Sunday, May 10, 2009

Concerning Islamophobia

In response to an article I wrote about the survival of Coptic as a spoken language, a reader responded on to the article. I had asserted that Coptic had been suppressed. The reader maintained that it had died a natural death over several centuries. A reader named Alexno commented as follows.

"Another wild error, after Shalab's quite correct remarks. Coptic was never suppressed. It died out naturally, after many centuries. Copts were a majority in Egypt until the 10th century, maybe later. Coptic was an everyday language until the 13th century. Arabic was simply a more convenient language, so people took up speaking it.

Repeating Islamophobic slanders is not useful to anyone, Mr. Stettner. "

I was frankly disappointed by Alexno's remarks, which contained no references or links. I answered him in the comments as follows.

Before you label my assertions as false, please consider the following quotation from a Coptic language history site.

"By the middle of the seventh century, Egypt came under the dominance of Arab rulers that eventually tried to force the Copts to learn Arabic to keep their government jobs. This policy slowly eroded the number of Coptic lay readers who were mostly from the ranks of these government workers and their families. In other words the pressure put on such families to learn Arabic to ensure their continuing service in the government and the inheritance of such work by their offspring, made them slowly neglect educating their children in literary Coptic. Within a few hundred years Bishop Severus of Al-Ashmunain found it necessary to write his 'History of the Patriarchs' in Arabic to address such a drastic decline. "
I include the link for your consideration

Consider also the following quote which vindicates my assertion that Coptic was pushed as opposed to having fallen.

The Fatimid period of Islamic rule in Egypt was tolerant with the exception of the violent persecutions of caliph Al-Hakim. The Fatimid rulers employed Copts in the government and participated in Coptic and local Egyptian feasts. Major renovation and reconstruction of churches and monasteries were also undertaken. Coptic arts flourished, reaching new heights in Middle and Upper Egypt. [36] Persecution of Egyptian Christians, however, reached a peak in the early Mamluk period following the Crusader wars. Many forced conversions of Christians took place. Monasteries were occasionally raided and destroyed by marauding Bedouin, but were rebuilt and reopened.

There is considerable scholarship coming from the Islamic world, a growing portion of which has thankfully been translated into English and other western languages. I would have welcomed Alexno's answer if it had been seasoned with references and links. It is through such exchanges that opinions shift in the debate and discussion now possible on the internet.

But the adjective "Islamophobic" requires a separate answer completely. There are indeed individuals who lump all Muslims together, from Bosnian beer drinking Muslims to Afghan women clad in burqas. There are Shiite Muslims in Pakistan who have been victims of suicide bombings by Sunnis and a Sunni minority in Shiite Iran that is not so happy with conditions there. To gloss over the vast array of differences in the Islamic world would be like lumping Roman Catholics with Baptists and Methodists. There are spirited differences between them in theology and lifestyle.

I take a historical view of the Jew hatred that is prevalent in a considerable segment of the Islamic world. There was a time when Turkey and Egypt were places of refuge from Christian intolerance. When Islamic fundamentalists rail against "crusaders", they seem unaware that the crusaders are viewed with extreme negativity in the Jewish historical narrative. Today, the pendulum has swung. The most lethal forms of Jew hatred are found in the Islamic world, in good part due to the influence of Nazism in Arab politics of the 1940's.

I dislike dismissive labels. "Liberal", "Islamophobe" and "Communist" are among many hot button labels that seem to shut down rational discussion. What is preferable in my opinion is to describe why an idea is unworkable, or why a political judgement is somehow flawed. It is for this reason that I try to never use the term "anti-semitic" in discussing political opposition to Israel. It is far more effective to cite precedents in which situations similar to those faced by Israel were dealt with in different historical contexts. By making proper historical comparisons, it is possible for the phrase "double standard" to leap to the mind of the reader without appearing on the page.

There is a cardinal rule in marriage and family counseling. Describe behavior ! Do not label it ! I feel that this should apply to politics. If a country has political prisoners and torture, then spotlight the behavior. Name the country. If a terrorist group claims credit for a suicide bombing, then name the group. Quote their proud claim of responsibility and their stated reasons. And having done so, fight them without remorse as a threat to the nation. But to lump the nationality or faith in whose name they claim to act together with them is a tactical error. If someone wants to applaud terrorism, then they too are the enemy. But if you are forceful and ruthless with someone who is sworn to destroy you, then it is quite likely that those sitting on the fence will distance themselves from the terrorists, be they Hamas, be they the Lord's Resistance Army or the Taliban.

So Alexno, says I am an Islamophobe. I am against anyone who wants to kill me. I am against anyone who takes steps to do so. And I consider anyone who tries to rationalise the actions of Jew killers to be their accomplices. In the military sphere, fight physical enemies with physical force. And in the political sphere, fight them with words, with persuasion and without apology. When Daniel Pearl's head was hacked off in Pakistan, his killers shouted "Allahu Akbar!" In doing so, it is they and not I who put an Islamic label on an act intended to create fear.

One must pray for peace. One must strive for peace. But when there is no choice, there is a duty of self defense. For this, there is no apology. From this is no deferment.

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