I have fond memories of reading Charisma magazine with my mother when I was a child. I remember her reading me stories of miracles and revivals happening all around the world. Vaguely, those memories of reading the only magazine (besides Readers’ Digest) that my parents subscribed to are tied to my earliest hopes about being a writer. But since my parents let their subscription lapse, around the same time they ended their relationship with the charismatic church that I grew up in, I haven’t really given Charisma a second thought. Until today.
A former teacher and friend of mine (who also attended that charismatic church and may have even had his own subscription to Charisma) brought my attention to this “eyewitness report” from Egypt published on Charisma’s website on Saturday. After a short editorial introduction, the bulk of the piece is a letter (or maybe a series of letters, the layout is really confusing) purportedly sent by an Egyptian Christian named Rafik Guindi who insists that the continuing unrest in Egypt “has nothing to do with this original protest! What is happening right now is a conspiracy to topple Mubarak from outside the country!!”
Guindi’s story begins by describing a prayer session in which he prayed for peace and security in his land, asking God, “Father, answer my prayers with rain.” Well, it rained, and God issued some vague instructions about assembling a Holy Council and something about the words “Justice” and “Truth.” I’m not leaving anything out there; God’s words to Guindi seem to have been this vague.
Guindi and his wife followed the events in their country and began to wonder why the international news media seemed bent on covering the ongoing protest in Tahrir Square. He writes, “The news media is reporting this as ‘the people of Egypt’ wanting Mubarak to leave immediately. Did they ask the ‘people of Egypt?’ For one, they did not ask me!”
He then described a counter-protest at Mustafa Mahmoud Square in Mohandessin. This event, he says, received no media attention even though it began with a thousand people and in his estimation grew to tens of thousands, then to hundreds of thousands and several hundreds of thousands, and finally, he writes in all caps, to possibly over a million!
Back in Tahrir Square, he says, the original protesters had all but cleared out and were “replaced by other HIGHLY ORGANIZED GROUPS. They all have the same model of cell phones. They all have the same blankets (eye witnesses). THESE ARE NOT THE PEOPLE OF EGYPT,” he writes.
With ever-increasing use of caps lock, Guindi issues his conspiracy theories about a plot to take over the country. He concludes, “People in Tahrir Square are escalating the situation on purpose to topple President Mubarak FOR THEIR OWN HIDDEN AGENDAS. This is TYPICAL OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERS, AND EVERYBODY IN THE STREETS OF CAIRO KNOWS THIS. We heard people on the streets saying that the plot to take over the country is now clear.”
Now, obviously I’m not in Egypt as Guindi is, nor am I a specialist on current events in Egypt. I’ve been following the events to the best of my abilities, given the coverage that is available to me. But, then, it’s not really Guindi that concerns me; certainly he is welcome to his perspective and if it appears to him that this is some kind of foreign-born conspiracy to topple President Mubarak, well…I hope he’s wrong.
The real problem here lies with Charisma. This account comes under the headline “Charisma News Online,” and is billed as an “eyewitness report.” But this is not journalism. Posting an unedited letter by a person about whom we know nothing more than that he is Egyptian and who is, despite his claim to the contrary, a conspiracy theorist, is utterly irresponsible.
See, I remember the way the people in my church read Charisma; I remember how seriously they took it. And if the comments from readers are any indication, plenty of people still take the magazine that seriously. Though some commenters question the validity of Guindi’s account, others, like this one, buy it completely: “This article confirms very clearly what I felt strongly in the Spirit this morning as I watched the news… a coup to overthrow the government and takeover by the Muslims and soon sharia law.”
Fortunately, there is no shortage of counterpoints to this account, written by people with a deep knowledge of the events in Egypt. Take, for example, this piece by Ashley Makar, a graduate student at Yale Divinity School and co-editor of Killing the Buddha, over at CNN’s Belief Blog. Or see this account of how Christians and Muslims are coming together in Egypt as a result of the protests, published by the BBC. Also, see this piece in Religion Dispatches, which seeks to dispel the mounting fear around the Muslim Brotherhood, entitled, “5 Reasons the Muslim Brotherhood Won’t Turn On Israel.” Finally, for a more balanced bit of worry about the impact of the events in Egypt on Egyptian Christians, there’s Joseph Bottum at USA Today.
There is certainly a Christian response to the events in Egypt, and as I wrote yesterday in my Patheos column, interpreting current events through Old Testament story and prophecy is not it. I’m still not sure what exactly is required of us, but I think we can add spinning out conspiracy theories to rally conservative Christians against a perceived Muslim takeover to the “what not to do” column.
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