I am always happy to hear from Dr. Jahan Stanizai, a prominent Muslim interfaith leader in Los Angeles, but this week one of her emails was especially reassuring and timely. The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an influential umbrella organization for mosques and Muslim organizations in our region, had a prominent header on its website entitled “In Grief and Solidarity with the Coptic Christian Community.” The accompanying article condemned the “senseless killing” of 21 worshippers in the bombing of the Saints Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt, on New Year’s Eve. The council’s Egyptian-American chairman affirmed his abhorrence of “the heinous crime,” and its executive director sent a letter of sympathy to the Coptic Bishop of Los Angeles. Their actions were repeated throughout the Middle East by people of goodwill, including many Muslims.
While these expressions of solidarity were sincere and appreciated, the killing of the Copts is but the latest manifestation of the evil that is present in a very sick society. I visited Egypt many times while living in Israel, and enjoyed exploring the Sinai Peninsula, Cairo, and Luxor. A part of me will always love touristy Egypt, the ancient land of the pyramids, the Nile, the Sphinx, and my beloved ful. However, after I found out that almost all Egyptian women are mutilated, I stopped visiting. According to the latest UNICEF figures, 96% of Egyptian women between the ages of 15 and 49 undergo some form of female genital mutilation. I have no interest in whether the practice is cultural or religious, or whether the Egyptian government at one time enacted a law banning the procedure. The truth is that 96% of Egyptian women continue to be brutally and cruelly tortured in a country that receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid. Given that Coptic Christians are 10-20% of Egypt’s population, one can assume that many Copts torture their women as well. I have no hope that such a country will ever become civilized. It’s no wonder that Hosni Mubarak insists on only answering questions about Israel in his press conferences and statements. It sure beats addressing the mutilation of females or the bombing of churches.
Last year I felt compelled to correct a well-meaning Mormon couple who had recently returned from a trip to Egypt convinced that Egyptians value chastity and modesty in the same way that Mormons do. Needless to say, they were shocked when I asked them when they had mutilated their two daughters. The idea that Egyptian society cherishes women and womanhood in the same way that Mormons and Jews do is utter nonsense. Instead of promoting modesty and virtue, Egyptians mutilate girls and create a society that incubates religious fanatics who fly commercial planes into buildings (Mohammed Atta, September 11, 2001) and blow up Christian churches. Such a society must be anti-Semitic at its core, and indeed this is the case with Egypt.
I will pray for the Copts to have a peaceful and joyous Christmas celebration this Friday, but I’m not optimistic about their fate in a country that tortures its daughters and sisters. When I contrast the Pharaonic dynasties and pyramids with Mubarak and mutilations, I conclude that Egypt is in fact a potato nation: the best part is underground.