Shake Off the Dust... Arise!
Written by Sally Bishai
Thursday, 13 April 2006
How many of you voted in the last U.S. election? How many of you say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing The Star Spangled Banner? How many of you participate in your "civic duties as an American citizen?"
To those of you who do these things, great.
You are—on the outside, anyway—“Proud to be an American, where at least you know you’re free.”
America is great, and it’s given many of us opportunities that we could never have dreamed of back home, although for some of us, America is the only home we’ve ever known.
The Coptic community’s growing presence in the U.S. (as well as other countries) doesn’t change the fact that we owe a debt of gratitude to the native Egyptians who were our forefathers, many of whom bled and died in the name of their—and our— religion.
So what am I getting at, then? Merely this; I wonder just how many of us regularly get involved in our civic duties, not just as Americans, but as Copts?
Even if we’ve never visited Alexandria or Cairo or the Saiid, we carry with us the heritage of cultural perseverance. It’s a genetic code, an invisible blessing, really, that states “Copt, now and forever.”
And with that blessing comes the responsibility of getting involved.
If you have to ask what I mean when I say “get involved,” chances are you aren’t involved enough.
Would it really kill us to write to the occasional congressman, or perhaps join one of the excellent advocacy groups out there? No, it wouldn’t.
But holding off on carrying out these well-intentioned plans could always result in more crimes, or, at least, contribute to the continued trend of quasi-prosecutions against Copt-killers (quasi meaning “a year in jail for killing 20 people,” or something like that).
Remember al-Kosheh? Maybe more involvement prior to the massacre in 2000 may have made it impossible for the tragedy to even occur, or made the laughable two-year jail sentence for the murderers a bit heavier, more suited to the crime.
Then again, maybe not.
Many people consider life as a Copt in Egypt to be a “struggle;” outside observers describe our “plight.”
But I have to wonder what this means to the Coptic youth of today.
Can they picture the hundreds of thousands of blood brothers and sisters that have fallen since Christianity was introduced to Egypt?
Do they know that the stubborn act of clinging to their faith was the only thing that turned these Copts into martyrs?
And do they realize the blatant inequalities that still happen to modern Christians in modern Egypt every day?
Perhaps they don’t.
And maybe they—or you—would disagree.
In fact, you might be one of those who don’t recognize the problems faced by Christians, who cheerfully hold to the belief that Christians and Muslims in Egypt live side-by-side, happy and equal and free.
Happy, maybe. Free, not in a million years.
Equal, not in a billion years.
Because, the fact of the matter is that native Egyptian Christians do not have basic equal or civil rights in their ancestral homeland—the land tended for millennia by our ancestors (although this isn’t an issue of whom Egypt belongs to, it’s more about wanting to live our lives peacefully and equitably).
Even those who don’t acknowledge tragedies such as the al-Kosheh massacre cannot deny the inequality that Copts live with.
Wasn’t it only fifty years ago that “separate but equal” was found to be a great deception?
The U.S. courts had a point.
It is equally true that Copts—of all denominations—live lives in Egypt that may not be “separate,” but can never be called “equal.”
While it isn’t my goal here to outline all of the injustices suffered by Copts (I’m saving that for my next article), it is my intention to engage my younger brothers and sisters—the new generation of Copts—in the discussion.
To force them to wake up and take notice.
To put themselves out there.
To do something.
I’m not saying you should picket Capitol Hill with signs saying “TAKE BACK EGYPT!” and “GO COPTS!.”
I’m not saying you should join every Coptic organization that you hear about (though getting involved in one or several of those is never a bad idea).
Rather, I’m suggesting that the Coptic youth who don’t live in Egypt should educate themselves about what’s going on “back home”—even if that home might only have belonged to their parents, and once upon a time.
Help out where you can, whether it’s in church or in one of the aforementioned organizations.
Write your region’s elected officials, urging them to vocally support indigenous rights and religious freedom in Egypt.
And if you see an opportunity to make a BIG difference—such as running for public office or even teaching Coptic Studies at a university—then go for it.
Your geographic placement outside of Egypt actually gives you far more license to pursue Coptic issues than your cousins back in Cairo.
How much more awareness will come to our cause if we, as Coptic-Americans (or Australians or Europeans or other members of the Diaspora, for that matter), step up to the plate and make a difference in our academic or professional lives, thus drawing the world’s attention to our historically significant community?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re Orthodox, Catholic, or Evangelical (or some vague combination of the three!)—what matters is that you’re Coptic, and the eyes of the world are watching and waiting.
No one can argue with the fact that our forefathers were successful, having pioneered some of the world’s most influential architectural, scientific, religious, and legal achievements.
But perhaps it’s not so well-known that we modern Copts have continued this legacy of excellence by instilling in our children high standards of academic and professional success.
And it’s a certainty that much of the western world does NOT know about the inequalities that happen daily in Egypt.
Isn’t it time that the world acknowledged our perseverance, our success, our struggle?
Isn’t it time that people everywhere realized that we never have—and never will—go quietly into the night?
While some may say that the “first generation” born abroad has grown complacent with Western freedoms and equalities, we can fulfill our debt of gratitude to the martyrs who have struggled on our behalf.
I beseech you, my Coptic brethren—regardless of where you live now—to wake up, shake off the dust, and ARISE!