Problems on hold
As a rule, I do not reprint opinion pieces that were printed in other newspapers, even if I like that opinion. Opinion is by nature multifaceted; what is for some commendable may be for others lamentable. Today, however, I break the rule and reprint here excerpts from a view by writer Ashraf Abdel-Moneim, printed in the Cairo daily State-owned al-Ahram on 31 July. Mr Abdel-Moneim tackled a critical issue long placed on hold, and I found myself in such agreement with him that I decided to reprint part of his view.
Mr Abdel-Moneim’s opinion was expressed under the title “Zakaria Botros and a cross we do not know”. Botros is a Coptic cleric residing outside Egypt, famous for his harshly critical critiques of Islam and the Qur’an. Over the years he voiced his views through various satellite TV channels; in 2011 he inaugurated his own channel, al-Fady (The Redeemer). The title of Mr Abdel-Moneim’s article intrigued me, as it must have intrigued many others. It not only tackled an important issue, but it also brought to my mind long discussions and arguments, even conflicts, I had had with many friends and colleagues over this thorny, controversial issue. Some supported Botros’s approach, applauding his ‘evangelisation’ through criticism of Islam; others, myself included, denounced it. My point was that evangelisation must commit to disseminating all aspects of Christian faith without paining Muslims through criticising their faith or religious fundamentals. I am in principle against opening the door before media channels to criticise religions, since these channels break into the psyches of viewers, severely disturbing them under the pretext of informing them of what they do not know. What a miserable pretext! Televised programmes that disparage religions act as double-edged swords that cause unhealable wounds; some act against Muslims and others against Christians. We would be better off by defusing their harm; each party should focus on marketing its “product” while refraining from defaming the “product” of the other. In doing so they would be like good traders who gain customers by advertising the benefits of their products, not by warning clients off rival product. As for the issue of criticising religions, it has been there from time immemorial but was relegated to philosophical and intellectual circles frequented by those prepared and equipped to venture on the controversy.
Mr Abdel-Moneim wrote: “Some satellite channels whose sources of funding are known by only Allah have taken the cross as an emblem. But this is a cross we are not accustomed to: a cross full of spite, contempt, and incitement of hatred. It turns peaceful communities against one another, paving the road towards harsh conflict through exploiting mutual prejudices for inexplicable ends; the ultimate result will be inevitable devastation for all. These satellite channels don the cloak of evangelisation, which they are certainly entitled to, but in the process embrace an underlying principle of destroying and defaming Islam.” Mr Abdel-Moneim wondered how these channels break into Egyptian homes through the State-owned Nile Sat satellite. “This is a technical issue that requires an official response from the relevant authorities; these can only know too well the scale of peril lying ahead on account of the venomous dagger of religious strife set to pierce the one fabric of the Egyptian body,” he wrote.
According to Mr Abdel-Moneim, the Egyptian Church cannot be held accountable for the channels that defame Islam, or the policies they adopt. “They do not belong to the Church which never shied from alienating herself from their deeds,” he wrote. “The truth is that the Egyptian Church has to her credit throughout her history a wealth of earnest priests who never committed any violations against Islam. It was the defrocked priest, Zakaria Botros, who set the first spark of these programmes and satellite channels, and he is said to have been excluded from the Church’s official ministry.”
There is a big difference, Mr Abdel-Moneim insisted, between issues studied in scholarly circles and those put to the public. “Because,” he explained, “the public, which includes persons of varying scholarly, cultural and social backdrops, is not equipped to deal with certain issues [such as intricate religious details that require their resolution experience and perception].” In the context of research, however, he wrote, it is possible for a Christian researcher to refute a matter related to Islamic doctrine through looking for a gap here or there in favour of his or her own faith, and the same goes for Muslim researchers who scrutinise Christian doctrines. “But it is perilous,” he insists, “for such debate to extend to the public, mocking and belittling the doctrine of the other. This threatens the social peace of a nation whose Muslims and Christians coexist amid forces that strive to destroy their coexistence.
“These violators [who criticise Islam on TV] do not realise that they alter the mental image of a tolerant Christianity, even as they think they are serving the cause of Christianity,” Mr Abdel-Moneim writes. “The world has never known such a reckless Christian priest who does not respect the priestly habit he dons, and is moreover oblivious to the fact that he represents the Christ who is the symbol of extreme virtue, wisdom, purity and courtesy.”
My gratitude goes to Ashraf Abdel-Moneim for opening this long-shelved file.
12 August 2018