CREDIT where it is due: Muslim extremists are nothing if not creative. ISIS have used the internet as an effective recruiting and propaganda tool. To most of us their productions are in the ‘horror’ category, but they struck a chord with young impressionable Western-born Muslims who were persuaded to reject liberal Western values of free speech and individual rights in favour of head chopping, flogging and burkas.
ISIS have used fake news to target Egyptian Christians. In December 2017, a social media account named the ‘Sons of Jesus Movement’ claimed responsibility for the November bombing and shooting at a Sufi Muslim mosque in the Sinai, which killed more than 300 people.
The latest social media onslaught of these Muslim extremists is more basic and makes use of social media as a means of arousing violence against individual Christians.
ISIS are known to have hacked the Facebook accounts of at least 60 Egyptian Christians since mid-2017 in order to insult and threaten them and spread propaganda. The ISIS hackers changed the personal information page of several Christian account holders to read ‘we promise to slay him soon’ as the terrorist group spread its war against Christians online.
These Facebook posts are the latest persecution tactic. In Egypt there has been an increase in posts by Christians which are insulting to Muslims, but the Christians involved claim the posts, although on their Facebook pages, did not originate from them.
As we have seen all too often, it is extremely easy to arouse the Muslim mob. A mention of Allah in a book they had never read and mobs from Birmingham to Jakarta went on the march demanding the death of Salman Rushdie. A cartoon in a Danish newspaper was resurrected months after publication and there were deaths during worldwide riots. Any spark, no matter how insignificant, is enough to ignite the Muslim mob.
Fady Youssef Todary, a 26-year-old Egyptian Christian, says that someone hacked into his Facebook account and posted something insulting to Islam. In response and to prevent any misunderstanding, Todary posted a video of himself saying his account had been hacked and apologised for the offensive message.
Around 100 people marched on Todary’s family home in Ashnin El-Nasara, a village in Minya south of Cairo. Todary, his wife and children fled their home minutes before the mob arrived. His parents had to take refuge in another relative’s house. The mob entered Todary’s property and destroyed the family’s belongings. The home of one of Todary’s uncles was also sacked.
The situation eventually calmed down when police arrived and arrested some of the attackers. That, however, is not the end of the story. A few days later, police returned to arrest Todary, his 19-year-old brother and two uncles. Since then, Todary’s relatives have been released, but he is still awaiting trial.
Local Christians have vouched for the young man’s integrity, including a priest. Father Soliman said, ‘I know Fady very well. He is a peaceful person, and he would never post something negative about Islam. But there are people whose aim it is to fire up conflict between Christians and Muslims in this country.’
Village elders said that before the mob attacks relations between the majority Christian community and Muslims had been good.
Open Doors analyst Michael Bosch says the incident fits a pattern. ‘First, Christians are accused of insulting or threatening Islam. Next, they are attacked, their properties destroyed, and sometimes they are driven out of their houses.
‘Then the authorities intervene, calming down the situation by arresting and prosecuting Christians for the alleged crime.’ He added that it is unlikely the claims are true because ‘all Christians know the consequences of blasphemy’.
What recently happened in Ashnin El-Nasara isn’t an isolated incident. The Open Doors Middle East director said: ‘My local sources told me about other cases too, some of which have been reported in the media.’
In July last year Abdo Adel, a barely literate Coptic Christian living in a small village 200km south of Cairo, was accused of publishing a Facebook post which insulted Islam. In December he was sentenced to three years in prison.
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Egypt has the harshest blasphemy laws in North Africa. It notes that most blasphemy laws are ‘vaguely worded’ but carry ‘unduly harsh penalties for violators’. Egypt’s blasphemy laws are a form of oppression targeting Coptic Christians as well as Shi’ite Muslims.
It is not only in Egypt that Christians face serious allegations of insulting Islam on social media. In Pakistan, Nadeem James was arrested during the summer of 2016 and charged with the capital crime of insulting the Muslim prophet after a complaint to the police about an alleged message received through a mobile app. James’s trial was held in prison because local Muslim clerics had threatened him and his family. He was sentenced to death.
James maintains that he was falsely accused of the crime because he married a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. Hacked social media is a simple tool, but effective when both the mob and the authorities are more than willing to believe the allegations.