Outside the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City after a bomb blast struck worshippers
At 9.30 this morning, during Mass at St George’s Church in Tanto, north of Cairo, Coptic Christians were celebrating the joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And then, in the twinkling of an eye, He was welcoming at least 25 of them into His kingdom, as a bomb went off inside the church.
That, at least, is what hundreds of millions of Christians believe; as Holy Week begins. They will be praying for the slaughtered men, women and children of St Mark’s – and also for the victims of a suicide bombing outside St Mark’s Cathedral, Alexandria, soon afterwards. As I write, the death toll from the second attack is reported to have risen to 18. Let us hope that they also remember the 28 people who died in St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Alexandria, as recently as last December. And the 21 Coptic worshippers murdered at another Coptic Church in Alexandra at the New Year’s Mass on the first day of 2011.
Today a spokesman for the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs tweeted that the Palm Sunday massacres were ‘another obnoxious but failed attempts against all Egyptians’. Really? It looks to me like an attack on Christians simply because they are Christians. It would be equally fatuous to claim that Boko Haram’s unrelenting slaughter of Christians is directed ‘against all Nigerians’.
These were, of course, attacks by ‘Islamists‘ – a word I’m beginning to put into inverted commas, not because I think most ordinary Muslims support such tactics but because there is no single strand of ‘Islamist’ ideology that can be neatly cordoned off from Islamic extremism.
The murderers of Christians in the Middle East, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Europe are divided by sectarian squabbles over Islamic hegemony. They disagree, too, about the degree of persecution to which local Christians should be subjected. But the impulse to wipe them from the face of the earth is growing stronger, and Muslim fanatics are delighted that the extinction of Christianity from its ancient heartlands is tantalisingly close to happening.
On The Spectator‘s Holy Smoke podcast last month, I spoke to the representative of the Chaldean Catholics driven from their towns on the Nineveh plain. He told me that these Christians, who have been left to rot in refugee camps by the United Nations and US aid agencies, felt betrayed not just by the West but also by their former Muslim neighbours, once their friends and now suddenly indifferent to their fate.
Why are those words haunting me today?