In Egypt, two Coptic churches suffered suicide attacks during Palm Sunday in April 2017. This Christian feast, a week before Easter, recalls the day when Jesus, riding on a donkey, entered Jerusalem, welcomed by jubilant inhabitants, brandishing branches and palms as a sign of enthusiasm. Jesus was arrested shortly afterwards and crucified.
Jihadists came to Tanta and Alexandria. They blew themselves up in the midst of the crowd of the faithful. The globalized jihad preferably chooses weak targets, and seeks to provoke hatred and rage, to inflame resentment between peoples, to set religions against each other.
The policies of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who had just been re-elected, undoubtedly had something to do with Daech’s radicalisation in that country. But many other, more distant, deeper causes contributed to this umpteenth attack.
The New York Times wrote an ambiguous and somewhat hypocritical editorial after the attack, an excerpt of which reads as follows: « The struggle against terrorism is not a ‘war’ that can be won if only the right strategy is found. It is an ongoing struggle against enormously complex and shifting forces that feed on despair, resentment and hatred, and have the means in a connected world to spread their venom far and wide.”i
For the columnist of the New York Times, « jihad » is not a « war » that could be won, for example, with a « good strategy ». It is not a « war », it is a continuous « struggle » against forces of « enormous complexity » that are constantly shifting and feeding on « despair, resentment and hatred ».
Not a word in the article, however, to attempt to shed light on this ‘complexity’ or to delve deeper into the origin of this ‘despair’, ‘resentment’ and ‘hatred’. The New York Times merely warns readers not to give in to despair, panic or hatred themselves. Not a word about the policies of the Western powers in this part of the world for more than a century. Not a word about the responsibility of countries like England or France for sharing the spoils of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.
Not a word about decolonization, after the Second World War, or the consequences of the Cold War. The self-serving involvement of powers such as the United States and the USSR is not analyzed.
Nor, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The collapse of Libya, facilitated by a coalition of Western countries, does not lend itself to any analysis either.
The New York Times cannot give a history lesson, and recapitulate all the woes of the world in each of its editorials. But the focus of this particular article on the « despair », « hatred » and « resentment » of the jihadists deserves at least the beginnings of an explanation.
Writing about these subjects is difficult, but it is not « extraordinarily complex ». Even a Donald Trump, in the midst of an election campaign, and with known success, was able to address some aspects of it through tweets, and to point to the direct responsibility of the Bushes, father and son, in this never-ending « fight ».
The White House spokesman had to apologize publicly for stating that even Hitler did not use chemical weapons during the Second World War. This statement, both fanciful and outrageous, was supposed to underline the seriousness of Assad’s crimes and to justify an increase in the bombing of Syria by the United States, increasing the general confusion and making it even more difficult to perceive a possible political outcome in that part of the world.
In a few centuries, perhaps, the distant descendants of the Western voters in whose name these policies were implemented will analyze the responsibilities and judge the strategies deployed in the Middle East throughout the last century, after the launch of the « Great Game » deployed for the greater good of the British Empire.
Today, this Empire is no more. The few crumbs that remain, like Gibraltar, could prove embarrassing to the British ultra-nationalists who dream of Brexit, and who are trying to regain the glory of yesteryear in splendid independence.
Let us try a little utopia. Tomorrow, or in a few centuries’ time, people may decide to put an end to the « long » history and its heavy consequences. All we have to do is look back to the depths of the past, to see the layering of plans, the differentiation of ages. Tomorrow, the entire modern era will be nothing more than an outdated and abolished moment of a bygone past, and an exorbitant testimony to the folly of mankind.
Islam has only thirteen centuries of existence, Christianity twenty centuries and Mosaic Judaism about thirty-two centuries.
Egypt, by contrast, is not lacking in memory. From the top of the pyramids, well over forty centuries contemplate the suburbs of Cairo. Two thousand years before the appearance of Judaism, Ancient Egypt already possessed a very elaborate religion, in which the essential question was not that of « monotheism » and « polytheism », but rather the profound dialectic of the One (the Creator, the original God), and the Multiple (the myriad of His manifestations, of His names).
In the Texts of the sarcophagi, which are among the oldest written texts of humanity, we read that the Creator God declared: « I have not commanded (humanity) to do evil (jzft); their hearts have disobeyed my words.”ii
The Egyptologist Erik Hornung gives this interpretation: Human beings are responsible for this evil. They are also responsible for their birth, and for the darkness that allows evil to enter their hearts.
The gods of Egypt can be terrifying, unpredictable, but unlike men, they do not want evil. Even Set, the murderer of Osiris, was not the symbol of absolute evil, but only the necessary executor of the world order.
« The battle, the constant confrontation, the confusion, and the questioning of the established order, actions in which Set engaged, are necessary characteristics of the existing world and of the limited disorder that is essential to a living order. Gods and men must, however, see to it that disorder never comes to overthrow justice and order; this is the meaning of their common obligation towards Maat.»iii
The concept of Maat in ancient Egypt represents the order of the world, the right measure of things. It is the initial and final harmony, the fundamental state willed by the Creator God. « Like the wounded and perpetually healed ‘eye of Horus’, Maat symbolizes this primary state of the world.”iv
The Egyptians considered Maat to be a substance that makes the whole world « live », that makes the living and the dead, gods and men « live ». The Texts of the Sarcophagi say that the gods « live on Maat« .
The idea of Maat is symbolized by a seated goddess wearing the hieroglyph of an ostrich feather on her head. Pharaoh Ramses II is represented offering this symbolic image of Maat to the God Ptah.
Maat‘s offering has a strong charge of meaning. What the God Ptah wants is to be known in the hearts of men, because it is there that the divine work of creation can acquire its true meaning.
Maat emanated from the Creator God at the time of creation. But it is through men that Maat must return to God. In the Egyptian religion, Maat represents the original « link » or « covenant » between God and man. It is this « link », this « covenant », that must be made to live with Maat.
If men turn away from this « covenant », if men remain silent, if they show indifference towards Maat, then they fall into the « non-existent », – according to the ancient Egyptian religion. This silence, this indifference, only testifies to their nothingness.
The Coptic bodies horribly torn apart by the explosions in Alexandria and Tanta are like the dismembered body of Osiris.
By the strength of her spirit, by the power of her « magic », Isis allowed the resurrection of Osiris. Similarly, the Palms announce Easter and the resurrection of God.
What could be the current global metaphor that would be equivalent to the « resurrection » of Osiris or the « resurrection » celebrated at Easter?
What current word could fill the absence of meaning, the abysmal absurdity, the violence of hatred, in this world?
Egyptian blood flowed again in the Nile Delta, and bodies were violently dismembered.
Where is the Isis who will come to resurrect them?
Where is hiding the Spirit of Maat?
iNew York Times, April 12th, 2017
iiErik Hornung. Les Dieux de l’Égypte. 1971