On February 15th, students commendably held a vigil in the Amphitheater for three Muslims who were senselessly killed near the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. What is not as well-known, though, was that another vigil occurred in the Chapel last Sunday for twenty-one Copts who were murdered by the Islamic State (ISIS) due to their Christian faith. As a participant myself, I was proud to see Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and even atheists gathering to oppose all religious hatred. Yet, why must the University community continue to pay attention when it is at the risk of burnout over such issues?
In the case of Copts and other Christians in the Middle East, time is running out. Although they have lived in the region since the first century AD, ISIS’ execution is merely the latest in a series of anti-Coptic attacks over the last several decades. The New York Times reported that Islamic militants killed nine youths as they prayed in an Egyptian church in 1997. A bomb also exploded outside al-Qiddissin Church in 2011, murdering twenty-one Copts and injuring dozens of Christians and Muslims.
This has extended to other places as well. Last July, ISIS systematically marked the buildings and houses of Iraqi Christians in a path to extermination. And in a twisted culmination of events, the group decided on Wednesday to kidnap hundreds of Assyrian Christians in Syria before slaughtering some in the process. No wonder, then, that figures as diverse as Pope Francis, Amnesty International, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have condemned ISIS’ intolerable crimes.
Are there any solutions in the midst of such tragedy, however? Unfortunately, the answers remain inconclusive. Not being a Foreign Affairs major, I am in no position to suggest any policies that will fix this problem. Hate nevertheless engenders hate; neither anti-Muslim nor anti-Christian sentiment will resolve the issues of stability, security, and reconciliation. Even so, just as an “ecumenism of blood” can unite Christians against persecution, it should drive all faiths to prevent similar acts in the future.
As a final footnote, Pope Tawadros II officially declared the executed Copts as martyrs last Saturday. “Axios! Axios! Axios!” the church cried. “Worthy! Worthy! Worthy!” Does humanity nonetheless stand worthy to take on the task of charity towards all faiths? Does the world stand ready to defend those left behind? There must be an active commitment towards helping the refugees, ensuring their safety and asylum, and promoting religious tolerance. The legacy of the Twenty-One deserves no less.