[notice]MARK DURIE offers a Christian perspective on the execution of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya and the “IS Meggage Signed in Blood” — Originally published in INcontext Ministries’ “A World In Motion”, Issue 118, February 26, 2015 [/notice]
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called for a United Nations resolution allowing international forces to intervene in Libya. There was no other choice, he told French radio. “We will not allow them to cut off the heads of our children.” Egyptian jets bombed IS targets on Monday, February 16, in response to a militant video of the apparent beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians. Mr Sisi called for weapons to be made available to Libya’s internationally recognised government, which fled to Tobruk after rival militias seized power in the capital. In another development, the UN Security Council is to hold an emergency session on Wednesday to discuss the crisis. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will also hold bilateral meetings in New York with Security Council members and representatives of Arab states, according to AFP news agency. (BBC News)
People of the Cross
The beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya was made known to the world on Sunday, February 15, in a video produced by the Islamic State’s media centre, Al-Hayat. The video was entitled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross” and the narration (both textual and verbal) explains their motivation for the executions with references to the Quran. There is also a warning to the ‘Crusaders’ – that they (IS) will conquer Rome (one of the original centres of the Church) and will fight until Islam has been established throughout the world.
The 21 Coptic Christians had gone to Libya for work, but had been abducted in separate incidents in December and January from Sirte in eastern Libya, which is currently controlled by Islamist groups. The Coptic Church accounts for approximately 10% of the Egyptian population and is the largest body of Christians in the Arab world and Middle East.
Christianity Today reported that after the beheadings, President al-Sisi – who had declared a seven-day period of mourning – visited Pope Tawadros (head of the Coptic Church) in order to express his condolences. He also sent his Prime Minister to visit the victims’ families, with a promise of a church being constructed in their name. Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, commented on the response in Egypt: “There has been a very strong response of unity and sympathy… People are describing Copts as Egyptians, first and foremost, and with their blood they are unifying Egypt.” Jim Muir, reporting for BBC News, said that “anger has been felt throughout Egypt by Muslims and Christians alike, and the killings are being seen as an attack on national dignity”.
While many praised al-Sisi for his quick response (he ordered airstrikes against IS targets in Derna, a militant stronghold, killing between 40 and 50 people), others were concerned for the safety of other Egyptians still in Libya. According to The Guardian, an estimated 750,000 Egyptian workers are currently in Libya, due to unemployment and poverty in their homeland.
IS expansion in Libya
Analysts suggest that the rise of IS or IS-affiliated groups within Libya can be attributed to the severe instability that followed the 2011 overthrow of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Two rival governments
At present, Libya has two rival governments: one (in Tobruk) that is recognised by the international community, and another (in Tripoli) that is run by Islamists. Jawad Iqbal, analysis and insight editor for BBC News, writes that there are also numerous armed factions fighting for control of Libya, and there are tens of thousands of displaced people within the country.
Libyan academic Mohamed Ahdash told BBC News that he is not surprised by the emergence of IS affiliates in Libya, referring to a study that showed that after Saudi Arabia, most of the foreigners who joined the fight in Syria were from Libya. It is believed that these fighters are now returning to Libya, in response to a shift in IS focus to now include ‘local jihad’. Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer, told Foreign Policy that there are an estimated 1 000 to 3 000 IS-affiliated fighters in Libya at present. In addition, Libya is rich in oil, which plays a big role in IS’ financing. This will be bad news for Egypt, as the long border between the two countries is easy to breach, and Egypt is already fighting IS-aligned insurgents in the Sinai peninsula.
In response to the retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes, suspected IS militants carried out a series of bombings in the town of al-Qubbah, targeting a petrol station, police station and the home of the parliamentary speaker. At least 40 people were killed, making it one of the deadliest attacks in Libya since Gaddafi was toppled.
From a Christian perspective
A Christian perspective on the tragic executions – and a guide for our response – can be found in the writing of Mark Durie, an Anglican pastor and Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, who composed a ‘personal reply’ to the ‘letter’ that IS had sent to the Christian community in the form of the execution video: “I am not intimidated by your hatred. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us not to fear those who may kill the body. The people of honour on that beach in Tripoli were those 21 courageous Copts, who dared to confess the name of Christ, even with a knife to their necks. They knew well what choice they were making. You thought to humiliate them, but the Word of God tells me they are the vindicated ones, the men of glory. I believe they knew that full well. For you I have no hate, only pity. You wield the sword to kill ideas and worship you do not understand, but you do this in vain. The truth cannot be killed by your knives. This is the true truth, and it is precisely because of this truth that a new wind is blowing in the house of Islam: a fresh breeze of questioning… This is the life-giving breath of hope that there must be a different way to walk with God.”
PRAY > That God would build His Church in Egypt and the region, through the witness of the 21 martyrs > That the Coptic Church would be strengthened to speak words of forgiveness, life and hope despite their mourning > That the Church in Libya would be strengthened to stand against IS