LA Copt and Muslim Egyptians denounce religious violence from afar

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Whether they’re from the Muslim majority or the Coptic Christian minority, Egyptians in the Southland are denouncing this week’s deadly wave of unrest throughout North Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.

As a liaison between the movie industry and Muslim actors, producers and directors, Deana Nassar felt compelled to see the trailer for “The Innocence of Muslims.” That’s the film by Nakoula Bassely Nakoula that’s gone viral on YouTube; many Middle East observers say it’s the spark that set off angry demonstrations in Cairo and at least a dozen other cities this week.

"The truth is that when I saw it, I couldn’t even really get through the whole thing, because my artistic sensibilities were offended. So I can look at it and be a little bit removed and say, OK, this is really offensive and in poor taste. But to watch how visceral the response is to it, really just underscores the power of images.”

Nassar is a Muslim of Egyptian descent; the alleged filmmaker is a Coptic Christian from that country. The young woman says her relatives and friends in Egypt are dismayed to see someone misrepresent their religion in the name of violence and intolerance. In search of answers, Nassar attended Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

During the service Maher Hathout, the Center’s spokesman and a prominent Southland Muslim leader, addressed at least a couple hundred Muslim men and women about meeting with Coptic leaders, and about the need for more dialoge between the two faith communities.

Hathout did not shy away from denouncing extremism within Islam, and in his homeland, Egypt.

“I’m a firm believer that Islam can only grow in a healthy way in an environment of freedom. There is no Islam in a Petri dish or a test tube. So America is offering us that opportunity. And you can agree or disagree, but you will be safe at the end of the day—it’s a wonderful stage for exercising religion.”
Southland Egyptians of many religious backgrounds seem to agree with Hathout, as they witness the unrest from afar.

Mounir Bishay, president of the Christian Copts of California, is quick to distance himself from the offensive film. He says he’s lived in the United States for more than 40 years, but the people in his native Egypt occupy his thoughts these days.

“Of course I’m concerned about my family… But mostly I’m concerned about everybody. All the Copts in the United States have family in Egypt, so we all have ties. We think about Egypt all the time—we did not cut our relationship with Egypt.”

Bishay says local Coptic churches have not planned vigils or other activities focused on the unrest in the Middle East. But on Monday, Hathout and LA’s Coptic Bishop Serapion plan to meet at LA City Hall and launch an interfaith dialogue in response to recent events.

If you’re a Muslim, we’d like to know what you have to say about the film and the protests. Find our questions and share your insights at www.KPCC.org/network.

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