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The Crescent And The Cross

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Filed: Other Country: Israel
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Monday, Jun. 20, 2011

The Crescent And The Cross

By Bruce Feiler

Early in the evening of June 7, children swarmed in front of the Virgin Mary Church in Cairo's Imbaba slum, carrying pink carnations. They were there to greet Egypt's interim Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, who had arrived to inaugurate the $1 million rebuilding of the church, which had been burned in an outbreak of sectarian strife in May. But while the initial wave of violence, in which 15 people were killed, made front-page headlines around the world and stoked fears that the Arab Spring was devolving into a Summer of Discontent, the news of the exultant reopening barely made a blip. That gap hints at a larger truth: instead of exacerbating religious tension, as is commonly perceived, the Arab Spring may be opening a new era in Islam's relations with the rest of the world.

Beyond their political implications, the religious dimensions of the Middle East uprisings have always been central, particularly to the West. Ever since 9/11, the West and Islam have been locked in a chilly standoff. The relationship was captured by Harvard professor Samuel Huntington's lightning-rod phrase "the Clash of Civilizations." Huntington's thesis, which was roundly trashed when it was published as an article in 1993 but became a best seller in book form following Sept. 11, was that Islam taught Muslims to be hostile to freedom, pluralism and individualism.

At first blush, the Arab Spring seemed to render Huntington's idea deader than ever. In up to 20 Islamic countries, Muslims marched in the face of bullets, tanks and water cannons, demanding the exact human dignities that parades of commentators had assured the American public Muslims didn't want. If anything, the uprisings of 2011, coupled with the death of Osama bin Laden, raised the tantalizing possibility that the West and Islam, which came to the brink of a Holy War in the past decade, might finally be able to build a Holy Peace. Could the Clash of Civilizations be giving way at last to the Convergence of Civilizations?

In recent months, the news from Egypt suggested the answer is no. The downfall of the dictator Hosni Mubarak seemed to unleash all kinds of pent-up religious hatreds. One of the most visible began in Imbaba on May 7. Rumors circulated that a Christian woman who had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man had been kidnapped and was being held captive in a local church, St. Mina. Muslims, many from the ultraconservative Salafi sect, began marching on the facility. Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of the country, hurried to its defense. Thousands gathered, brandishing makeshift weapons and hurling insults. Street fighting broke out, and by the time the melee ended the following morning, 15 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded, and three Coptic churches, including the Virgin Mary Church, were in flames.

Episodes like this one, reported around the world, fit into a narrative of extremist Muslim aggression and intolerance that has dominated American public discourse since Sept. 11. But what this story line misses is that a powerful new narrative has emerged from the Middle East in recent months that, for the first time in a generation, poses a serious threat to the fundamentalists' appeal. And that narrative can also be told from the recent sectarian events in Egypt. It is a story of the rise of a moderate coalition and its counterattack against extremism.

The best example of that story unfolded two hours south of Cairo in the tiny village of Sol, in Helwan governate. A place of dirt-lined streets on the border of the desert, Sol was the site of the first church burning in the days after Mubarak's fall. Rumors played a large part in this conflict too: a Christian man had been in a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman, a domestic dispute broke out within the woman's family over her actions, and two people were killed, including her father.

After the funerals, a crowd of Muslims went looking for the Christian man, who they heard had sought refuge in the church. When word spread that someone found evidence that black magic was being performed on Muslims inside the church, the crowd set the building ablaze. It was exactly the sort of violence Mubarak had warned about for years: Keep me in power or sectarian divisions will rip apart the country.

Only this time, just as quickly as this situation flared, something unexpected happened. A group of young Muslim and Christian leaders in Cairo who had worked together during the revolution swept into Sol to address the situation. The group was building on the spirit of Muslim-Christian partnership that had developed in Tahrir Square. Day after day during the revolution, Christians locked arms to protect Muslims during prayers. Muslims did the same for Christians during Mass.

On occasion, Muslims and Christians linked arms to protect Cairo's historic synagogue. The protesters even adopted an interlocking crescent and cross as their symbol of a new Egypt. Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which tracks sectarian strife, says that "during the revolution, the moral threshold shifted. Suddenly everyone, including the Muslim Brotherhood, was saying, 'Of course Egypt is for all Egyptians. Of course there should be no discrimination.'"

Sol offered a test of this harmony, and the results were striking. Within 24 hours, Hany Hanna Aziz Hanna, a conservator with the Department of Antiquities who became one of the leading Copts during the revolution, helped organize a delegation to visit the town. Members included Muslim Brotherhood political head Mohamed el-Beltagy, Salafi sheik Mohamed Hassan and various military leaders. The delegation hosted reconciliation talks in a local dignitary's house, then held a unity rally outdoors. As popular televangelist Amr Khaled, often called "Islam's Billy Graham," told the crowd, "My message here today for Muslims and Christians is, Let's be one hand."

The military promised to rebuild the church. When I visited a few weeks later, the four-story facility and adjoining community center were already abuzz with activity. As armored personnel carriers protected the narrow road, dozens of men--of all ages, social classes and faiths--were busy laying bricks, stretching electrical wire and hammering studs. It was the visible manifestation of an evolving Middle East. "I think we can be an example to other countries where Muslims and Christians live side by side," Hanna told me.

A similar outpouring followed the recent attacks in Cairo. Egypt's most respected Muslim religious authority, the Sheik of al-Azhar, denounced the violence, as did the Muslim Brotherhood. Youth organizers called a unity rally for Tahrir Square. And most telling of all, Prime Minister Sharaf canceled a trip abroad to summon an emergency Cabinet meeting, the military council arrested 190 people and subsequently announced it would put 48 on trial, and the government issued a ban on demonstrations in front of houses of worship. Reaction, counterreaction. It was a struggle for the future of faith.

So how should we in the West respond to all of this? First, we should be reminded once again that Islam itself is not the problem. Sure, the Qur'an, like the Bible, can be exploited for political purposes. Sure, a conservative form of Islam is still popular in the Middle East. But so is a more centrist, sensible version that denounces violence and rejects extremism. A poll taken in April, after the events in Sol, showed that 84% of Egyptians thought Copts and other minorities should be able to practice their religion freely.

Second, we should remember that the chief battle in the Middle East right now is for the hearts and minds of young people--not the Arab street, as we've been wrongly branding them, but the Arab schoolhouse. These young Muslims are actively involved in shaping events, and they are willing to take on entrenched forces, including religious ones.

Third, we should recognize that young people now have two competing narratives from which to choose: the jihadists' call for orthodoxy, violence and terrorism, or the path, which the youth helped create this year, of coexistence, ballot boxes and job opportunities. Our role in the West should be to help cultivate this new narrative, to hear in its messy, pluralist totality the voice of moderate Islam we have been claiming we want to hear since Sept. 11. And to look past the headlines of church burnings and recognize the miracles of Imbaba and Sol.

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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Egypt
Timeline

I hope Egypt can take care of their people now. I hope the Christians are protected more and allowed the same priviledges that others have. I hope everyone there can get along and more young people work together for the good of their country. They have a beautiful country, the Egyptians are a beautiful and loving people, the young people are so smart and can do many great things if they all get along and work together.


10407819_701840296558511_659086279075738

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Good news story Sof! Go Egypt and all Egyptians!


B and J K-1 story

  • April 2004 met online
  • July 16, 2006 Met in person on her birthday in United Arab Emirates
  • August 4, 2006 sent certified mail I-129F packet Neb SC
  • August 9, 2006 NOA1
  • August 21, 2006 received NOA1 in mail
  • October 4, 5, 7, 13 & 17 2006 Touches! 50 day address change... Yes Judith is beautiful, quit staring at her passport photo and approve us!!! Shaming works! LOL
  • October 13, 2006 NOA2! November 2, 2006 NOA2? Huh? NVC already processed and sent us on to Abu Dhabi Consulate!
  • February 12, 2007 Abu Dhabi Interview SUCCESS!!! February 14 Visa in hand!
  • March 6, 2007 she is here!
  • MARCH 14, 2007 WE ARE MARRIED!!!
  • May 5, 2007 Sent AOS/EAD packet
  • May 11, 2007 NOA1 AOS/EAD
  • June 7, 2007 Biometrics appointment
  • June 8, 2007 first post biometrics touch, June 11, next touch...
  • August 1, 2007 AOS Interview! APPROVED!! EAD APPROVED TOO...
  • August 6, 2007 EAD card and Welcome Letter received!
  • August 13, 2007 GREEN CARD received!!! 375 days since mailing the I-129F!

    Remove Conditions:

  • May 1, 2009 first day to file
  • May 9, 2009 mailed I-751 to USCIS CS

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Bump


B and J K-1 story

  • April 2004 met online
  • July 16, 2006 Met in person on her birthday in United Arab Emirates
  • August 4, 2006 sent certified mail I-129F packet Neb SC
  • August 9, 2006 NOA1
  • August 21, 2006 received NOA1 in mail
  • October 4, 5, 7, 13 & 17 2006 Touches! 50 day address change... Yes Judith is beautiful, quit staring at her passport photo and approve us!!! Shaming works! LOL
  • October 13, 2006 NOA2! November 2, 2006 NOA2? Huh? NVC already processed and sent us on to Abu Dhabi Consulate!
  • February 12, 2007 Abu Dhabi Interview SUCCESS!!! February 14 Visa in hand!
  • March 6, 2007 she is here!
  • MARCH 14, 2007 WE ARE MARRIED!!!
  • May 5, 2007 Sent AOS/EAD packet
  • May 11, 2007 NOA1 AOS/EAD
  • June 7, 2007 Biometrics appointment
  • June 8, 2007 first post biometrics touch, June 11, next touch...
  • August 1, 2007 AOS Interview! APPROVED!! EAD APPROVED TOO...
  • August 6, 2007 EAD card and Welcome Letter received!
  • August 13, 2007 GREEN CARD received!!! 375 days since mailing the I-129F!

    Remove Conditions:

  • May 1, 2009 first day to file
  • May 9, 2009 mailed I-751 to USCIS CS

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Thx!

Welcome! The OP deserved it. There was much discussion of the violence and burning of the church, it's rebuilding and the inter-faith cooperation behind it deserve as much or more attention. It's a great story!


B and J K-1 story

  • April 2004 met online
  • July 16, 2006 Met in person on her birthday in United Arab Emirates
  • August 4, 2006 sent certified mail I-129F packet Neb SC
  • August 9, 2006 NOA1
  • August 21, 2006 received NOA1 in mail
  • October 4, 5, 7, 13 & 17 2006 Touches! 50 day address change... Yes Judith is beautiful, quit staring at her passport photo and approve us!!! Shaming works! LOL
  • October 13, 2006 NOA2! November 2, 2006 NOA2? Huh? NVC already processed and sent us on to Abu Dhabi Consulate!
  • February 12, 2007 Abu Dhabi Interview SUCCESS!!! February 14 Visa in hand!
  • March 6, 2007 she is here!
  • MARCH 14, 2007 WE ARE MARRIED!!!
  • May 5, 2007 Sent AOS/EAD packet
  • May 11, 2007 NOA1 AOS/EAD
  • June 7, 2007 Biometrics appointment
  • June 8, 2007 first post biometrics touch, June 11, next touch...
  • August 1, 2007 AOS Interview! APPROVED!! EAD APPROVED TOO...
  • August 6, 2007 EAD card and Welcome Letter received!
  • August 13, 2007 GREEN CARD received!!! 375 days since mailing the I-129F!

    Remove Conditions:

  • May 1, 2009 first day to file
  • May 9, 2009 mailed I-751 to USCIS CS

Share this post


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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Egypt
Timeline

Welcome! The OP deserved it. There was much discussion of the violence and burning of the church, it's rebuilding and the inter-faith cooperation behind it deserve as much or more attention. It's a great story!

Agreed!


10407819_701840296558511_659086279075738

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