It’s easy to get depressed when you hear stuff like this:
At least 13 people have been killed and around 100 others injured in religious clashes with Muslims in the Egyptian capital Cairo. The deaths on Tuesday occurred in the working-class district of Moqattam after at least 1,000 Copts gathered to protest the burning of a church last week. It was the second burst of sectarian fighting in as many days and the latest in a string of violent protests over a variety of topics as simmering unrest continues nearly a month after mass protests led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Just weeks after Copts surrounded praying Muslims to prevent them from being attacked by pro-Mubarak thugs, and Muslims reciprocated with protection of their own, it seems as though the statute of limitations has been reached on religious tolerance.
The protest outside Cairo’s radio and television building also came a day after at least 2,000 Copts demanded the re-building of the torched church, and that those responsible be brought to justice. The Shahedain [Two Martyrs] church, in the Helwan provincial city of Sol, was set ablaze on Friday after clashes between Copts and Muslims left at least two people dead. The violence was triggered by a feud between two families, which disapproved of a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman in Sol.
Is it only religion that does this? I’m inclined to say ‘no’ – families have come to blows over tribal affiliation, race, politics, and even simply historical familial animosity. It seems that in this case, religion is just a place-holder for the things that have divided groups of people since time immemorial. There have always been oppressed minority groups on the receiving end of systematic discrimination by a majority with an overinflated sense of entitlement, and there will always be even if religion were to suddenly evaporate.
However, and this is important, if you are a religious person who fears the creeping advance of secularism, your fears are misplaced. It is not the atheists who torch churches, who start riots, who stage demonstrations demanding that people’s civil rights be taken away. Just like you are far more likely to be robbed by a white corporate banker than a black gang-banger (more on that on Friday), you are far more likely to experience violence and suppression of your civil rights by your coreligionists than you are by us non-believers. However, just like the bankers/bangers, we fear the “other” more than we fear the party that is actually more likely to hurt us.
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While it’s true that violence can happen for a variety of reasons, it really takes religion to produce a certain scale of violence, on a semi-regular basis. Nationalism (i.e. Tribalism) does this too (I’m also anti-Nationalism), but Religion is trans-national in a way that few other motivators are.
I’m not sure how you manage it, Crommunist, but your voice of calm reason always comes through so pleasantly regardless of your (potentially controversial) topic of choice. I am so glad I am subscribed to your blog.
I agree with many of the thoughts in your last paragraph, as well as the parallel with nationalism drawn by Brian, above. Mostly, though, I found my own sadness reflected in your opening laments on the degradation of the same religious tolerance that I’d been so tentatively hopeful about when the protests first began.
I dip my fingers in maple syrup before I type. I’m not allowed back in the internet cafes anymore…
It turns out there’s a bit more to the story than the initial news report would suggest, but there will be more on that next week.