Egypt’s Forcible Conversions

What if this was your sister, daughter, neighbor, friend?

“Reports of Muslim men abducting and forcibly marrying and converting Coptic Christian women and girls have filtered out of Egypt with increasing frequency over the past decade,” noted a 2009 study. “These violations appear to be encouraged by the prevalence of cultural norms in Egypt often rooted in Islamic traditions that legitimize violence against women and non-Muslims.”

When it came out, the report, commissioned by Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights, and written by Michele Clark and Nadia Ghaly, was met with some skepticism — perhaps understandably so. Some of the abduction and forced-conversion claims were fraught with ambiguity. It seemed possible that young Christian women had simply been duped by the Muslim lotharios they’d run off with; the abduction allegations might have been a way to save face once regret set in.

Also, religious followers have never been shy about claiming discrimination and persecution at every turn. Christian wolf-crying to that effect is laughable (and counterproductive) when it occurs in the U.S., where three out of four Americans self-identify as Christians and there’s a church on every other street corner. Frankly, I don’t want to hear it.

But if, as atheists, we pride ourselves on our eye for reality, then selectively putting on blinders would be hypocritical. The actual persecution of religious minorities is surely as old as religion itself. Decent people everywhere, regardless of their God belief, should strongly oppose it. That includes non-theists. It’s inarguable that members of Christian minorities are routinely harassed and frequently assaulted — beaten, raped, murdered, burned out of their homes — in majority-Islamic societies, where such crimes often occur with the tacit approval of government and law enforcement.

So is there also something to the persistent reports of abductions and forcible conversions of Christian women in Egypt? A 2012 report by the same authors, Clark and Ghaly, makes an updated and much more convincing case, as does this news report from BBC TV:

Disturbing stuff.

Abduction, rape, and forced marriage are extremely nasty crimes to begin with. Together, they amount to life-long slavery. When they’re coupled with involuntary, often violent religious conversion, the outrage is compounded. It seems to me that such a violation of the mind can be just about as devastating to a victim’s self-worth as sexual violence.

It’s time that more news organizations and bloggers shine a light on this — and that the U.S. State Department begins demanding some changes from the Morsi government, before casually forking over another quarter of a billion dollars to a regime that’s been shown to either condone or support such crimes.