Last week's news of four Christian missionaries in Libya placed under arrest, possibly facing the death penalty for "proselytizing," is apparently the tip of the iceberg. Yesterday, Arabic media reported that over 100 Christian Copts from Egypt, who appear to have been living and working in Libya, were recently arrested in Ben Ghazi—also on the accusation, or pretext, of being "Christian missionaries."
One video made by the Libyan militia interrogators—most of whom look like Islamic Salafis, with long beards and clipped mustaches—appeared on the Internet yesterday. It shows a room full of detained Copts. They sit hunched over on the floor—with all their hair shaven off, looking like dejected, or doomed, concentration camp prisoners. According to one source, many of these Copts have been tortured. Some have had the famous Coptic cross often tattooed on the wrists of Copts burned off with acid.
Next, the camera-man zooms in on the material which got them in this predicament: atop a table, several Bibles, prayer books, and pictures of Jesus, Mary and other saints appear spread out. The Libyan interrogators complain about how these Christians could dare bring such material into Libya, and that they, their abductors, are sure that the Copts were going to use such Christian materials to proselytize Libya, to sporadic ejaculations of "Allah Akbar!" from across the room.
What is going on in Libya? Do these reports—first of four foreign Christian missionaries, including one American, now of more than 100 Christians from neighboring Egypt—indicate that Christian missionaries recently decided to flood Libya in droves? Or are these ongoing reports an indication that post-Gaddafi Libya is simply becoming increasingly intolerant of any Christian presence?
Concerning the four foreign missionaries whom the Western media picked up on earlier, it is difficult to say who they are and what they were doing, since they basically have been swallowed up by the Ben Ghazi prisons; their names and identities have not even been revealed. As for the 100 Egyptian Copts, it is hard to believe they were proselytizing. Christians in Egypt dare not proselytize to their fellow Muslim citizens, who speak the same dialect and share the same Egyptian culture. It is a dangerous thing to do. Is it reasonable, then, to believe that some 100 Copts decided to proselytize to Muslims in Libya—where it is common knowledge that the Obama-supported jihadis reign?
Even the Coptic Church in Egypt made statements to this effect. According to Coptic Bishop Pachomios, "This is a very serious incident, in which Egyptian citizens were arrested on the mere suspicion [of proselytizing] and tortured while in detention." The bishop confirmed that these imprisoned Egyptian Christians were working in Libya, adding that "it doesn't make sense that as many as 100 Egyptian Copts had decided to engage in proselytizing activities in another country." After all, they can simply proselytize in their own country. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Cairo-based Egyptian Union for Human Rights, also "expressed his dismay over the reports. He, too, voiced doubt that the Egyptians in question had been proselytizing in Libya," while correctly pointing out that, "Even if this were proven to be the case, they should not have been detained because of it."
Moreover, a recent Christian Post article points out the inconsistencies in official statements from Libya, including how the number of Christian material being found on these alleged missionaries keeps inflating. For instance, one Christian arrested under the accusation of having 30,000 Bibles in his possession, was later described by police as having 45,000 Bibles.
It is becoming clear that these arrests are increasingly less about actual Christian evangelism to Muslims, and more about Muslim hostility to Christians. When the Western media reported about the four foreign missionaries, they made it a point to state that the anti-proselytism law comes from the Gaddafi era. Yet, under Gaddafi, one did not hear of such back-to-back arrests of alleged missionaries—just as one did not hear of attacks on Christian churches in Libya, such as the one that took place only two months ago, leaving two Christians dead.
Here, then, is yet another indicator of the true nature of the "Arab Spring" and the Obama administration's wholesale support of it—hate and hostility for Christians.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.