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.
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.
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.
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.
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.