Michael Totten Interviews Ramez Atallah on Christians and Muslims in Egypt
Yesterday, I posted about Islamist attacks on Christians in Nigeria and alluded to the fact that such attacks occur elsewhere as well. One of these places is Egypt, where Muslims -- presumably Islamists -- have attacked Christians and burned churches. The author and blogger Michael J. Totten, unable to obtain an interview wiith a Coptic Christian leader, recently interviewed a prominent Protestant Christian in Egypt instead, the General Director of the Bible Society of Egypt, Ramez Atallah, who had some interesting things to say, several of them counterintuitive, at least for me. Totten's interview, "The Christians of Egypt, Part I" (November 15, 2011), reports this surprising point of view from Atallah:
The issue in Egypt isn't Christians, it's Muslims. Christians are incidental to the issue. There is too much focus in the West on the Christians here . . . . The real limitations on human rights in Egypt's future will be focused on Muslims. The people here who are most afraid are the Muslims, not the Christians. If we get an Islamically-biased government -- and I’m being optimistic by describing it that way -- Christians won't be persecuted. The Muslim Brotherhood is moderate at least compared with the Salafists. They won't persecute Christians. They will limit Christians, but they won't persecute Christians. The people who will be persecuted are Muslims . . . . Not just secular Muslims. Not all religious Muslims are with the Brotherhood. I just heard a speech from a religious Muslim woman -- she's veiled -- and she said, "please don't take my country away from me. Don't take my freedom away from me" . . . . She was saying this very strongly. A large number of Muslims are intellectual, educated, and liberal-minded. You have to understand that for a religious Muslim, Islam is as closely entwined with his identity and his being as your gender identity . . . .This is very interesting. Ramez Atallah considers the Muslim Brotherhood relatively tolerable -- compared to the Salafists! I hope that he's right -- and being Egyptian, he ought to know -- but I can't forget that the Muslim Brotherhood was for decades a violent organization that owes its ideological impetus to the anti-Western intellectual Sayyid Qutb, who also inspired Al-Qaeda and some other Salafist groups. In fact, I would consider the Brotherhood to have Salafist elements. At any rate, they are Islamists, and I don't think that Islamists are genuinely peaceful individuals. I think that their 'peaceful' methods -- when they are peaceful -- are merely tactical and that they would turn to violence again as quickly as they claimed to have renounced it.
Westerners think religious freedom in Egypt means Muslims can opt out of being Muslims. But it's a completely false supposition. No Muslim doesn't want to be a Muslim. It's part of their being. So when Egyptians talk about freedom and revolution, it has nothing to do with Islam. No Egyptian wants to be free of Islam. This is the most religious country in the entire world. According to a Gallup poll, between 99 and 100 percent of Egyptians say religion is very important to them.
So Islam is not the issue. What is the issue is the interpretation of Islam. Over the years, a large group of Muslims in Egypt have contextualized Islam in the modern world. They can practice their Islam and live as 21st century citizens. Women can dress modestly, yet also fashionably. They can go the beach in swimsuits. Maybe not bikinis, but swimsuits. They can drink alcohol from time to time. They are modern people.
Muslim society here as a whole has become more religious, but that does not mean they have all limited their lifestyle. So if and when the Muslim Brotherhood takes over, they'll say "Muslims are not allowed to show their body, so the beaches are only for Christians and foreigners." So if Muslim women want to swim, they will have to swim fully dressed. These women will be horrified to have these sorts of restrictions put on them.
Then the Muslim Brotherhood will say, "women will have to do such and such, and men will have to do such and such." Islam is a way of life as well as a belief, so if you don't interpret it in an open-minded way, your life will be very hard.
The Salafist movement is violent. Imagine if the Amish ruled America and used force to make everyone else live just like them. They wouldn't, of course, they are peaceful people, but imagine the Amish using force to rule America and require everyone in the United States to adopt their lifestyle. That's the Salafist movement. They’re the extremists. They adopt old-school Islam and also the old-school Islamic style. The Muslim Brotherhood is less extreme. They will let men wear a tie. But when it comes to women, the Muslim Brotherhood are much more conservative than the average educated Muslim would like. They also impose a lot of restrictions on men . . . .
The problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood will make more restrictions, but they will be tolerable. If the Salafists take over, they will start butchering us.
Atallah has the opinion that if the West wants to defend human rights in Egypt, then it should focus not on the restricted Christians but on those far-more-restricted Muslims who want a more liberal Islam. Otherwise, Muslims will consider the West biased and the local Christian favored. Not a good scenario.
Incidentally, Michael Totten is an independent journalist, so keep in mind that even though he blogs for free, a donation to support his work will always be appreciated, as you'll see if you read the entire article.