WASHINGTON, February 18, 2015 – In 1997 I stood on the eastern edge of the Sahara Desert in a desolate region Egyptians call the Wadi al-Natrun. Rising from the desert floor like a plateaued mesa stands the Coptic Orthodox Christian monastery of Deir el-Surian. The longest wall surrounding its church and priestly cloisters measures 524 feet wide by 36 feet high.
The fortress walls stand as a reminder of the Islamic invasion that followed the fall of Rome.
The Abbot gave me a private tour of the monastery when he discovered I was an American. He attended seminary in Boston.
Being a Christian, the Abbot was compelled to speak in absolutes and not the weasel words of, say, the Obama administration. When referring to the Coptic people’s Muslim oppressors, he simply called them “barbarians.” I still remember my Muslim guide cringing as the Abbot recalled acts of persecution at the hands of the “religion of peace.”
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I thought of the Abbot and his fate while reading news accounts of Islamic State fighters beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in the chaotic cauldron created in the wake of President Obama’s Libyan intervention. The victims of yet another act of radical Islamic barbarism came to Libya in search of work, which has become difficult for the Christian minority since Egypt’s “Arab Spring.”
“These people of the cross,” read a caption in the Islamic State video that gloated over the victims, “followers of the hostile Egyptian [Coptic] church… Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.”
“ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds,” said a White House statement. “It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity.”
The statement did not identify the motives of the killers nor mention that the beheaded victims were Christians.
That reminds me of a scene from the 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson. When tenderfoot Johnson (Robert Redford) comes across mountain man Del Gue (Stefan Gierasch), who just happens to be buried up to his neck and surrounded by vultures, Johnson asks, “Injuns put you here?” The incredulous Gue blows dust from his lips and quips, “Twern’t Mormons.”
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The White House is hosting a “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.” At first blush, it’s hard to tell whether the violent extremists in question are the zany wrestlers of the WWF or the radical, bomb-throwing, throat-slitting, Jew-killing supremacists determined to establish an Islamic caliphate.
The White House added that the summit will “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent” the kind of violence that occurred “in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris.” Nowhere in the press release does it mention the religion that informs and animates the actions of the “violent.”
Here’s a hint. “Twern’t Mormons.”