Sunday, August 17, 2008

Coptic Priest Zakaria Botros: Holy War of Words

Driving from Ann Arbor today, I felt like listening to the ethnic programming radio station 690 AM.
It happened that an Egyptian Coptic priest I read about in the Arab American News, Zakaria Botros, was speaking about Islam. I listened to the whole show. He brings up controversial topics on Islam, from Islamic texts, to argue that Islam is a false religion and that (Coptic Orthodox) Christianity is the one true faith. After poking fun at their faith with his Egyptian humor and demeanor that is ideally fit for entertaining, he invites his Muslim listeners, to embrace Christianity!
In his demeanor and self righteousness he has no air of doubt about the supremacy of his faith. He reminded me of another Egyptian that mixes humor, promotion of one's faith and ridicule and attack of others' faith- the Egyptian Al Qaeda # 2 terrorist Ayman Al Zawahiri when he goes on rants against Christianity and the West.
What Zawahiri (who is a medical doctor by training) and the priest have in common is rejection of the other, inability to see any good in others, and a call for the other group to convert to the one true faith or be ridiculed and damned forever.
The Western ideas of tolerance and co-existence skipped both Mr. Zawahiri and the priest.
Back to the Arab American News report:
The priest Botros received a coverage of a whole page in the Arab American News of August 16-22, 2008. Reporter Khalil Alhajal wrote:
"Local religious leaders believe they 've successfully convinced a local AM radio station to force a regular guest on one of its programs to tone down his intense, often strange commentaries critical of the Islamic faith" and that "Muslim leaders feared the weekly programs could cause tensions between local Christian and Muslim communities, and sought out talks." Mr. AlHajal quotes Ghalib Begg the Chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan stating that "It seems that the hate speech has stopped" as a result of talks with the station owner."
Father Shalhoub of the Orthodox Church of Livonia is a frequent presence at Arab American events in Dearborn. Father Shalhoub played therapist for the priest. Just like psychologists who try to explain bad acts by trauma in childhood, Father Shalhoub basically argued that the priest's behavior is explained by the trauma of persecution of Copts in Egypt. Shalhoub stated:
"Botros' outbursts may come from a bitterness felt by many Egyptian Christians who he said have struggled to practice their faith in that country for years." "Historically, Christians in Egypt have been persecuted," he told reporter Al Hajal.
A Dearborn based Shia Imam, Imam Baqir Berry stated " [T]his is really dangerous. When he is defaming all those people in the community , they want to speak out . We cannot just close our eyes to it."
I know that Imam Baqir is not an attorney but his sister Huda is. He should ask her what defamation is. What priest Botros is saying on the radio is not defamation. He is preaching his faith by knocking down the competition- glorifying Christianity by mocking Islam and bringing attention to controversial issues in Islam.
And closing eyes is not relevant here- one can either cover his ears or turn off the radio/change the station.
This is a country that protects free speech and free speech includes offensive and hateful speech as well. One fights bad speech with good speech or by ignoring bad speech.
A visit to a local bookstore's religion section shows that the bulk of offense against established religious beliefs actually is focused on Christianity.

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