The persecution of Egypt's Coptic minority is taking an ironic, and dangerous, turn: Islamist leaders are now projecting the worst traits of radical Islam onto Egypt's Christians. A psychological phenomenon first described by Sigmund Freud, "projection" is defined as "the attribution of one's own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people." As such, consider how the following excerpt from this recent report is a perfect example of projection:
In the last month various fundamentalist groups held ten demonstrations [in Egypt], each after coming out of mosques following Friday prayers, against the 86-year-old ailing Coptic Pontiff, in which he was accused of being a US agent, an abductor and torturer of female Muslim converts from Christianity, of stockpiling weapons in monasteries and churches to carry out war against Muslims, and of plans to divide Egypt to create a Coptic State.
All of these accusations are as ludicrous to apply to the Coptic Church as they perfectly apply to Islamists. Let us first examine the context of these charges:
"Abducting and torturing female Muslim converts from Christianity." Context: The wife of a Coptic priest, Camelia Shehata, was reportedly kidnapped by Islamists, but then returned to her family. In response, Islamist leaders began saying that she had willingly runaway and converted to Islam, and, in fact, has been "re-kidnapped" by the Coptic Church, which has trapped her in a monastery where she is being "tortured" and "re-indoctrinated" to Christianity.
In fact, the opposite scenario — kidnapping Christian women and forcing them to convert to Islam — is a well documented and notorious phenomenon in Egypt. So now the Coptic Church is being accused of behaving identically — not just kidnapping, but torturing, brainwashing, and forcing women to convert. Moreover, that Camelia has appeared on video fervently affirming her Christian faith and denying that she ever converted to Islam has been ignored, no doubt because Islam's ingrained notion of taqiyya, or deceit, is also being projected onto the Copts. Finally, little wonder this charge jibes well with Muslims: their own sharia mandates that Muslim women who apostatize must be incarcerated and tormented until they return to Islam, such as in the recent case of Nagla Imam.
"Stockpiling weapons in monasteries and churches to carry out war against Muslims." Context: On September 15, leading Islamic figure Dr. Muhammad Salim al-Awwa appeared on Al Jazeera and, in a wild tirade, accused the Copts of "stocking arms and ammunitions in their churches and monasteries"— imported from Israel, no less, since "Israel is in the heart of the Coptic Cause" — and "preparing to wage war against Muslims." He warned that if nothing is done, the "country will burn," inciting Muslims to "counteract the strength of the [Coptic] Church." Awwa further charged that Egypt's security forces cannot enter the monasteries to investigate for weapons (an amazing assertion, considering that Coptic monasteries are not only at the mercy of the state, but easy prey to Islamist attacks, with monks tortured and crucifixes spat upon).
Needless to say, such charges are preposterous: in a nation and society where Islam is supreme; where sharia (which mandates subjugation for non-Muslims, a la Koran 9:29) is part of the Constitution; where Copts have been conditioned over centuries to be happy just being left alone — is it reasonable to believe that these selfsame, down-trodden Christians, who make up 12-15% of the population, are planning a violent takeover of Egypt? It is easy to see, however, why such charges resonate with Muslims; after all, Islamists are constantly arming and stockpiling weapons — a Koranic charge — including in mosques, as they prepare to violently seize power across the nations, Egypt being an especially coveted target. Indeed, at one point, Awwa himself ceded that "Muslims are arrested every day [in Egypt] for extremism and the possession of arms."
"Planning to divide Egypt to create a Coptic State." Context: In a closed conference, Coptic Bishop Bishoy had the temerity to acknowledge history: "Muslims are guests in this country, Christians are the original residents. Prior to the Arab invasion of Egypt, which took place in the seventh century, the majority of Egypt's population was Christian." As usual, this otherwise historically accurate observation has enraged Muslims, been denounced by Al Azhar, and cited as "proof" that the Copts seek to divide Egypt and establish their own state.
It is actually Muslim minorities who habitually try to secede from non-Muslim countries. Whether by creating their own nations (Pakistan), or creating enclaves in the West, the notion of separating from the infidel is commanded in the Koran (e.g., 3:28, 4:89, 4:144, 5:54, 6:40, 9:23, and 58:22), codified in the doctrine of wala wa bara, and imprinted on the Muslim psyche. Unsurprisingly, then, Muslims have come to project this divisive impulse onto the Copts as well.
Yet, there is perhaps no clearer example of Muslim projection than when the aforementioned bishop, in response to the anti-Copt upsurge, declared that Egypt's Christians are reaching the point of martyrdom; amazingly, this, too, has been thoroughly "Islamicized" as a declaration of war-to-the-death, including by Awwa, who, during his Al Jazeera rant, asserted that "Father Bishoy declared that they would reach the point of martyrdom, which can only mean war. He said, 'If you talk about our churches, we will reach the point of martyrdom.' This means war."
Of course, the notion that a martyr is someone who wages and dies in jihad, or "holy war," is intrinsic to Islam (e.g., Koran 9:111). Even the authoritative Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary translates shahid ("martyr") as "one killed in battle with infidels." On the other hand, Christian martyrdom has always meant being persecuted and killed for refusing to recant Christianity — and this is precisely the definition that has for centuries applied to Egypt's Copts, the definition that Bishop Bishoy clearly meant. (See this article for the pivotal differences between Christian and Muslim martyrdom.)
To recap: Islamists regularly abduct, abuse, brainwash, and compel Coptic girls to convert — and now Copts are accused of doing the exact same thing; Islamists regularly smuggle and stockpile weapons, including in their holy places — and now Copts are accused of doing the exact same thing; Islamists are constantly either trying to break away or conquer infidel nations — and now Copts are accused of doing the exact same thing; Islamic martyrdom means participating and dying in jihad — and now Christian martyrdom is defined as the exact same thing.
While anti-Copt sentiment is as old as the Muslim conquest of Egypt, this recent batch of bizarre accusations is making Muslims more irate and paranoid, and bodes greater evil for Egypt's beleaguered Christians. According to sharia's dhimmi pact, the necessary condition for Copts to be tolerated is that they live as subordinate, second-class "citizens." The Islamist psyche — and Egypt is increasingly Islamicizing — expects this. Yet these recent charges portray the Copts as violent antagonists bent on war and conquest. If the Muslim popular mind accepts this new interpretation, far from subjugated dhimmis, or even co-equals, the Copts will be perceived as little better than infidel terrorists, and treated accordingly, that is, barbarously.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.