In 2006, when Pope Benedict quoted history deemed unflattering to Islam, Christians around the Muslim world paid the price: anti-Christian riots ensued, churches were burned, and a nun was murdered in Somalia. That was then. Days ago, when a Christian in Egypt was accused of dating a Muslim woman, twenty-two Christian homes were set ablaze, to cries of “Allah Akbar.” Countless other examples of one group of Christians in the Muslim world being “punished” in response to other Christians exist.
In fact, the recent carnage in Baghdad, wherein Islamists stormed a church during mass, killing over fifty Christian worshippers, was a “response” to Egypt’s Coptic Christian church, which Islamists accuse of kidnapping and torturing Muslim women to convert to Christianity. (Ironically, the well documented reality in Egypt is that Muslims regularly kidnap and force Christian women to convert to Islam: these accusations are part of a new trend whereby Islamists project their own crimes onto the Copts.) And the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists who perpetrated the Baghdad church massacre have further threatened Christians around the world:
All Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them.”… Let these idolaters [Christians of the world], and at their forefront, the hallucinating tyrant of the Vatican [Pope Benedict], know that the killing sword will not be lifted from the necks of their followers until they declare their innocence from what the dog of the Egyptian Church is doing.
Of course, the clause “wherever they can reach them” is an indicator that it is the Islamic world’s Christians who will especially be targeted — since they are most easily reached.
This phenomenon — attacking one set of Christians, or non-Muslims in general, in response to another — has roots in Islamic law. The Pact of Omar, a foundational text for Islam’s treatment of dhimmis (i.e., non-Muslims who refused to convert after their lands were seized by Islam) makes this clear. The consequences of breaking any of the debilitating and humiliating conditions Christians were made to accept in order to be granted a degree of surety by the Muslim state — including things like giving up their seats to Muslims, as a show of “respect” — were stark: “If we in any way violate these undertakings for which we ourselves stand surety, we forfeit our covenant [dhimma], and we become liable to the penalties for contumacy and sedition [that is, they become viewed as “unprotected” infidels, and thus exposed to the same treatment, including slavery, rape, and death.].”
Moreover, the actions of the individual affect the entire group — hence the “hostage” aspect (everyone is under threat to ensure that everyone behaves). As Mark Durie points out, “Even a breach by a single individual dhimmi could result in jihad being enacted against the whole community. Muslim jurists have made this principle explicit, for example, the Yemeni jurist al-Murtada wrote that ‘The agreement will be canceled if all or some of them break it…’ and the Moroccan al-Maghili taught ‘The fact that one individual (or one group) among them has broken the statute is enough to invalidate it for all of them’” (The Third Choice, p.160).