The growing numbers of Coptic Orthodox Christians in the U.S. and the ongoing pressures against their faith in Egypt has strengthened a brand of activism stressing anti-Islamic polemics, according to Yvonne Haddad and Joshua Donovan writing in the journal Studies in World Christianity (No. 3, 2013).
They write that “Coptic organizations in diaspora see themselves not as members of a united Egypt, but rather as members of a heavily persecuted minority class. They now lobby Western governments to pay attention to their plight and even encourage Western intervention on their behalf — an idea that is wholly anathema to many Copts living in Egypt.” Haddad and Donovan note that the growing number of Coptic Christians in the United States, now numbering between 200,000 to 700,000, are diverse, with varying views of the situation of Copts in Egypt and their relations with the Muslim majority.
But several organizations have emerged, such as the National American Coptic Assembly and the U.S. Copts Association, which have embraced anti-Islamic activism and aligned themselves with the likes of Terry Jones (the Florida pastor known for publicly burning the Koran), Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller in targeting Islam.
Such activism fits into a broader pattern of seeking American political support and intervention for the plight of Copts in Egypt, evident in the intense lobbying efforts in New Jersey, where there is a fairly large Coptic immigrant population. Such activism has received sharp condemnation from many Coptic Christians in Egypt (and church leaders in the U.S.), who claim that outside intervention only makes their situation worse. Haddad and Donovan write that Egypt’s Copts tend to employ a narrative of citizenship, where they seek to promote greater equality through civil discourse, opposing foreign intervention, and seeking to foster positive relations with Muslims, even as they acknowledge Muslims.
In contrast, American Coptic activists follow a narrative of Islamic persecution. The authors argue that both narratives have functioned in Egypt for decades and have their uses, especially as discrimination and violence against Christians have intensified since the Egyptian revolution of 2011. But the fixation on the latter narrative by American activists can have dangerous repercussions — most clearly seen in the anti-Islamic video, produced by a California Coptic lawyer, that went viral in the Islamic world and was a leading factor in the terrorist attacks on the American Consulate in Benghazi in 2012.
(Studies in World Christianity, http://www.euppublishing.com/journal/swc).