A Tale of Two Atrocities

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Two recent Islamic terrorist attacks, which killed a number of children, occurred just a few days apart: one in England and another in Egypt. (Both before this weekend’s further carnage on London Bridge.) Civilized people, regardless of their religious belief or unbelief, are horrified at all these acts by uncivilized, neo-barbaric individuals.

People who deliberately target innocent men, women, and children in a terrorist attack cannot be considered civilized in any meaningful sense. Whatever their education, upbringing, or religion, they have descended into barbarism, and they need to be firmly dealt with. Their crimes against humanity are as offensive as the crimes of the Nazi war criminals condemned at Nuremberg. And there are good arguments why they should suffer the same fate.

But while there are obvious similarities between these two acts of terrorism, there are important differences of context. All were innocent victims. But the venues were quite different relative to the moral order.

The women and children murdered in Egypt were on their way to a monastery during a spiritual pilgrimage. The innocent victims in Manchester were attending a pop musical event where the star was Ariana Grande, a young woman who is anything but innocent. Her dress, dancing, and song lyrics are deliberately decadent and immodest, to say the least.

Mourning . . . in Manchester

One writer recently published the filthy lyrics that this pop star spews out to teenagers and little children. Some of these lyrics can only be described as pornographic, and most of them evidently contain some form of titillating sexual innuendo aimed at her typical audience: very young girls. A cursory look at her videos reveals a young woman whose costumes, gyrations, and dancing are sickeningly erotic. She’s the latest Madonna or Lady Gaga wannabe, who tries to imitate and even outdo their pornographic style.

So, there were two sets of victims in Manchester that night: the kids who were being morally corrupted inside the arena and those who were victimized bodily as they left the arena. The media, of course, only recognized the horrific evil outside the arena. Our society has so degenerated that the kind of moral attacks perpetrated by the likes of Miss Grande or Madonna or Lady Gaga, or numerous other purveyors of public immorality, are now taken as perfectly normal and acceptable.

Compare that with what happened in Egypt a few days later. A bus full of Coptic Christians was not traveling to a prurient pop concert but was on a pilgrimage to an ancient monastery in the Egyptian desert. Those kids were on a spiritual trip, perhaps singing religious hymns as they traveled.

Suddenly, they were attacked by a number of ISIS barbarians who chose to prove their virility and religious fervor by how many innocent people they could kill. A number of those killed, including some little children, were forced off the bus and told that they must renounce their Christianity and submit to Islam – or die. They all chose to die, including the children. They are now added to the list of Christian martyrs the 21st century, almost all of whom have been killed by Islamic fanatics conducting jihad.

In the West, there is far less interest in the fate of these innocent Christians than the fate of the innocent secular victims. After all, most Westerners today would have a hard time understanding what these Christians were doing out there in the desert in the first place. For many in the West, these Christian martyrs would themselves be seen as religious fanatics, people who put their lives in danger. And for what? To visit a monastery? What could be so valuable about that to make it worth risking your life traveling through territory where it’s much more likely that you will be attacked than in Manchester, England?

. . . in Egypt

When I heard about the terrorist attack in Manchester, I was of course quite horrified. But, when I learned about who Ariana Grande is and the kind of “entertainment” she provides for very young people, I was also horrified. I wondered whether the parents really understood the lyrics or have even ever taken the time to listen to them.

Evidently many parents simply dropped their youngsters off at the arena and left them on their own until they returned to pick them up later. It’s really a new kind of child abuse, not physical in character, but spiritual and moral. It’s not just the performers who are guilty of this abuse; it’s also the parents and guardians who are charged with their children’s well-being. But then the notion of moral well-being is obviously an empty category for many modern parents.

The parents who were taking their little children to a monastery are of a radically different cultural and spiritual background. Their first concern is precisely the moral and spiritual well-being of their children. The Coptic Christians in Egypt are terribly discriminated against in their homeland, even though they have been there far longer than have their religious persecutors. Material poverty is, as a result, a way of life for many of them, especially those who belong to the Zabaleen, a minority Coptic Christian community who work as the garbage collectors of Cairo.

But they suffer through all this discrimination, poverty, and persecution for the sake of their beloved children, in order to raise them as good Christians and good citizens, and give them a hope for a better life. Few of them would even have the resources to send their children to the kind of pop concert that took place in Manchester.

Blessed are the poor. Yet they suffered the same fate, although for a very different motive. They suffered simply because they were Christians. The children of Manchester suffered simply because they were Westerners. Today, those are two very different categories. The Christian Copts at least understand this, partly through their faith. The secularized West can only view it as “senseless violence.”

Fr. Mark A. Pilon (1943-2018) was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com.