PNC: In Syria and Egypt, Pagan Voices Fall Silent

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 19, 2013 — 21 Comments

[The following article is reprinted from the PNC Minnesota bureau, and reported by Cara Schulz.]

Areas where there is political turmoil or fighting are often difficult places for even those in the mainstream of a culture to live in. It’s even harder for people on the fringe of society as they face confusion, uncertainty, deteriorating living conditions, and daily fear for personal safety. Those set apart by ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, political views, or religion are the most vulnerable to loss of property or even loss of life. In Syria and Egypt, two countries currently experiencing political turmoil or civil war, one by one Pagan voices have fallen silent.

Syrians demonstrate in the coastal city of Banias against the regime of hard-line leader Bashar Assad in the spring of 2011. (Syrian Freedom via Creative Commons)

Syrians demonstrate in the coastal city of Banias against the regime of hard-line leader Bashar Assad in the spring of 2011. (Syrian Freedom via Creative Commons)

There are eight Pagans, three in Egypt and five in Syria, that I have regular contact with online. They had always been cautious about revealing their religion to people within their country and expressed dismay over their isolation, but they were happy to talk online and wanted to know what American Pagans, especially those who practice Mesopotamian or Kemetic religions, were doing.

Egypt

The Egyptian Pagans, who were elated at the fall of Muburak, expressed hope that a truly democratic government would emerge in Egypt. Then, concerns crept in at the increasing power of the Muslim Brotherhood. Karim saw the Brotherhood as a threat to both his country and to him, as a Pagan, personally. Over the past seven months, the lag in communication grew as he became more politically involved and went to rallies and protests. He expressed fear that pagans and other religious minorities were in increasing danger and that the Christians would sacrifice people like him to the Brotherhood to appease them. The other two Pagans I communicate with followed a similar pattern. Elation, followed by concern, followed by fear and determination. Then silence. I have no way of finding out if they are simply too involved with the political turmoil in Egypt to respond, if they are keeping quiet to avoid suspicion, or anything else. It’s been three months since I have heard from any of them.

Syria

The situation in Syria appears to be more grave, according to the last messages I received from the five Pagans I chat with regularly. They spoke of the fighting and how places looked like Beirut, buildings just shells of themselves, rubble blocking the streets. They detailed neighbors going missing. Islamic fundamentalist patrols that monitor behavior and took violent action against people who violated rules and customs. They debated fleeing, worried about being outed as a Pagan, and started destroying or burying altars. Three began attending local mosques to show their devotion to Islam.

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Yana dropped off first.  I last heard from her in June of 2012.  Bayan, another Syrian Pagan, also hadn’t heard from her but said fighting in her area was intense.  He said he had seen patrols targeting young women and men, beating them and he said it was rumored they were raping them.  He thought perhaps she fled to a safer area or was silent to avoid detection.

That was the last email I received from Bayan.  Like dominoes the other Syrian Pagans went silent.  No emails or texts.  No word on their safety.  I keep hoping I will hear something, but it’s been several months and still no word.

I reached out to a Pagan in Lebanon, Adon, to see what he has heard about his coreligionists in Syria and Egypt.  Although he’s not in the same country, he’s much closer than I am.  I asked Adon if he had heard from Pagans in Egypt and Syria.

I haven’t heard of my pagan friends in Syria for a while too now, i know at least three of them who moved to other countries, especially Algeria, and United Arab emirates, but i have lost their contact in the process. The others are still silent, so they’re either disconnected, moved from the country, or worse. It’s hard to tell at the moment, pagans in the Near East were already several secluded clusters of individuals who don’t have a lot of contact with each other before everything started to happen. This is the case even in Lebanon where it’s relatively easier to be open about one’s religious identity.

I didn’t had any contact previously with Egyptian pagans, but they’re probably fine, but everyone in Egypt is too distracted to think about anything but politics and survival at the moment, i’ve had trouble having a decent conversation even with non-pagan egyptian friends in the past few months.

Anyway, you’re right that the atmosphere is getting a lot less safer for non-muslims in general and even for less devoted muslims. It’s very risky to even discuss religion in Syria at the moment, whether we were in the areas controlled by the regime or by the rebels. In Egypt the situation is a bit brighter since there’s a larger civil society and minorities in general and things are still relatively peaceful. However, the general feeling here is that this is temporary, the Islamists are taking the lead now after being in the shadows for decades, and all this will catalyze the process of getting over fundamental Islamism faster.  - Adon

My hope is that peace and liberty come to this region of the world.  I hope my friends are safe and that someday soon, they can live without fear.  That their voices are once again heard and this terrible silence ends.  May Anu and Horus watch over them.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I salute Adon’s optimism, that this efflorescence of a long-suppressed Islamism will burn itself out in time. I wish I could fully believe it. Thanks for keeping us up to date on Pagan developments in that suffering part of the world.

  • Deerwoman

    I read this article with interest and concern. It gladdens me that there are those reviving the ways of their ancestors in the Near and Middle East, but Islam’s general distaste for polytheism doesn’t bode well for Pagans in that region.

    An another note, I found this quotation on Tumblr today:

    • Deerwoman

      Sorry, it seems the image didn’t paste properly into the comment. Let’s try this again.

  • Rebel Druid

    I read this report and I have to say I find myself surprised that there are even Pagans in the Middle & Near East. That they are willing to not only venerate the old gods in such conservative societies, but go against the grain at all speaks measures of their bravery.

    They are to be admired, I think.

    I concur, Baruch. Adon’s optimism is heartening, but I fear it is misguided. If the Muslim Brotherhood are allowed to go unchallenged – particularly with this new constitution they’ve created – then their power will only grow stronger.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    And, yet, there are still those trying to sell the Arab Spring as a good thing.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Well, it wasn’t a bad thing per se to overthrow those Cold War era dictators and dynasties. The problem — exactly as with Saddam and the Taliban — is what comes after.
      But calling it a good or a bad thing suggests the possiblity of “improving” it or, if that is unavailing, playing the blame game of “Who lost North Africa?” I gloomily doubt we could have done or can do anything to stop long-suppressed Islamism from popping up as the best organized opposition force.
      Pagans are far from alone in our pain. The Baha’i’ get a rum deal in Iran, and over on GetReligion one may follow the plight of Coptic Christians in Eqypt.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I wasn’t on about Pagans alone, here.

        As can be shown in Iraq, dictators were what kept the areas stable. The Arab Spring (it would seem) was less about increasing the individual freedoms of the people of North Africa and the Middle East and more about changing the dictators in charge.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          If that’s all it means then it’s a dour change, from secular dictators to theocratic dictators.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Pretty much.

          • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

            only in Tunesia, you could speak of a secular dictator, many Islamists (especially the Salafists) were pretty much embedded in the old regime in Egypt which accomodated towards political religion during the 1970ies e.g. by declaring Islam the main source of legislation to fight the leftist movements especially at the universities and in even Syria, you had (like all over the Middle East) the old Ottoman “Millet system” stil in place which “outsorced” large areas of civil law to the religious bodies

            one of the main problem of most dictatorial ruled countries in the Middle East and the Maghreb is, that the only legal form of organizing/articulating opposition towards the regimes was through organized religion (= mosques, often funded by Saudi Arabia & Co.) on which the regimes simply couldn’t do a complete crackdown and who were often also entwined with the official state sponsored brand of Islam which meant, that these forces have now a far more developed infrastructure, financial situation, etc. that gives them a clear advantage compared with any other political force … here again, Tunesia is in a way an exception, where you have the trade union confederation UGTT to which around 5% of the countries population/15% of the labour force belong to which was during the Ben Ali period in a strange way both part of the regime and a major opposition force

          • Deborah Bender

            I believe what Entdinglichung just posted is the way it usually goes when a more or less popular uprising overthrows an authoritarian regime, if that regime has been in power long enough to suppress all social organizations that might oppose it any way. Either factions competing for control of the country fight a chaotic civil war (Yugoslavia after Tito) or one faction gains control quickly and establishes another authoritarian regime (Iran after the Shah).

            The way these regimes stay in power is divide and conquer. They give favors to a small elite in exchange for unquestioning support, and sow jealousy and mistrust among the rest of the population so that no one will combine forces against the regime.The longer this goes on the more demoralized people become, and the harder it will be for liberal democracy to take hold. IMO even if the US had not botched the occupation of Iraq, this process was so far along that it’s unlikely that the current generation of Iraqis could have managed to set up a functioning democracy. Liberal democracy requires some public spiritedness.

            South Africa was able to transition to democracy without civil war breaking out because the outgoing regime peacefully handed over power to the strongest of the groups opposing it and because South Africa had churches, labor unions, and other functioning civil organizations that weren’t totally tied to the old regime. It’s too soon to tell whether democracy will last, but they are making a good attempt.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    This demonstrates the difference between “democracy” and “liberal democracy”.

    “Democracy” simply and literally means rule by the majority, which is often very bad news for the minority (and for the ultimate minority: the individual). “Liberal democracy” is much less well defined, but it is usually assumed to include protection of the rights of individual citizens, and, most importantly, granting those individual rights a higher status than even the will of the majority.

    The kind of democracy unleashed by the Arab Spring is certainly not liberal. What we are seeing is something very close to a replay of the events of 1979 in Iran.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Pure democracy = tyranny of the masses.

    • Nick Ritter

      As Ernst Jünger once wrote: “Der Demos ist sein eigener Tyrann.” (The populace is its own tyrant.)

      • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

        the militaristic and nationalistic misanthropist Jünger simply hated people and wanted a rule by an elite

        • Nick Ritter

          I disagree heartily with your interpretation of Jünger. However, your interpretation and my disagreement are neither here nor there: the statement of his that I quote above can be seen to be true.

  • M

    Thx.

  • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

    a few remarks:

    even for some political groups I know who are very skilled in the “art of underground work”, it seems to be difficult to maintain a continuous flow of information between Syria and their comrades abroad at the moment, reports and statements sometimes arrive only some months later (because messages by internet or mobile phones are sometimes less safe than the old fashioned method of delivering news by a messenger)

    some areas of Syria have become really dangerous for non-Sunni and non-Arab people, e.g. sadly in Homs were traditionally secularist opposition groups like the Communist Action Party (which was crushed by the regime during the 1980ies) were strong, chants like “Christians to Lebanon, Alawites into the coffin” (it rhymes in Arabic) have become common, which makes life especially hard for those oppositionists (there are quite a lot) from a minority religion, ethnic minority or Sufi background

    since June, a coalition of Kurdish groups has liberated a couple of towns and villages in Northern Syria, they keep their distance towards both the FSA (with whom they have clashed a couple of times)/SNC/etc. (and their Turkish/Saudi/etc. backers) and towards the regime, they are strictly secularist (and do celebrate Newroz and Jalda) and in favour of rights of minorities, news from/about them, from other secularist opposition groups and about the general (sad) situation at http://supportkurds.org/

  • http://twitter.com/Mystic140 Noor

    I will say prayers for all of your friends and all the peoples in those parts of the Islamic world where so many are oppressed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1186404199 Crystal Hope Kendrick

    May their Gods hold them. I’ll be praying for our pagan brothers and sisters in the Near East.

  • Dragonet

    hope and pray.