Earlier this year, I published a short piece with Anthropology News on Coptic Christian persecution in Egypt, American power, and racism in the United States. I then received a barrage of social media criticism claiming that I overemphasized racism against Copts in the US, and in so doing eschewed focus on persecution of Copts in Egypt. Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute wrote: “While some have experienced prejudice in America, [Copts] reject the attempt to create a moral equivalence between the persecution they faced in Egypt and whatever experiences they have in America…the Coptic experience in the United States has been extraordinarily successful, with Copts reaching heights they wouldn’t have dreamt of in Egypt.” Rather than noting the racialization of Copts alongside Muslims in America, by his account, I should draw attention to the relative success of American Copts and compare it to Muslim oppression of Copts in Egypt. In this modest response, I briefly elaborate on why American Coptic life must be taken on its own terms, and how the politicization of Coptic oppression in Egypt by American religio-political actors leads to real methodological issues.
As a minority Christian community in a majority Christian nation, American Copts are enmeshed in current debates on whiteness and American Christianity—whereby evangelical responses to racism have been theologically mired in individualism and consumed in culture wars, rather than the ways that broader social forces, institutions, and culture can constrain and shape social responses to societal ills. Earlier this summer, former attorney general Jeff Sessions, described to the New York Times how he considered his support of Trump from the standpoint of his faith as an evangelical Christian, and evoked the Copts as persecuted kin who turned to a strongman (Egyptian President al-Sisi) for protection: “And that’s basically what the Christians in the United States did [when they elected Trump]. They felt they were under attack, and the strong guy [like Sisi] promised to defend them. And he has.” Likewise, an older American Coptic man recently noted to me: “Trump is a Christian, and he’s trying to keep America a Christian nation. Under Obama, it was Happy Holidays! Now, we can say Merry Christmas again. We came to the US to escape discrimination in Egypt. We don’t want to be stripped of our rights as Christians here.” Although the diaspora offers opportunities to form new solidarities, the happy convergence of otherwise divergent persecution narratives has placed American Copts into vectors of political belonging with the Christian Right seeking to preserve a white, conservative Christian America. Sometimes at the expense of those very Copts.
Over the last thirty years, Nigeria has been plagued with numerous terrorist upheavals that have sometimes bordered on the apocalypse, of which Boko Haram is one. While key attention has been paid to the killing of Christians in the Middle east and other parts of the world, very few works have examined the nature of Christian massacre in Nigeria over the last few years. The manifold mayhems perpetrated by Boko Haram are not just limited to the northeastern part of Nigeria but have global ramifications. By and large, terrorist groups like Boko Haram do not use conventional tactics except on very few occasions when they confront the Nigerian military; their tactics that are often meant to engender fear, intimidation, and death in the communities they target.
While the localized effects of devastation, dislocation, and death have been born by both Muslims and Christians, my focus in this essay will be on Christian victims of Boko Haram. Christians in the northern part of Nigeria are among the voiceless minorities who have lived in a marginalized status in the midst of an overwhelming Muslim population, especially in states that have embraced sharia law over the last twenty years. It is the voices of these victims that beckon the larger global community of Christians in particular, government and non-governmental organizations and social activists in general. Continue reading →
Despite the world-wide recognition of the status of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians, the government of Turkey will give no legal standing and status to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the historical Holy Center of Orthodox Christianity at the Phanar, in Istanbul. The lack of legal standing and status in essence nullifies property and other fundamental civil rights in Turkey for the Ecumenical Patriarchate which precludes its full exercise of religious freedom. The Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot own in its name the churches to serve the faithful or the cemeteries to provide for their repose. Since it lacks a legal standing, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is powerless to pursue legal remedies to assert property rights or even seek to repair deteriorating property without government approval.
Instead and in lieu of legal standing, Turkey has established a system of minority (community) foundations for Orthodox Christians and other non-Muslim religious minorities to hold properties supervised and controlled by the Turkish government’s General Directorate of Foundations. The Directorate regulates all the activities of religious community foundations which include approximately 75 Greek Orthodox, 42 Armenian and 19 Jewish foundations. The 1935 Law on Religious Foundations, and a subsequent 1936 Decree, required all foundations, Muslim or non-Muslim, to declare their properties by registering the same with the General Directorate of Foundations. Continue Reading…
President Trump’s executive order on refugees has been widely, and rightly, criticized on policy and moral grounds. But while criticism of the executive order is indeed proper and necessary, one aspect of the new policy, namely the prioritization of claims of religious persecution by religious minorities in refugee applications, which has received wide criticism, should in fact be hardly controversial. Critics of the measure have rejected it on both moral grounds—it discriminates based on one’s faith, as well as on practical ones—the perception of such bias towards Christians by the United States would impact the US negatively and may harm those very same Christian communities in the region, who will be viewed as Western agents. These concerns are of course hardly new. Opposition to such policies has been constantly expressed in the past by the Patriarchs and clergy of these communities who fear that an open door for their flock in the West would further contribute to the eradication of Christianity from the Middle East. As serious as these concerns may be, prioritizing religious minorities is neither discriminatory nor likely to result in worse conditions for Middle East Christians. Nor is such a measure even novel, but rather one that has been repeatedly used in the past and continues to be used by the United States in other cases. Rather, any refugee policy driven by realities on the ground has to prioritize Middle East religious minorities. Continue Reading…