Across the Bay

Friday, January 21, 2005

A "Theo Van Gogh" Case in Jersey City?

Here's a very disturbing story that you might not have seen: A Coptic Christian family was found stabbed to death in its Jersey City home on Friday. It's been alleged that the wife was particularly mutilated, and that a tattoo of the Coptic cross on her wrist was carved out (although that seems to be a fabrication).

While nothing has been concluded with certainty, there seem to be indications pointing to a religious hate crime. Jihad Watch claims to have some inside information from a friend of the slain family that would supposedly further confirm the nature of the crime:

    The Armanious family had inspired several Muslims
    to convert to Christianity — or thought they had. These
    converts were actually practicing taqiyya, or
    religious deception, pretending to be friends of these
    Christians in order to strengthen themselves against
    It was these "converts" who knocked on the door of
    the Armanious home. Of course, the family, not
    suspecting the deception, was happy to see the
    "converted" men and willingly let them in to their
    home. That's why there was no sign of forced entry.
    Then the "converted" Muslims did their grisly work.

Robbery has been all but ruled out as apparently no jewelry was stolen (but again, nothing is certain yet) As well, the style is eerily reminiscent of the religious cleansing campaigns in the Lebanese War of the Mountain, where families were slaughtered, literally, with knives and axes.

There was one line in the Jihad Watch piece that caught my eye:

    The oppression and harassment you thought you had
    left behind in Egypt has now come to you.

If indeed the family was killed due to its position on Islam, that's exactly why the reformation of Islam and the democratization of ME societies is an imperative for American security. You see, the people who did this (assuming it is indeed a religiously motivated hate crime) are challenging the US constitution and the norms of this society (exactly as with the van Gogh murder). That's why there must be a decisive response to this case if the motives are established. The worst thing would be a whitewash. So, let's hope that the media silence is cautious journalism and not a form of apologetics (as we saw in some instances in the van Gogh case) or, worse still, a warped form of Islamic exceptionalism.

What is often missed is that if we foster Islamic exceptionalism under the guise of multiculturalism, we would inadvertantly be strengthening the worst anti-Englihtenment, intolerant elements of Christianity, and thus be undoing the secular space provided by the constitution, let alone the basic rights and freedoms of speech (contrast with the proposed law in England whereby making jokes about a religion could land you in jail!) This was what the Armanios family took for granted in the US, and if indeed they were killed for it, their murder is a direct attack on the constitution and the protected freedoms that make this country great. If that is the case, then the pathologies of Araby would indeed have "come to us" just like they did on 9/11.

I must say that it's common to see the mistreatment of "minorities" in the ME ignored in ME studies circles, and even in older Arabist circles in the State Department (see Kaplan's magnificent book, The Arabists). You'll get a glimpse of that when I address William Dalrymple (which I'm now leaning toward posting it in increments so as to finally put it out after talking about it for so long!). Meanwhile, I'll remind you that proselytizing to Muslims can get you, and the convert killed in the ME (and now appararently in Jersey City), and in Egypt, Copts have to go through hell to get permits to build (or renovate) houses of worship (as was the case in Turkey, which perhaps now might change its laws in order to enter the EU). In other countries like Saudi Arabia, Churches and Bibles are banned altogether! Why bother with the headache!?

Let's see how this story unfolds, and I hope that I'm wrong.

N.B. Arab Muslims tend to deny and downplay the tensions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt. They did it in the aftermath of the story of the kidnapped wife of a Coptic priest in Egypt. In the Lebanese An-Nahar, the Mufti Muhammad Ali al-Jouzou called it a case of Coptic "coquetterie" and that the Egyptian state is "blind" to religious differences between Muslims and Copts. Yeah... In this case, the NY Post has an interesting section:

    Osama Hassan, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City,
    described the relationship between Copts and Muslims as
    cooperative if not friendly.

    "I think there might be people that can get into physical fights,
    but not to the point of murder," Hassan said.

So they are friendly, but they sometimes come to blows! But murder?! Naaaah!