Mixed messages from Egypt, Indonesia

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 09, 2011


Today's CWN headlines include interesting reports from Egypt and Indonesia, from the perspective of Christian eyewitnesses living somewhat nervously in two overwhelmingly Muslim societies.

I know very little about the social and political situation in Egypt. (In that respect I am like many of the analysts who are offering their commentaries so freely in the mass media; the only important difference between us is that I admit my ignorance.) But today's CWN report has the ring of truth, and matches the few basic facts that I do know. The Mubarak regime is corrupt, and its corruption-- combined with a studied indifference to the plight of the common people-- aggravates the nation's poverty. That much, I am convinced, is fact. The protests, we are told, are motivated primarily by frustration with that depressing economic situation. That sounds eminently probable. But then we enter the realm of uncertainty. 

Such massive demonstrations do not "just happen." Who organized them, and what are the motives of the organizers? Are they, too, looking for transparency, fairness, and efficiency in government? Or do they have their own ideological goals to pursue? I don't know, and I'm not convinced that the "talking heads" of the media have any better understanding of the situation. Nevertheless we should all be able to understand a few simple points: 

  • Egypt's repressive regime has prevented the formation of any political opposition party. So if the main forces behind the protests are activists favoring democracy, they are only now beginning to organize their forces.
  • When there is no organized opposition, the situation is fluid, and the advantage goes to those forces that are organized.
  • Seasoned analysts tell us that the Muslim Brotherhood represents only a small minority. But that minority is organized, and therefore could wield disproportionate power if the situation remains unstable. And yet...
  • Stability might require propping up the Mubarak regime, which would fuel resentments and raise the risk of an even more explosive rebellion in the future.

Again, I claim no expertise, and offer no solutions. But to say the situation is delicate would be an understatement.

In Indonesia, the recent burst of anti-Christian violence is unsettling. Today's CWN headline report highlights the statements of Church leaders who are calling upon the Indonesian government to make good on their claims of promoting tolerance and inter-religious harmony. Such tolerance and harmony cannot exist unless religious minorities receive adequate police protection. 

Yet do I detect a dissonant note in the statements from Church officials? Father Benny Susetyo, who handles inter-religious affairs for the Indonesian bishops' conference, is quoted as saying that fundamentalist Protestant preachers bear some of the blame for the recent violence, because they "have no respect for other religions." Many of those Protestant preachers are provocative, and maybe they should display more respect for their neighbors. But they are not the ones organizing mobs, looting and torching houses of worship. It is one thing to be rude, quite another to be violent. Any suggestion of moral equivalence between the two only distracts attention from what is necessary here: a concerted campaign by the government to crack down on violent Muslim extremists.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Eagle - Feb. 10, 2011 7:56 AM ET USA

    A government crackdown on Muslim extremists is necessary for freedom, but highly unlikely. Unlike Christianity where "separation of churh and state" was mandated by the Lord when He said "Render to Caesar...", in Islam one of the uniting characteristics is the unity of church and state under an Islamic caliph, and another is the division of mankind into believers and infidels. These twins preclude tolerance; evangelization is not to induce a free choice, but a "do or die" command to unbelievers.