An Ecumenism of Blood


The news is still filtering in, but a group of gunmen bombed a mosque in northern Sinai and then sprayed the worshipers with gunfire. More than a 100 victims are confirmed dead. Words to express horror at this event stagger out but fail to line up to make sense. There is no making sense of this. There is nothing that could be reasoned or said about it. No expression of concern, no prayers for the dead, no comforting of the living can be found. Only a silent scream.

Other houses of worship have been bombed in Egypt since New Year’s eve 2011. They were Christian or Shi’a. The attacks were horrific, but at least we could blame them on “sectarianism”, and hope that once that scourge is cured the attacks will cease. But the attack on the mosque is an attack on hope itself. It is a murder of hope. Nothing can be gained from it. No religion can be promoted, no culture can be made supreme, no political end can be served. This is utter nihilism, the willful destruction of the very notion of life itself. It can not be called “savage” or “beastly”, for only a reasoning human can plan and execute such an attack. What do we do when reasoning turns into an enemy of reason?

— Maged Atiya



A Requiem – and The Long View

“Requiem” is a quintessentially Christian rite, but it comes to mind in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. There is, at the simplest level, a necessary requiem for the dead, whose lives ended suddenly and violently simply for being in the wrong country at the wrong time. At a wider level, there is a need for a requiem for the swirl of comments and recommendations about how to deal with the surge of terrorism by fundamentalists among Muslims. We can also hope for a requiem for the usual pieties, about how most Muslims have no truck with terrorism and how we should not let this scourge affect our “life style”. These pieties are irrelevant; for the majority of Muslims, who suffer more than ten-fold from this terror, have not been able to put an end to it, and for the obvious fact that because it takes a few determined men to put an entire country under siege, terrorism will affect our lives, regardless.

We also need a requiem for the endless chatter from political leaders who exude determination and certainty about how we can defeat this “evil”. They have failed at all attempts. One American President sought to put an end to it by invading a country and foisting a democratic system on its inhabitants. Another withdrew armies and tried to reach out with a friendly hand and a serious mien of understanding, laced with the occasional apology for errors long committed. Neither put an end to terrorism. Future leaders insist that a judicious mixture of these two approaches will certainly work this time.

We could use a requiem for the shibboleth of the usual phrases, “clash of civilizations”, “battle of ideas”, “what went wrong”, “democracy”, “inclusiveness” etc. They can no more save us, however correctly we pronounce them, than the 42,000 Ephraimites. We could also use a requiem for the inordinate, even irrational, fear of Islam among many in the West, and the consequent desire to placate the most oppressive elements among Muslims. A requiem is needed for the “explanations” that poverty, lack of education, or political oppression create this lust for innocent blood. They hurt by misdirection. All contribute, in a secondary way, to terrorism, but terrorists are rarely the most abjectly poor, nor the least educated, and many are raised in the liberal West. In any case, it is slow work to eradicate these ills in our own societies, let alone in lands far away.

When the requiems come to a close, and all are laid to rest, we are left with the singularly important “Long View”. In this view we see this terrorism as a product of a historical struggle for a redefinition of Islam, a younger sibling of Christianity, to fit in a world it did not create; and one with uncertain outcome yet. In the Long View we have equanimity about the certainty of terror attacks, and the hope that we develop the requisite capability to foil them or lessen the associated loss of life and property. In the Long View we see the revival of failed states as necessary to a better outcome for this struggle, and recognize the need for competent native partners and expectation that such work will not always be to our liking. In the Long View we recognize that at times it is better to do nothing than to flail uselessly, and that temporary gains and losses tell little about the final outcome. That outcome is determined by faithfulness to the few beliefs that we hold to be self-evident.

— Maged Atiya