Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mob Mentality: No Apologies


According to the following story (which I will post in full), the man whose remarks are believed by some to have incited the recent violence against Baha'i homes in Egypt is unapologetic about what he said:

From The National

Cairo // A newspaper columnist accused of inciting attacks last week against members of the Baha’i faith in an Upper Egyptian village said yesterday he remains unapologetic for his controversial comments. Six Egyptian human rights groups have called on public prosecutors to investigate Gamal Abd al Rahim, a writer for the state-run Al Gomhurriya newspaper, for “incitement to felonies and misdemeanours”. They say Mr al Rahim’s statements against Baha’is on a popular talk show led directly to an attack that saw villagers in the town of Al Shuraniya torch five homes known to belong to Baha’is. The attacks in Al Shuraniya, in which eight homes were damaged but no one was injured, struck Egypt’s tiny Baha’i community only weeks after a decision by a constitutional court that will allow Egypt’s Baha’is to leave the religion section of their identity cards blank. Baha’is had celebrated the verdict, which they hope will give their long-disenfranchised community equal citizenship status to Muslims and Christians. But if the court victory pointed to improvements in religious tolerance, the violence in Al Shuraniya revealed the latent communal tensions that persist in Egyptian society. In an interview in his Cairo office, Mr al Rahim said the statements aired last Saturday, in which he said that a Baha’i leader who was a guest on the same programme “should be killed”, did not incite villagers in the town of Al Shuraniya to attack the homes of their Baha’i neighbours. “I’m responsible for every word I said, and I don’t owe anyone any apologies,” said Mr al Rahim, who added that he condemns the attacks. Instead, he said, the villagers were merely reacting to “disgraceful” statements by one of the show’s other guests, a Baha’i named Ahmed al Sayyid Abdul Ela, who boasted that his hometown of Al Shuraniya, about 400km south of Cairo, was “full of Baha’is”. “The Egyptian people know how Sharia [Islamic jurisprudence] views this religion. They felt disgrace because of this man. And because of the strong customs and traditions of Upper Egyptian society, they attacked this man’s house.” Mr Ela’s brothers were among those who appeared at a courthouse yesterday in Assiut, a governorate near to Al Shuraniya, to present their statements to police. On the evening of the attacks, police ordered all of Al Shuraniya’s Baha’i residents to leave the city before they could return to their homes to collect belongings. Most of them fled to Cairo. “It was so painful to see all the children scared. It would have been better to have died than to have watched that,” said Abdul Bassit, Mr Ela’s brother, whose house was destroyed during the riots last Sunday night. “The police were there, but they were just watching. They didn’t take any of the kind of action that you would expect from police. This incident was such proof of ignorance and barbarism I couldn’t believe it was happening.” Egypt’s constitution does not officially recognise the Baha’i faith and many Muslims consider them to be apostates. Some, such as Mr al Rahim, also believe the Baha’i are agents of Zionism. While their numbers are few, he said, they are a dangerous threat to Islam and to Egypt. “They are a group that is just related to Israel,” he said, citing the Baha’i headquarters in Haifa, Israel, as evidence of a Zionist conspiracy to permeate Egyptian society. “They just get money from abroad. They exist in Egypt, but their presence might cause discord in Egyptian society. I’m worried about Egypt.” Even in the face of such ardent opposition, Baha’i community leaders say they are preparing to continue their struggle for basic rights. After last month’s decision on identification cards, Baha’i leaders say the next step will be to pass legislation to allow civil marriage – the Baha’i still must leave Egypt to get married because they are prohibited from marrying in an unrecognised faith. But marriage is only one of several identity benefits denied to the Baha’i that most Egyptians take for granted. Labib Hanna, a Baha’i leader, said his family still pays income taxes for his late sister, who was not issued a death certificate when she died five years ago because her religion was not recognised by the state. “We are really true citizens. We love Egypt and we are obeying the government,” said Dr Hanna, a mathematics professor at Cairo University. The Baha’is’ problems with the Egyptian government began in 1960, when Gamal Abdul Nasser disbanded the group’s official organisation and seized its property. That decision led to the periodic harassment and arrest of Baha’i adherents on charges of “contempt of religion” throughout the following decades. Commentators in state-run newspapers continue to malign the Baha’i. The Baha’i religion teaches an ethos of global religious unity. Baha’i place the Prophet Mohammed on a continuum of divine prophecy that includes, but is not limited to, the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and Abraham. God will continue to send messengers, the Baha’i believe, and those messengers will continue to reveal divine truth. Baha’ism is tantamount to apostasy, say many Muslims, because they believe Mohammed was the final Prophet. It is perfectly acceptable for Muslims to convey their opinion of Baha’ism, said Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights advocacy organisation that supported the Baha’is in the identity card case. It is the incitement of violence, he said, that should be investigated and prosecuted by legal authorities. “It’s much more serious than bigotry. Bigotry is a word I can use to describe all the views [Mr al Rahim] has expressed against Baha’is in the past month, against which Baha’is and rights activists chose not to take any legal action because we believe he was exercising his right to drop legal expression, as repulsive as the opinions he was expressing were,” said Mr Bahgat. But some of Mr al Rahim’s comments, he said, were a “direct incitement to committing felonies and misdemeanours. We think that there is a clear link between the statements he made on TV and in a state newspaper to the type of violence we saw last week.”

God willing this misguided soul who encourages violence against his fellow Egyptians because they are Baha'is will be held accountable for his unrepentant bigotry. No one should have their home destroyed because of his or her religious beliefs!

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