I am an Australian, I am Coptic and I was born in Alexandria, Egypt.
My parents immigrated to Australia when I was a very young child.
Neither of my parents could speak English and they had no acquaintances or relatives here. I recall arriving in Australia, and getting into a taxi. My father handed the taxi driver a note with an address. It was the address of the only Coptic Priest here in Australia, the very Rev Fr Mina Nematalla (May God have mercy upon his soul and grant him eternal peace).
After a long taxi drive from the airport, we arrived at a house in Pendle Hill.
It was a Sunday, it was summer and hot. We arrived and the house was locked; no one was home. I was hungry and fell asleep on the verandah.Late afternoon, Father Mina arrived with his family to find my family at his doorstep.
They welcomed us, took us in, fed us and accommodated us. Within a week Father Mina found us a unit, found my parents employment and a school for myself and siblings.
Our new life in the wondrous land of Australia had started. We were too young to comprehend why my Parents left everything and fled to a country where they knew no one. (I might Add Father Mina established many many families, and the Coptic community has grown from 1 church in the late 60’s, to over 26 parishes today, as well as schools and monasteries in this beautiful land of Australia.
As young children we were fortunate to be raised and educated in Australia. My siblings and I lived here free to practice our faith in the sanctity of Australia, and had no idea religious discrimination even existed. We attended Catholic Schools, and are now all professionals with families of our own. We were blessed not to experience the daily persecution and ridicule that our Coptic brethren suffer in Egypt simply because they are Christians.
I am sure you have all heard the old adage “all good things come to an end”.
Those words have never rung so true for the Coptic community in Australia, never more so than in Sydney. After more than 40 years of calling Australia home, much to my shock and that of the Coptic community, we find the threats against Christian Churches have actually reached Australian shores. We are dismayed and have learnt that there is no escaping persecution by the radical arm of Islam. My Parents abandoned everything to escape radical Islam in Egypt under the rule of Sadat.
The threats of terror attacks on at least four Australian churches resulted in an unprecedented move where the AFP and NSW police had to protect thousands of Coptic Christians during our Christmas Eve services on 6 January. I was in tears, realising that Australia has lost its innocence, and religious intolerance and persecution have reached our shores.
While many in the Islamic community cry “Islamophobia”, there has been a deafening silence for the plight of Christians throughout the world, and no Australian Islamic group has condemned the attacks or stood in solidarity with the Copts. I note the Jewish community and every other Christian denomination have stood in solidarity with their brothers, the COPTS.
Unlike the Islamic community, the Coptic communities do not care about words which attack. Slander and vile behaviour towards the Copts occurs as a matter of routine in Egypt from nearly every mosque. The media is awash with disgraceful interviews and Islamic TV stations target Christians every where, not just the Copts.
It is the continued threat of violence, murder, rape, kidnapping and assaults that concern us. In Egypt, the Copts have learnt to ignore the vile words that emanate from mosques over loudspeakers on a weekly basis during Islamic Friday prayers. This issue was actually raised by a very brave Islamic TV host, and he begged the Islamic community to address these issues, as well as the Islamic religious classes that brainwash Egyptians from a very young age. This man, Amr Adib, paid the price for been outspoken - he is now unemployed!!
The general ignorance in the Australian community about the dire threat posed by radical Islam concerns me gravely. We Copts, in my opinion, know better what it is like to live in an Islamic country than any other group in the world. The Copts, the largest surviving Christian group in the Middle East, have survived over 1400 years of systematic discrimination, persecution and belittlement. Once 100%, they now only make up only 10% of the Egyptian population of 80 million.
The same persecution and discrimination has reached Australian shores. The Sydney churches targeted were / are:
St Antonius and St Paul parish in Guildford
Archangel and St Bishoy at Mt Druitt
St Demiana and St Athanasius at Punchbowl
St Mary and St Merkorious, at Rhodes
The apathy concerning Islam in Australia has proved our greatest threat. Whilst it may be a small group, none the less there is no question that some in the Australian Islamic community are extremists, and against democracy and the Australian culture and way of life. There are many Islamic websites in Australia that should be of concern to everyone.
What went wrong?
\Why are these people in our midst?
What is the Government going to do to address the issue, nip the problem in the bud before it turns into a major problem?I ask these questions because, as the Islamic community grows in Australia, so will the numbers of Islamic extremists in their midst. That is a statistical Fact. My greatest wish is that the Islamic community weeds out these radicals, works hand in hand with the police and protects the name of Islam, and the non Muslim “targets” of these mad men.
My greatest fear is Australia in a few generations will find itself facing the same problems that are faced in Egypt at the hands of radical and extremists Islamists. These Islamists actually consider themselves quite normal, and the Christians “deserve the treatment they get according to specific Suras in the Koran”.
Any religious text (in this case the Koran) that calls for the killing of any other creed undermines and raises serious questions about the integrity of the entire religion (in this case ISLAM).
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in Australia’s history that a specific church group has had to be protected by the authorities as a direct result of threats by Islamic extremists hell bent on attacking Middle Eastern Christians during a holy and blessed occasion.
At the Rhodes church in Sydney, we were very saddened that the NSW police had to turn up in force to confirm the church was safe prior to Christmas Eve Mass. Bomb searches, sniffer dog, PORS (Public Order and Riot Squad), and police helicopters took part in the security measures. For those who grew up in Egypt, it brought back memories of the dark evil days of living as a Copt in Egypt.After sweeping the Church, the authorities declared it safe. It was then immediately put in Lock down mode. The entire perimeter of the church was fully fenced (ATF) and the police remained onsite till Xmas celebrations were concluded that evening. There was only one point of entry and exit, parking on church grounds was banned, post mass celebrations were cancelled, and the Coptic community was shell shocked that this was happening in Australia. In addition to the Police presence, private security guards were engaged, assisted by official church ushers.
Having been personally involved with the authorities, I can only extend the absolute gratitude and appreciation of the Rhodes Parish community for the diligence, understanding and genuine concern they displayed towards us as a community.
In particular, I thank the Members of the Australian Federal Police, Burwood Local area Command, The Superintendent, the Riot squad and all the Officers who placed themselves in harm’s way to protect us as a community. I thank them from the bottom of my heart: they were tremendous and deserve every praise.
Unfortunately, though Xmas mass has passed, church officials are still worried that an attack may eventuate when least expected on any one of their churches, monasteries or schools in Australia. Though the threat was for Christmas Eve, the terrorists might strike on a normal Sunday. That's how they work. More so, Easter is only 3 months away and we have a whole week of services where the churches are packed. It has been reported "The NSW Police Force is closely monitoring international developments in the wake of the attack on the Coptic community in Egypt," the statement read.
We as a community trust the Police will monitor the situation and hopefully discover any radical Islamic sects or cells here in Sydney. They have tarnished the reputation of the glorious country and the best place in the world to live. These people do not deserve to be here and destroy peace and the good name and reputation of Australia as a tolerant multi race multi religion country.
It is very painful for me to accept that Islamists are destroying the last safe haven for non Muslims in the world.
I will conclude by again thanking every member of the Australian Authorities who aided and participated in ensuring the safety of the Coptic community in Sydney. You have done a tremendous job and I thank you for allowing Christmas to pass incident free in 2011. God Bless You.
An Australian Copt.