The Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea has an excellent post on the campaign of violence currently underway in Egypt against the country’s Christians, especially Copts. Frustrated at the overthrow of the Morsi government and enraged by the military’s campaign to eliminate them, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are taking out their anger on Christian targets. Here’s Shea:

“The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has been inciting the anti-Christian pogroms on its web and Facebook pages. One such page, posted on August 14, lists a bill of particulars against the Christian Coptic minority, blaming it, and only it, for the military’s crackdown against the Brotherhood, alleging that the Church has declared a “war against Islam and Muslims.” It concludes with the threat, “For every action there is a reaction.” This builds on statements in the article “The Military Republic of [Coptic Pope] Tawadros,” carried on the MB website in July, about the Coptic Church wanting to “humiliate” Muslims and eradicate Islam….

As of Sunday night, some 58 churches, as well as several convents, monasteries, and schools, dozens of Christian homes and businesses, even the YMCA, have been documented as looted and burned or subject to other destruction by Islamist rioters. The Coptic Pope remains in hiding and many Sunday services did not take place as Christian worshipers stayed home, fearing for their lives. A dozen or so Christians have been attacked and killed for being Christian so far.”

Not all Muslims condone the persecution, of course. There are reports of Muslim crowds surrounding churches to protect them from attack. But the Brotherhood has clearly decided to take the fight to Christians in a serious way. Knowledgeable observers say it is the worst persecution Copts have suffered in 700 years.

Outside observers may wonder why the Islamists are doing this. From a practical point of view, isn’t burning churches a waste of time and energy? Why spend resources attacking Christians when the military is hunting you down?

There are three answers. First, Islamists attack Christians because they can. Christian churches, monasteries, and schools are soft targets, especially when the security forces are occupied elsewhere. If you take on soldiers who have live ammunition, you might get hurt. If you attack nuns and march them through the street like POWs, by contrast, you’re likely to emerge unscathed.

Second, the Coptic Church has taken an uncharacteristically strong stand in support of the military. Coptic Pope Tawadros appeared in the video announcing the overthrow of the Morsi regime in July–as did the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, it should be noted–and last week, he endorsed the military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Coptic Church, he said, is on “the side of Egyptian law, the armed forces and all the Egyptian civil institutions when it comes to confronting violent armed organizations and terrorizing forces, either within the country or from abroad.” He criticized Western media for sentimentalizing Islamists–those “blood-thirsty radical organizations”–and called for more objective coverage of events in Egypt. Islamists are furious at these statements and seek to punish Copts and other Christians, to intimidate and silence them.

That Pope Tawadros would come out so strongly on one side of a political conflict suggests the stakes for Christians. Traditionally, Copts and other Christians in Egypt, who make up 10% of the population, keep a low profile. As a vulnerable minority, they try to avoid antagonizing anyone. Attacks on Christian sites increased dramatically under the Muslim Brotherhood, however, and Tawados must figure he has no choice but to side with the military. The generals, at least, offer Copts a chance at safety; with the Muslim Brotherhood, there can be none.

Third, one must recognize the perception Islamists have of Christians. Although not all Islamists advocate a return to dhimma restrictions, most have a nostalgia for classical Islamic law, which tolerates Christians as long as they accept a subservient status in society. Equality is out of the question. For Christians to assert equality with Muslims, or cooperate with Muslims’ enemies, is, in classical thought, a grave affront to the community which must be punished–a declaration of war, in the words of the Muslim Brotherhood statement to which Shea refers. In the Islamist mind, Copts and other Egyptian Christians have declared war on Islam. They have asserted their rights and criticized Muslims before the outside world. As a result, they have betrayed the pact that guarantees them protection, and they must pay the price. It is a high price, indeed.

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