NRO note: This weekend ISIS released a new video showing some 30 Ethiopian Christian men being beheaded in Libya for refusing to convert to Islam (or to pay a tax for refusing to do so). This comes two months after 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian men were martyred at the hands of ISIS for the same reason. Christians and other religious minorities are being targeted, and their future in the Middle East is in peril. Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007), and Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and a Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, talks about what we know. — KJL
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What do we know about the Ethiopian Christians killed by ISIS?
RAYMOND IBRAHIM: Like the 21 Copts slaughtered before them in February, they were likely impoverished migrant workers from the days of Qaddafi, trapped in post–“Arab Spring” Libya. ISIS killed them in two sets — the first were shot execution-style in the backs of their heads, the second had their heads hacked off. The video is horrific — the blood and gore puts Hollywood’s gory movies to shame.
By way of context: Soon after Qaddafi’s overthrow, Ansar al-Sharia — the “Supporters of Islamic Law” — offered rewards to any Muslim who finds any Christians (most being from neighboring Egypt). In the past few years, scores of Coptic Christians were randomly killed — in one instance, a family consisting of a mother, a father, and their young daughter (graphic pictures here). But since Ansar al-Sharia morphed into an affiliate of ISIS, the slaughter of Christians has been even more systematic.
LOPEZ: In the ISIS video they are described as “worshipers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian Church.” Is the Ethiopian Church hostile, or is this just propaganda?
IBRAHIM: This is pure propaganda, more “Muslim grievances” that have no grounding in reality. Here’s another example: When ISIS slaughtered the 21 Coptic Christians, it cited hackneyed grievances against the Coptic Church. The late Coptic Pope Shenouda III was portrayed as “a U.S. agent, an abductor and torturer of female Muslim converts from Christianity, who was stockpiling weapons in monasteries and churches with a view to waging war against the Muslims and dividing Egypt to create a Coptic State.”
Such is Islamic propaganda and projection — always accusing others of what Islamists habitually do.
These accusations were proven false several times — one woman even appeared on video saying she had voluntarily returned to Christianity — but, regardless, ISIS still cited it in its justification to kill the 21 Copts (as “payback”). Even the 2011 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad — the attack killed around 60 worshipers, many of them women and children — was blamed on the aforementioned allegations against the Coptic pope in Egypt (as if Iraqi Christians had anything to do with them, even if the allegations were true).
Bottom line, as shown in The Al Qaeda Reader (and in this article): The messages that these jihadi organizations send to the world at large are antithetical to the messages they send to fellow Muslims. To the former, they play the grievance card; to the latter, they say Islamic law commands that they attack, slaughter, plunder, rape, and enslave “infidels.”
LOPEZ: Why is that propaganda effective?
IBRAHIM: The effectiveness of this propaganda is simple: No matter how absurd, there are some in the West who are more than happy to leap on such “grievances” and say “Aha, that’s why Muslims are angry! It has to do with economics and politics, and grievances relating to them — not with hostile Islamic teachings.” Anyone acquainted with the “mainstream media,” Mideast academic departments, and, of course, the White House knows what I mean.
LOPEZ: Is this just like what happened with the Coptic martyrs?
IBRAHIM: Yes, the recent butchery of the Ethiopian Christians is nearly identical to what happened to the Egyptian Christians. Speaking of propaganda: There is an important but overlooked point to be made here about both groups. They had their heads hacked off because they refused to renounce the Christian Trinity and embrace Islam. Because this little fact does not sit well with ISIS — who are more interested in demoralizing Western/Christian viewers than in inspiring them through the courage of these martyrs — this aspect is not always readily apparent. But ISIS has left many conquered Christians and other non-Muslims who convert to Islam in peace. It has also let some Christians remain, as long as they pay jizya, extortion money, and live as third-class citizens, according to Koran 9:29 and the Conditions of Omar.
In the video, ISIS says that the Ethiopian Christians did not pay jizya (likely because they didn’t have any money). This means that the Ethiopians were given Islam’s classic three choices: convert to Islam, pay jizya and remain Christian, or die (according to Islamic prophet Muhammad’s teachings). If they had no money, it came down to convert to Islam or die. Their execution is proof that they refused to convert. It’s the same with the 21 Copts before them — some of whom could be seen uttering Christ’s name in prayer seconds before being barbarously beheaded. And it’s the same with the four Iraqi children who were beheaded for “loving Jesus” and refusing to profess Muhammad the prophet of God…. Keep reading