Christians Crucified Everywhere in the Muslim World...Except in Turkey!

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A powerful bomb exploded in front of a Christian Coptic Church in Egypt, killing 21 and wounding nearly 100 of the faithful who were attending New Year's mass. When, on the following day, the Pope in Rome called for world leaders to protect Christians, he immediately drew criticism from the Great Imam of Egypt. The Pope's call, he said, was tantamout to interference in internal Egyptian affairs...

Internal affairs? Since when killing religious minorities is an "internal affair"? Of course, killing people from other faiths has been a regular activity in the Middle East since earliest times - starting with the Hashashin sect in the 11th and 12th century, that fought other Muslims for political power and Christians for religious reasons.

In case you're wondering why all this hatred was exploding back then... remember? That was the time of the first Crusade. Christ's teaching of tolerance and forgiveness had already been forgotten by Christians then, and now it is ignored by everybody!

In other words, religion and politics was intimately meshed in the Middle East back then, and it still is today, a thousand years later. So, indeed, one may speak of "internal affairs" insofar as the killings are political.

Who's behind these killings? The biggest fundamentalist group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, has condemned the bombing. So the mostly likely culprit is, as always, Al Qaeda. The Hashashins pale by comparison. We all remember the ruthless killing of Christians in Baghdad on 31 October 2010. The virtual cancellation of Christian observances in Iraq has been an immediate result. More than 50 innocent lives were sacrificed to the altar of Religious Hatred - undoubtedly one of the strongest and deadliest of human emotions.

More and more Christians are fleeing Muslim countries. Because it's not just Iraq that is "bleeding" Christians, but also Pakistan and even India. Things are getting really bad of late in Pakistan, with the assassination of Mr. Taseer, Punjab's governor, by one of his bodyguards while the others looked on without lifting a finger (in fact four of them are in custody in addition to the murderer). Here was a man with liberal ideas, in favour of pardoning a Christian woman condemned to death under Pakistan's infamous "blasphemy law". He was killed by a religious fanatic precisely because he showed religious tolerance. His funeral was shunned by top Pakistani politicians, including President Zardari who was Taseer's friend. And of course, Muslim leaders all over Pakistan (who are all supporting the blasphemy law) have told their followers not to attend the funeral nor pray for Mr. Taseer. Religious fury knows no bounds...

And, alas, it is not certain that Christian refugees in the West can fully escape Al Qaeda. There have been reports that Al Qaeda has made a list of Christian Copts they want to eliminate: 200 in Canada and 15 in Austria and in other countries too: Germany, the Netherlands... What is remarkable is that some people on this list are Copts who have become Canadian or Austrian citizens and have left Egypt many decades ago! That's how far religious hatred will go...

So what about human rights? Where does the humanitarian community stand on this? least, it always makes the right sounds. Following the killing in Egypt, President Obama has condemned it as a "heinous and barbaric act" and asked that the culprits be brought to justice. The Pope has called for all religious leaders in the world to meet together at Assisi next October in a "summit to discuss how they can promote "world peace"  - a repeat of the event Pope John Paul II held 25 years ago (with unfortunately, precious little results as the current outburst in religious violence seems to indicate). The press on both sides of the Atlantic, from the New York Times to La Stampa in Italy have loudly and rightfully condemned it and mused on about how religious minorities are increasingly "pushed out" and the Muslim world is becoming "homogenized". That's a nice way of saying that religious intolerance is exploding...

Against this sombre backdrop of religious violence, Turkey stands out as a haven of tolerance. On Monday 3 January, There was an official visit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul by the number two man in the Erdogan government, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc. Mr. Arinc’s visit reportedly coincided with government promises to consider reopening an Orthodox seminary and returning properties confiscated by the state to Christian and Jewish minorities. Consider that no Turkish government official had ever paid such a visit in the past five decades, even when the government was in the hands of a secular party. Yet Mr. Erdogan is notoriously known as a non-secular, Muslim leader with a wife who always keeps a head scarf.  

This heralds a sea change in that big country on the doorstep of Europe (77 million people), a country with a huge Muslim majority (97% of the population) in spite of its Ata-Turk induced secular tendencies. But I believe Ata-Turk, the father of the Turkish Republic established in 1923, may have had less to do with this than older memories - those of the Ottoman Empire that was famously tolerant of the religious minorities within its borders, when the Empire was one of the biggest in the world, covering three continents. Indeed, Turkey seems to follow in the footsteps of this glorious past in its expanding presence in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, and more precisely in Northern Iraq where it has established good commercial relations with the local Kurds. Of the 700 foreign businesses established there, more than half are Turkish...And the Turks are busy building roads to Iraq and opening Turkish schools.

Yes, there does seem to be a silver lining on the horizon, and, surprisingly, it is Turkish!  

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