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Complacency is a CRIME

By Sally Bishai

July 12, 2006

Having grown up in the States, I have more than a passing familiarity with the Law and Order-brand legal jargon that has broken and entered into American pop culture and committed assault and battery on the English language. I could probably arrest, book, and try a murder suspect (as well as prove—beyond a shadow of a doubt—guilt, via forensic something-or-other), despite the fact that I’ve never actually had even three seconds of real-life criminology training (or been arrested). But today’s lesson is nothing to do with The Practice or Jerry Orbach.

Despite my physical presence in the U.S., my actual upbringing was modeled after 50’s Egypt, so much so that I was more keenly tuned in to the cultural phenomena and political happenings there than were the people who had never left there. (Seeing how the Egyptian media was and is government-controlled, leading to a frequent suppression of the skullduggery that they themselves perpetuated, I mean.)

That said, I want to tell you about the worst crime I’ve heard of in recent days. I’m not talking about the yearly suicide bombings, or the bimonthly “sectarian clashes” that leave a hundred or more dead every year, or even the rampant police brutality that’s recently (finally!) been exposed to the world.

Rather, I’m talking about a crime that many Egyptians and even more Copts are guilty of, the crime of complacency.

See, there may be dozens of reasons for it, including a desire to “keep the peace” since “It’s not that bad,” or a belief that things can only get worse if the boat is rocked, or even the whole “You know what? I don’t even care,” attitude.

I can’t argue with any of them, especially since I don’t live there, and especially since not everyone is cut out to be an activist.

However. These attitudes are a CRIME, and are to blame for the way things are. (Especially the first one I mentioned.)

Yes, you heard me right. I am blaming the victims for the way things are.

Could things have gotten so bad for Christians if they had complained even 50% of the time they were passed over, harassed, etc.? No! (And please don’t think I’m accusing people of LIKING to be victims. Although, if the shoe fits...)

I know what you’re thinking.

“That’s easy for you to say, Sally! You don’t have to live with the fear of being picked up by State Security every time you open your mouth! You’re out of danger, so be happy that you’ve escaped from our backward ways and just get on with your own life!”

But the truth is, I can’t get on with my own life, because my heart is back home. And even if it wasn’t, my loved ones still are.

And I DO have to fear retribution in Egypt, because I travel more often than I can say.

I just don’t care about the danger anymore, and neither do my strong activist brethren, who, despite all manner of imminent threat from State Security, and despite the heavy stream of backlash against their—and our—work on Egypt’s behalf, keep pushing forward, trying to make Egypt livable, and not just for Christians.

See, when we improve the state of Egypt (in terms of religious persecution) and create more tolerance, we’ve opened the way for other forms of tolerance... like freedom of speech.

And once people are free to say what they want and stop fearing a veritable Gestapo, once Christians and others are installed in the government and in heretofore off-limits academic and industrial posts, guess what? The economy will start to improve for EVERYONE.

The sad thing is, however, that, just as unemployment and the hopelessness that a young Palestinian feels may underscore a decision to blow themselves (and a bus or cafe) up, so, too, is religious tension made worse in the face of these dire economic times.

(I can’t help but wondering, however, how times can be SO dire when the US gives 1.5 BILLION dollars a year to Egypt! Where does the money go? Certainly not to the beggars in the streets, and the people in the cities who may have a decent job, but who may have to go to bed less than full every night, because their medication or eyeglasses or cab fare took all the money that month.)

You know, someone recently told me that he thought “infighting among Diasporic Copts is what’s doing the most harm to the cause.”

I disagree, however. While any bickering that may go on behind closed doors might not be something to strive for, it must be said that at least the Copts (and others) are trying to do something, anything.

They are not sitting back, waiting for some hero to swoop in from the wings. They are not discounting the problem and making it seem as though there isn’t one. And they are not accepting the egregious status quo as a fact of life and saying “Well, there’s nothing to be done.”

But, as I said, some people are. Some people (in Egypt or in the Diaspora) are content with what’s happening in Egypt, and it’s those very people who are the only ones who can change it.

If a bully keeps hitting you, he won’t just up and stop one afternoon because he feels like it. But if you hit him back one day, his surprise that you fought back may be a deciding factor in his stopping. Or, he might get a little meaner, like a cornered rattlesnake. But that’s another story.

I want to leave you with one of great thinker Samuel Johnson’s thoughts on complacency:

"To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next is, to strive, and deserve to conquer: but he whose life has passed without a contest, and who can boast neither success nor merit, can survey himself only as a useless filler of existence; and if he is content with his own character, must owe his satisfaction to INSENSIBILITY." (Emphasis mine, from Johnson: Adventurer #111 (November 27, 1753) and taken from http://www.samueljohnson.com/complace.html )

Insensibility. Does that mean we’re numb? That we don’t care? That we’re stupid? Maybe. Well, friends, I call on you to START caring. If you don’t care, do you think they will?

Change won’t happen overnight, brethren, and it won’t happen if we don’t go after it, if we don’t chase down our rights. After all, as my friend Nabil once told me, they won’t chase us down and force us to take our rights, equality, and freedom.

And so, here’s hoping that people shake off their insensibility, wake up from their complacency, and STAND UP to the rampant injustice, intolerance, and primevality in Egypt... and everywhere else.

Sally Bishai is a writer and journalist who founded X Culture Magazine in January, 2004, and Photo X Quarterly in January 2005. She is also president of the Copt X Fellowship, a non-partisan group dedicated to promoting love, harmony, and respect among Egyptians (and friends). Sally is Egyptian American (or, more specifically, Coptic) and loves to tell people what that means! Her previous titles include "Mid-East Meets West: On Being and Becoming a Modern Arab American," and "Date like An Egyptian: The Egyptian's Guide to Finding a Mate...Or Date." Sally is the host of "Sally Bishai's 30 Minutes With," a webshow that largely focuses on Coptic, civil, and human rights issues, as well as topics dealing with the Middle East. Her documentaries include "Back To Square One? Fifty Years After Emmett Till," "Strange Behaviour: How Westerners Feel About Gender Roles in the Middle East," and the soon-to-be-released "Children of Kemet: The Copts, Culture, and Democracy of Egypt." Sally's blog, "The AntiSocialite," holds information about current projects, as well as impassioned articles about politics, current headlines, the trouble with society, and many other things that will probably end up getting her killed. (Check it out at http://sallybishai.blogspot.com ) Sally's Bachelor's of Science was in psychology, but her Master's and the Ph.D. she's currently working on are in speech and intercultural communication. She teaches various classes at the university level, and finds time to lecture (off-campus) about her books, her culture, and other controversial topics. Sally has worked in radio (international and "domestic"), fashion photography, and film, most recently working as a documentary filmmaker (as mentioned above). Her current project deals with the persecution of Egypt's Copts, which, if you'll remember, she happens to be.

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