Those of us who have spent 2011 very anxiously watching events unfold in Egypt cannot but have an increasingly sickening feeling that initial suspicions are being borne out and things are going from bad to worse for the Coptic Christians in that country.
Too many journalists, bloggers, and even would-be academics such as Walter Russell Mead cannot bother to bestir themselves to understand the situation of the Copts beyond mindlessly repeating demonstrably false and thoroughly discredited slanders, the grossest and most lamentably common of which is that, in the mid-seventh century, the Copts "welcomed" invasion by Arab Muslims, supposedly with open arms. Serious historians who know what they are talking about have shown this to be false--but to paraphrase Robert Taft at Orientale Lumen in June, why bother studying history when instead you can just make it up?
Most recently this absurd myth of Coptic welcoming of Muslim conquest has again been debunked by Sidney Griffth in his essay "The Syriac-Speaking Churches and the Muslims in the Medinan Era of Muhammad and the Four Caliphs," part of a collection edited by Dietmar Winkler and entitled Syriac Churches Encountering Islam: Past Experiences and Future Perspectives (Pro Oriente Studies in the Syriac Tradition). I have noted the contents of this book before and hope to have a long review of it posted in the weeks ahead.
Griffith, author of The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque, in the above-noted essay shows that the idea of Coptic welcome of invasion stems from a notoriously misquoted and misunderstood letter from Isho'yabh III (d. 659), patriarch of the "Church of the East." When read in context, that letter, on "closer inspection reveals that the writers were not so much voicing a welcome for what we recognize in hindsight as the onset of the Islamic conquest as they were invidiously comparing even Arab rule, which they disdained, to the oppressive conduct of their previous governors....[T]he Christians of all denominations unanimously regarded the conquest as a disaster"(28; emphasis mine). May this pernicious fiction die the death it deserves. And more important, may the Copts soon obtain that freedom from persecution that they have for too long been denied.