The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Recent headlines from Egypt tell of raging battles between Coptic Christians and Salafi Muslim fundamentalists. The other day 12 people (seven Copts and six Salafis) were killed when Salafis, acting on rumors that a Christian woman converted to Islam and was then kidnapped by Copts, attacked and burned a Christian church. The Copts do not permit women to divorce. The only way a woman can break out of a bad marriage is to leave the church.  Hence, there is a lot of rumor-mongering that women are being “imprisoned” by the Coptic Church.

The Copts are the same intolerant Christians who ruled Alexandria in the fifth century when the story of The Flight of the Sorceress takes place. It was this Christian group, headed by Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, who murdered Hypatia, Alexandria’s last librarian and who set out to exterminate pagans and Jews, as is recounted in the novel. This is also that same sect of Christians who, a short time later, attacked as dissidents and heretics, the Arian and Nestorian Christians. By the mid-to-late fifth century the Copts had split with both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and named its own pope. Currently, the 117th iteration of that pope is Shenouda III.

While the Copts may be portrayed in the Christian world as the victims of the majority Muslims, this is no sect of shrinking violets. Indeed, despite the Muslim conquest of the country, Egypt remained mostly Coptic Christian until the 12th century. The Copts currently represent about twelve million of Egypt’s eighty million people and they live mostly in the northern part of the country. They are headquartered in Alexandria.

The Salafis in Egypt are extremists and supporters of Osama Bin Laden. They adhere to the reactionary, Saudi Wahabi strain of Islam that is as oppressive to women as the Copts. Salafis believe that it is okay to kill infidels (along with secular Muslims.) These are the folks who went into the streets after Bin Laden was killed and protested his “martyrdom.” Yassir Al-Burhami, a Salafi cleric in Alexandria, was recently quoted as saying “bin Laden was a ‘martyr’ who ‘was killed with his head held high, and God did not hand him over to his enemies.” He does not explain how God permitted whomever to hand bin Laden over to his enemies.  

The clash we are witnessing in Egypt currently is between two of the most fundamentalist, zealous, narrow-minded, intolerant groups of religious fanatics presently on the map. Except for their dogma, they are birds of a feather. As long as they keep the feud to themselves, who can complain if they wipe each other out?

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