Days ago in Egypt, throngs of Muslims (henceforth, "Islamists"), estimated at 3,000, fired guns and rifles and hurled Molotov cocktails at Coptic churches, homes, and businesses in the Imbaba region near Cairo: twelve Christians were killed—some shot by snipers atop rooftops—232 injured; three churches were set aflame to cries of "Allahu Akbar," while Coptic homes were looted and torched.
Imbaba church burns
As usual, Egyptian leadership did little to stop this latest rampage. According to eyewitnesses, though the mob opened fire around 5:30 p.m., the military did not arrive till 10 p.m., providing ample time to terrorize the Copts. One priest said "I called everyone, but no one bothered to come. I mourn all those young people who died," naively adding "We now must ask for international protection." Noting that this attack is unprecedented in scope, Muslim liberal writer Nabil Sharaf el Din said "The army is either incapable [of stopping anti-Christian violence] or is an accomplice to the Salafis [Islamists]."
So what triggered this latest bit of Salafi savagery—or, as the MSM calls it, "sectarian strife"? Islamists claim that a Christian girl converted to Islam and the Coptic Church responded by abducting her and torturing her into renouncing Islam. Hence, the wild rampage was part of a "rescue" effort.
This issue of Christian women supposedly converting to Islam only to be kidnapped by the Coptic Church is the Islamists' latest excuse to make Coptic life a living hell (especially ironic since the well-documented reality in Egypt is the opposite: Islamists regularly kidnap and force Christian women to convert to Islam). Indeed, days before this rampage, thousands of Islamists marched in front of St. Mark Cathedral, Coptic Pope Shenouda's residence, demanding the "release" of other Christian women—two wives of clergy, whom Muslims insist also converted to Islam only to be abducted and tormented by the Coptic Church to return to Christianity.
(The notion of torturing people into returning to their original religion obviously comports well with Muslim logic: aside from the other Sharia schools which recommend outright execution of apostates, the "liberal" Hanafi school, which is dominant in Egypt, maintains that apostate women should merely be imprisoned and beaten till they come to their senses and return to Islam.)
That these Coptic women have publicly insisted that they never converted to Islam does not seem to matter much; one of them, Camelia Shehata appeared on video months ago proclaiming that she will "live and die as a Christian"; she appeared again last week with her priest husband and young child, emphatically denying that she ever converted to Islam, imploring Muslims to leave them in peace.
Undeterred, Copts congregate the next day in burned Imbaba church for Sunday mass
This supposedly "chivalrous" behavior—"rescuing" damsel converts to Islam even when they insist on never converting—highlights the Islamic world's obsession with the issue of conversion: while it is known that those who convert out, the apostates, should be put to death, few people are aware that those who convert in—against their will or not, based on false rumors or not—are a great source of validation for Islam, and thus must be secured.
Even the West has been dragged into this obsession—such as the persistent rumor that the late Jacque Cousteau embraced Islam, prompting the Cousteau foundation to issue a letter verifying its founder never converted, and lived and died as a Catholic Christian.
Indeed, a new Arabic book, Al-Quran Yaqum Wahdu—which consists of 33 anecdotes of Western intellectuals converting to Islam after supposedly being bowled over by the truths of the Koran—lists Cousteau and Islam critic Henryk Broder as its very first two examples, despite the fact that, back in the real world, everyone knows they never converted. One is left wondering how many, if any, of the other 31 anecdotes are true.
In an insightful Arabic op-ed—see my complete translation here—Muslim intellectual Khaled Montaser elaborates on why Muslims are obsessed with converts:
We Muslims have an inferiority complex…feeling that our Islamic religion needs constant, practically daily, confirmation by way of Europeans and Americans converting to Islam. What rapturous joy takes us when a European or American announces their [conversion to] Islam—proof that we are in a constant state of fear, alarm, and chronic anticipation for Western validation or American confirmation that our religion is "okay."
Discussing how the Arab world exulted when it erroneously thought that the German writer Henryk Broder had accepted Islam—based on sarcastic remarks he had made—Montaser wrote "but we are a people incapable of comprehending sarcasm, since it requires a bit of thinking and intellectualizing. And we read with great speed and a hopeful eye, not an eye for truth or reality. Some of us are struck with blindness when we read things that go against our hopes."
And there it is: just as Islamists refuse to face reality concerning so-called Western converts, so do they refuse to face reality concerning so-called Coptic converts to Islam. The only difference, of course, is that Copts live under Islamic authority—hence, all the death and destruction visited upon Egypt's indigenous Christians whenever Islam's inferiority complex flares up.
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum