million. Today fewer than 400,000 remain the result of an anti-Christian campaign that began with the U.S. occupation of Iraq, when countless Christian churches were bombed and countless Christians killed, including by crucifixion and beheading.
The 2010 Baghdad church attack, which saw nearly 60 Christian worshippers slaughtered, is the tip of a decade-long iceberg.
Now, as the U.S. supports the jihad on Syria’s secular president Assad, the same pattern has come to Syria: entire regions and towns where Christians lived for centuries before Islam came into being have now been emptied, as the opposition targets Christians for kidnapping, plundering, and beheadings, all in compliance with mosque calls telling the populace that it’s a “sacred duty” to drive Christians away.
In October 2012 the last Christian in the city of Homs—which had a Christian population of some 80,000 before jihadists came—was murdered. One teenage Syrian girl said: “We left because they were trying to kill us… because we were Christians…. Those who were our neighbors turned against us. At the end, when we ran away, we went through balconies. We did not even dare go out on the street in front of our house.”
In Egypt, some 100,000 Christian Copts have fled their homeland soon after the “Arab Spring.” In September 2012, the Sinai’s small Christian community was attacked and evicted by Al Qaeda linked Muslims, Reuters reported. But even before that, the Coptic Orthodox Church lamented the “repeated incidents of displacement of Copts from their homes, whether by force or threat.
Displacements began in Ameriya [62 Christian families evicted], then they stretched to Dahshur [120 Christian families evicted], and today terror and threats have reached the hearts and souls of our Coptic children in Sinai.”
Iraq, Syria, and Egypt are part of the Arab world. But even in “black” African and “white” European nations with Muslim majorities, Christians are fleeing.
In Mali, after a 2012 Islamic coup, as many as 200,000 Christians fled. According to reports, “the church in Mali faces being eradicated,” especially in the north “where rebels want to establish an independent Islamist state and drive Christians out… there have been house to house searches for Christians who might be in hiding, churches and other Christian property have been looted or destroyed, and people tortured into revealing any Christian relatives.” At least one pastor was beheaded.
Even in European Bosnia, Christians are leaving en mass “amid mounting discrimination and Islamization.” Only 440,000 Catholics remain in the Balkan nation, half the prewar figure.
Problems cited are typical: “while dozens of mosques were built in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, no building permissions [permits] were given for Christian churches.” “Time is running out as there is a worrisome rise in radicalism,” said one authority, who further added that the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina were “persecuted for centuries” after European powers “failed to support them in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire.”
And so history repeats itself.
One can go on and on:
- In Ethiopia, after a Christian was accused of desecrating a Koran, thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes when “Muslim extremists set fire to roughly 50 churches and dozens of Christian homes.”
- In the Ivory Coast—where Christians have literally been crucified—Islamic rebels “massacred hundreds and displaced tens of thousands” of Christians.
- In Libya, Islamic rebels forced several Christian religious orders, serving the sick and needy in the country since 1921, to flee.
To anyone following the plight of Christians under Islamic persecution, none of this is surprising. As I document in my new book, “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians,” all around the Islamic world—in nations that do not share the same race, language, culture, or economics, in nations that share only Islam—Christians are being persecuted into extinction. Such is the true face of extremist Islamic resurgence.
ARE TURKEY’S ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS WAITING FOR GODOT?
By Orhan Kemal Cengiz, 8 May 2013
Metropolitan Apostolos Daniilidis, an Orthodox bishop at the monastery attached to the Halki school, is seen at “Tracing Istanbul,” an exhibition of works by Greek artists, at the Greek Orthodox seminary in Heybeliada island near Istanbul, Sept. 4, 2010. (photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
The memorable play of Irish author and playwright Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot,” has become a metaphor for situations in which people wait for someone unlikely to come, or do not even know what they are expecting. They just keep waiting and waiting.
The handful of Orthodox Greeks left in Turkey appear to be waiting for Godot, too, caught in a very typical Turkish situation. The Theological School of Halki, which is attached to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has been closed down since 1971. Almost every day for the past 42 years, the Orthodox community has been anticipating the news of the school’s re-opening, but to no avail.
To understand why the anticipation has become so exhausting and frustrating, one has to look back through history and comprehend the significance of the seminary to the Orthodox community.
Named after the island of Halki in the Marmara Sea, where it was founded in 1844, the school used to train clergy to meet the needs of not only Turkey’s Orthodox community but also hundreds of churches across the world affiliated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. By the time it was shut down in 1971 under a ruling by Turkey’s constitutional court, 930 clergymen had graduated from the seminary. Twelve of them eventually became patriarchs, meaning that almost all patriarchs have been graduates of that school. Hence, the seminary was not just a theological school, but also an important milestone on the way to the spiritual helm of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The school’s closure cut a lifeline of the Patriarchate and forced it to struggle for its very survival.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its succession by the Republic of Turkey marked the beginning of the long road that eventually led the Ecumenical Patriarchate into its current predicament. Throughout the republic’s history, the Patriarchate has seen an array of its properties confiscated and endless red tape, all intended as pressure to force it out of Turkey.
In the eyes of the republic’s founders, the Patriarchate was an “enemy within” that had collaborated with the foreign occupiers of Istanbul in the wake of World War I. The negotiations that led to the signing of the Lausanne Treaty, Turkey’s founding document, reveal that moving the Patriarchate out of the country was an essential Turkish objective. In the end, the Turks grudgingly accepted that the Patriarchate would stay, but object to any moves to regenerate the institution.
The closure of the Theological School of Halki was a watershed in efforts to suffocate the Patriarchate. It was based on a 1971 ruling by the constitutional court, which annulled provisions in the Law on Private Educational Institutions (Law No. 625) that had made it possible to run private institutions of higher education. The reason the 1965 law was deemed unconstitutional six years after it took effect was undoubtedly political. Tensions ran high in those years between Turkey and Greece over the Cyprus conflict. By issuing the ruling that would lead to the closure of the Halki school, the constitutional court had laid the ground for Turkey to make a retaliatory move.
Articles 40 and 42 of the Lausanne Treaty clearly oblige Turkey to grant equal treatment to non-Muslims and facilitate their religious affairs and worship services. Thus, the closure of the seminary was yet another violation of the Lausanne Treaty in Turkey’s treatment of its non-Muslim minorities.
Ever since then, the Orthodox community has eagerly awaited the re-opening of the school. Optimism has grown since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, pursuing perhaps the friendliest policies regarding minorities in the history of the republic. The AKP has never said it will not re-open the school. On various occasions — both public and behind closed doors — officials have asserted that the school could be re-opened. Those encouraging statements go back to 2003 when Huseyin Celik, then-education minister and AKP heavyweight, said that the seminary should be re-opened.
As Turkey’s ally, the United States has taken every opportunity to urge Ankara to re-open the school. In 1999, President Bill Clinton visited the school and told his counterpart Suleyman Demirel that it ought to be re-opened. In various resolutions since 2002, the US Congress has issued similar calls on Turkey. When President Barack Obama addressed the Turkish parliament in 2009, he also emphasized the importance of re-opening the school. Not only the United States, but the European Union and an array of European countries, too, have urged Turkey to re-open the school.
Regardless, the seminary remains closed, and remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported in the media on March 29, reveal why. Erdogan wants two mosques to be opened in Athens in return for the re-opening of the seminary. This nonsensical demand shows that the prime minister is simply perpetuating the mindset of his nationalist predecessors, in which non-Muslims are regarded as “foreigners.” The seminary’s abbot, Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, has highlighted the incoherence of Erdogan’s demand: “Had we been Greek citizens, his demand could have made more sense. But we are Turkish citizens.”
Erdogan and his government may be critical of the Kemalist state mentality, but we know that when it comes to certain fundamental issues about non-Muslim minorities, they act with nationalist instincts.
Another point hard to understand here is why the Patriarchate is standing by so passively. Why is it not taking legal action in the face of this flagrant injustice, while it has repeatedly taken Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights over confiscated properties — and succeeded? This question is perhaps one of the most difficult to answer.
Instead of resorting to legal means, the Patriarchate is insisting on trying the same methods that have already proved to be utterly ineffective, believing that “foreign pressure” will induce Turkey to re-open the seminary. The fact that on April 30 the US issued yet another appeal to Turkey to re-open the school upon the initiative of Gus M. Bilirakis is an illustration of how the vicious cycle.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate will continue to wait for Godot as long as it relies on futile foreign pressure and holds back from seeking its rights through legal means.
IN EGYPT, RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE CASTS PALL OVER EASTER
By Shahira Amin, 8 May 2013
Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter on May 5, and crowds thronged the streets near the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo’s Abbassiya district. Traditionally, Easter is a time of celebration and joy here, as Coptic Christians mark the resurrection of Christ, and end their forty day fast. But the mood this year was somber, marred by the memory of a brutal attack on the Cathedral by security forces a month ago.
Although the country has witnessed a spate of attacks on Christian places of worship since the January 2011 mass uprising, last month’s targeting of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbassiya served reminded the country’s Coptic Christian community (they comprise 12 percent of Egypt’s population) of their vulnerability as Islamists continue to consolidate power, post revolution.
The assault on the Cathedral in April came as Christian mourners were leaving the building after a funeral mass for five Christians killed in sectarian clashes that took place days earlier in the village of El-Khosous, Qalyubia governorate, which lies to the north of Cairo.
Two Christians were killed in the Abbassiya clashes when security forces outside the Cathedral fired tear gas and birdshot at the mourners who had been chanting slogans against President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
This latest violence came in the wake of simmering tensions between Muslims and Copts after sporadic incidents of sectarian violence that have forced 100,000 Copts to flee the country since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power.
In a televised address following the Abbassiya clashes, President Morsi described the assault on the Cathedral as “a scathing attack” against him personally. Christians however, dismissed this comment as “mere lip service,” complaining that the President had done little to protect them since coming to power.
In an interview with Reuters a week after the violence, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark said that Egypt’s Christians felt marginalized and rejected in their own country, and that many were fleeing in the wake of this unrest.
Egypt’s Copts took part in protests against the Mubarak regime during the 18-day uprising in January 2011.
Scenes of Coptic Christians forming a ring around Muslim protesters to protect them as they knelt to pray mesmerized viewers watching the mass protests on their TV screens, bringing the hope that Christians would enjoy equal rights as majority Muslims in the ‘new’ Egypt.
There had been sporadic outbreaks of sectarian violence under Mubarak, and some has suggested that it was the attack on a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve in 2011 that sparked protests demanding regime change less than two weeks later.
It was not long however, before Egypt’s Coptic Christians came to realize that there would be little change in their situation. Weeks after Mubarak was toppled, the torching of a church in Atfeeh south of Cairo brought home the hard-hitting truth that there was no love lost between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians.
The Atfeeh incident was the first in a wave of attacks on churches and homes of Christians across the country resulting in the deaths of scores of Christians and the forced evacuation of dozens of Coptic families from their homes in Dahshur, Amreya and Rafah during the months that followed.
In an interview broadcast on State TV in September 2012, Morsi failed to acknowledge that there was a sectarian problem that needed the authorities’ attention.
Asked what he would do to discourage Copts from leaving the country, he sarcastically replied “who is leaving? Some Muslims too are leaving the country in search of better livelihoods.”
Analysts note that Egypt’s sectarian challenge cannot be addressed while those in power continue to bury their heads in the sand.
Suleiman Shafiq, a writer and researcher specializing in Christians’ rights, recently told a conference on religious freedom in Egypt, post-revolution that “Egypt’s persisting culture of legal impunity for violence and discrimination against Coptic Christians was the root cause behind the sectarian divide.”
Ultra-conservative Salafi preachers, notoriously intolerant of non-Muslims, have been fanning the flames of anti-Christian sentiment via Islamist satellite channels. In April, influential Salafi cleric Yasser Borhami provoked an outcry from moderate Muslims in Egypt when he said that he hates Christians and is repulsed by them.
Blogger/activist Mahmoud Salem filed a civil lawsuit against Borhami, accusing him of inciting violence against the Coptic Christian community, and drawing long-overdue attention to the dangerous rhetoric of radical Sheikhs and to the genuine threat they pose to Egypt’s Coptic minority.
A few months earlier, Abu Shadi, another Salafi cleric, sparked controversy when he said that Christians must pay jizya (a poll tax levied by early Islamist rulers on non-Muslim citizens in their community) or convert to Islam.
A week ago, Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel Rahman Bahrr issued a fatwa (religious edict) stating that “Muslims can only wish their Christian countrymen Happy Easter provided the greeting does not come at the expense of our Islamic religion.” His words sparked a heated debate over whether or not it was Islamic to wish Christians Happy Easter.
Such divisive statements and other instances of hate speech by Salafis, emboldened by their victory in the recent parliamentary elections, has raised particular concern among Egypt’s Christians over their rights and religious freedom in this predominantly Muslim country, after the revolution.
A provision in the country’s new constitution granting Christians the right to worship freely and build churches (unlike during the Mubarak era when a presidential decree was needed to build churches) has done little to allay those concerns and ease tensions between Muslims and Christians. Morsi, meanwhile, failed to put in an appearance at the Cathedral on Sunday to greet the Pope in person, instead sending a government envoy to represent him.
The envoy was given a cool reception by his Coptic Christian hosts, quite unlike the military envoy and the moderate Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar Ahmed El Tayeb who were both warmly welcomed with cheers and applause from the crowd.
Egypt’s Christians, the majority of whom voted for Ahmed Shafik (a former regime man) in the country’s first presidential election post revolution, largely because of their mistrust of the ruling Islamists, have in recent months participated in anti-government protests demanding that Morsi step down, and calling for a return of the military to power.
“We are tired of being treated as second class citizens and no longer want to feel threatened, submissive or insecure,” said Farid Mitry, a Christian Engineer who works for an oil company.
“The Christians who have stayed in the country will fight the tide of conservatism sweeping Egypt because this is our country too,” he added.