Recently I received an e-mail from Jan van den Bosch, owner of Beter Uit Reizen, the largest Christian travel organization in The Netherlands. Van Den Bosch is also Vice-Chairman and television host at Hour of Power and former Executive Producer at Dutch National Television, EO. The message was addressed to his friends, recommending van Noord’s disturbing article. It was obviously well-intended, as he was pleased that a deeply secular newspaper like De Telegraaf seemed to show an interest in the plight of Christians in the Arab world. Regrettably, Jan van den Bosch’s response was impulsive, thus strengthening the negative impact of Jos van Noord’s article.
In the article, called “Kruisweg (Calvary),” April 12, van Noord refers to the successful boycott of South Africa in the dark days of apartheid. “But now violence against Christians in the Arab world is rapidly increasing, many enjoy going on holiday here. Do we still take our conscience with us when we travel? No word anymore about solidarity with persecuted minorities, after all fellow believers. Don’t we feel this is wrong or do we need the expensive oil?”
Van Noord does not seem to comprehend that tourism in Egypt has suffered tremendously since the January 25th Revolution to the detriment of tens of thousands of Christians and Muslims who relied on tourism for their livelihood. Does he want to kill what remains of tourism in Egypt? How irresponsible.
“In post Mubarak Egypt there seems to be no place for ten million Copts. Churches are set on fire, Christian students are murdered. Copts have to go the same road of Calvary as their fellow believers in Iraq.” In Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel it is difficult for Christians as well, van Noord writes.
Van Noord writes about several Arab countries, but in my response I will focus on Egypt only because this is the country that I know well. I first went to Egypt in 1976 and I have dedicated the past 35 years to Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt.
Van Noord claims Egypt is home to ten million Copts. He has not done his homework. The number of Copts is, in fact, closer to five million. On our website are several articles dealing with Coptic population figures, including this one of Dr. Philippe Fargues, a French demographer who has no interest in supporting any party. Yet for those claiming persecution, it is beneficial to inflate the numbers.
“Churches are set on fire, Christian students are murdered.” This is a simple one-liner that is also common among many in Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders’ PVV party, as well as in most of the responses to van Noord’s article. The problem with this logic is that the terrible incidents that have indeed happened are generalized, stripped from their context, and placed in the new context of Christian persecution. An example of this was given by Raymond de Roon, PVV spokesman of Foreign Affairs, in November 2011.
I wrote de Roon and of course he did not want to be informed about actual events in Egypt because it does not serve his interests of inciting hate and fire in The Netherlands. Will van Noord ever respond? Who knows.
There are indeed many problems for Christians in Egypt resulting primarily from an almost fully absent government. What does this cause?
- Large scale theft and thuggery. Most thieves do not care if they rob Christians or Muslims. Some recent clashes took place because police tried to confront some of these thugs.
- Massive building and expansion of churches, mosques, and housing in agricultural lands. Where the government in the past tried to protect agricultural lands, this protection now is gone. This has resulted in the loss of massive amounts of agricultural land but also churches are being built and the Western media prefers to neglect this, since it is not as sensational as stories involving sectarian clashes!
- Conflicts between citizens now have to be solved by citizens themselves. Of course in such situations the right of the strongest prevails. That’s not justice.
These factors do indeed harm Christians. THey also harms Muslims - but van Noord does not seem to be interested in this.
Van Noord: “Indigenous Christians must pay for the unrest in almost all Arab countries and their situation is worsening day by day. I do not hear from our new Muslim countrymen about discrimination.” Here van Noord blames Dutch Muslims for not responding to violence against Christians in Muslim countries, a theme one also finds back in PVV circles. “Silence means assent.” In other words, van Noord claims that because Muslims in the Netherlands do not respond, they must be supportive of this anti-Christian violence in Egypt. He thus uses violence in Egypt to set non-Muslims against Muslims. What is better? “On vacation to the Middle East, or better stay away from there until the persecution of Christians has ended? Mail me your opinion today, to email@example.com.”
Van Noord’s article and the responses to his article demonstrate ignorance of the worst kind. It is playing on the conscience of people who have no knowledge of what is happening in Egypt. Van Noord succeeded in playing on Jan van den Bosch’s conscience, who immediately distributed the article to his large circle of connections with a recommendation. I am Christian and I am not impressed by van Noord’s effort to play on the people’s conscience. I have worked my entire life to support Egypt’s Christians and my conscience and that of my Egyptian wife tells us this is best done by opposing polarizations between Christians and Muslims. We have paid a heavy price for this commitment. I have given up a well-paid job in the Dutch emigration service in order to work on strengthening relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. My family and I have been living on a very uncertain income ever since as we sacrificed a large part of my government pension (AOW). Van Noord speaks about conscience without firsthand knowledge that follows from a long time living in Egypt, knowing the country inside out.
Let me provide two examples from the responses to van Noord’s article:
“Fellow believers??? These are hard to find in the Netherlands. People in the Netherlands are mostly atheist. What is strange is that people are concerned now about Christians. Isn’t that that really Sunni Muslims were attached in Syria?”
Yearly over 100,000 Christians are murdered in Muslim countries. The West and in particular the EU is silent. Who says that this is not carried out by some extremist groups is blind. The Sharia is applied in many Muslim countries. Christians are in practically all Muslim countries excluded from government jobs. No Muslim country provides building permits for Churches. If you really want to know about the persecution of Christians you need to go to Open Doors.
The problem here is the display of blunt ignorance in a newspaper with a very large circulation among an audience that is generally equally uninformed about Egypt. This is also obvious from the responses to this article. The great majority of responses are from people without any affinity to Christians or Christianity. It is also evident that the majority is very Islamophobic, consisting of people who do not know the Arab or Islamic world. They have been brainwashed by the continuous negative outpour about the Arab world amidst which they cannot distinguish between the many great people one finds in Egypt and other Arab countries and the difficulties these countries are going through, which also resulted in violence against Christians.
Copts have to "go the same road of Calvary as their fellow believers in Iraq," van Noord writes. Again a statement for easy consumption, but Egypt is not Iraq. We need to help Egyptians to not slide into the terrible state of Iraq. By withdrawing our hands, Egypt will slip into the hands of a minority group of radicals that would prefer a return to the 7th century.
Willem shows that Open Doors will have to provide better information. There are not 100,000 Christians murdered in every Muslim country, still indeed just one murder is too many! The West is silent, he says. What does Willem want? That we scream as loud as Jos van Noord? That governments start making statements in line with those of Wilders?
Christians are" excluded from government jobs in practically all Muslim countries?" Not in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. For your information:
- The Egyptian Minister of Tourism, Mounir Fahry Abdel Nour who we have also interviewed for Arab-West Report, is Christian. See also this article in al-Watani.
- Samir Marcos, former associate Secretary-General of the Middle East Council of Churches, is Deputy Governor of Cairo. See for his views his report here.
- I know of many other Christians in prominent top positions, also in the army and police.
No Muslim country provides building permits for churches? In the past year many tens of new churches have been built or expanded in Egypt. Some of these are absolutely huge! See the photos in this article. Just go and visit them. No one will stop you. It seems best to be blind and claim that you can see!
Conscience? My conscience is opposed to such absolutely blatant ignorance! It is also dangerous ignorance!
Calling for a boycott of Egypt’s tourism industry will:
- Harm tens of thousands of Christians who are making a living off of the tourism industry. It will also harm many more Muslims who are strongly opposed to those Salafis who are against Western tourism to Egypt, no matter what the costs would be for the country;
- Strengthen the desire of many in the tourism industry to leave Egypt, thereby weakening this industry that plays an enourmous role in the Egyptian economy;
- Undermine the efforts of Egypt’s Christian Minister of Tourism and Christian and Muslim Members of Parliament to promote tourism;
- Provide anti-Christian groups in society arguments that Christians in the West are harming Egypt (these groups will of course blame Egyptian Christians for this - they are already seen as linked to harmful anti-Egypt elements abroad).
Is this what van Noord wants? He stirred a discussion around his article, probably the only thing for which he really cared. And if he does care, then he should respond!
Is this what Jan van den Bosch wants? No, he does not. He apologized for this impulsive support for van Noord’s article and wrote that Beter Uit Reizen will continue to organize visits to Egypt. Al-hamdulillah (Praise be to God)!
Unfortunately, Beter Uit’s package to Egypt is poorly planned, excluding a sampling of modern Egypt. It includes visits to Pharaohnic Egypt and the footsteps of Moses, but no attention is given to contemporary Egyptian Christianity. Jan van den Bosch should support Egypt’s Christians by including in the tour visits with contemporary Christians and Muslims, which will show their hopes and difficulties.
If Jan van den Bosch really wants to serve Egypt’s Christians he should be organizing a campaign to encourage other tour operators to bring tourists to Egypt. He is certainly much better placed than our small Arab-West Report in promoting tourism to Egypt. This sort of endorsement will create jobs for the Egyptian people and help them to provide for their families. It will also show Egyptian Muslims that Western Christians want to support all Egyptians. Imagine what this would do for Christians in Egypt. It will strengthen the position of Egyptians (Muslims and Christians), advocating full equality between Muslims and Christians. It will also strengthen the position of Egyptians (Muslims and Christians) advocating a pluralistic society.
Those are the people to who we should give support!
Do not make the life of Christians in Egypt (and all Egyptians) more difficult than it already is. Help Egyptians to get through this transition period. Visit Egypt. Mail me your opinion, today!
The full Dutch text is:
do 12 apr 2012, 12:05
door Jos van Noord
AMSTERDAM - In de treurige jaren dat in Zuid-Afrika zwarten werden gediscrimineerd en vervolgd, mocht je daar als toerist voor je fatsoen niet naartoe. Maar nu het geweld tegen christenen in de Arabische wereld hand over hand toeneemt, gaat menigeen daar uitbundig op vakantie. Nemen we ons geweten nog mee op reis?
Jos van Noord
Geen woord meer over solidariteit met vervolgde minderheden, nota bene geloofsgenoten!
Voelen wij hier nattigheid, of is het vettigheid van de dure olie?
Wie weet er nog hoe Outspan-sinaasappels werden geboycot? Maar nu in de Orient boze islamisten de stoelendans lijken te winnen en de christenen pijnlijk tussen de stoelen belanden, blijft het een en al westerse vakantiepret, royale oliehandel en gewetenloze import van avocado's en sperzieboontjes midden in de winter.
In het Egypte ná Moebarak lijkt er voor de tien miljoen Kopten geen plaats meer. Kerken worden in brand gestoken, christelijke studenten vermoord. Kopten moeten dezelfde kruisweg gaan als hun geloofsgenoten in Irak, van wie er intussen tienduizenden zijn gevlucht.
In Tunesie gaat het zonder Ben-Ali evengoed mis: christenen worden er weggetreiterd. Maar de vakantiestranden bij Sousse zitten vol met Europeanen die hun blote schouders ophalen. Israel maakt christelijke Arabieren al jarenlang het leven zuur. Hen wordt verweten semiet te zijn, maar nu juist van de ongewenste méérderheid. Ook in Libanon hebben christenen het moeilijk, voor je 't weet slaat de vlam daar opnieuw in de mengpan.
Vooral voor het lot van christenen in Syrie moet ernstig worden gevreesd, nu hun beschermer Assad een achterhoede gevecht levert.
Inheemse christenen moeten het ontgelden in bijna alle Arabische landen en hun situatie wordt met de dag penibeler. Nu hoor ik onze ingeburgerde moslims niet over discriminatie!
Wie zwijgt, stemt toe.
Op vakantie naar het Midden-Oosten of beter wegblijven daar, tot de christenvervolging ophoudt? Mail mij uw mening, vandaag nog, naar firstname.lastname@example.org
Geloofsgenoten??? Die zijn hier in NL ver te zoeken. Veelal atheïsten in Nederlandd. Wat raar dat iedereen nu verbaast is over de christenen. Het zijn toch echt de Soennitisch Moslims in Syrie die worden aangevallen?
Jaarlijks worden er ruim 100.000 christenen vermoord in moslimlanden! Het Westen en vooral de EU zwijgen. Wie zegt dat dit komt door enkele extremistische groeperingen is blind. In veel moslimlanden geldt de shaira. Christenen zijn in vrijwel alle moslimlanden uitgesloten van overheidsbanen. Bouwvergunningen voor kerken worden in geen enkel moslimland verleent. En dit alles geldt zeker voor vakantielanden als Turkije, Marokko en Egypte. Wil je echt wat weten over vervolging van christenen kijk dan op opendoors.
I must congratulate you on your very timely and extremely informative article in the Arab West report : Why Boycotting Tourism in Egypt Won't Help Christians.
Thank you so much for sharing this great article with me.
It is great that it is you who published this beautiful and sensitive report, not only because of your well known credibility which can be easily appreciated by noticing the objectivity of this report, but also because you took the time to inform the readers of the plight of the Christians in the Arab Muslim World and especially in Egypt . You also remembered to include those Muslims who also suffer at the hands of radical Islamists.
Congratulations once more on your wounderful article. I hope that all Europe reads it and respond appropriately!
Amīn Makram 'Ubayd"