Swine flu and the Copts

APTOPIX MIDEAST EGYPT SWINE FLUWhile the rest of the world seems to understand that swine flu is not really about the swine, Egypt continues its mass slaughter of every pig in sight. It is on a national campaign to rid the country of its estimated 300,000 pigs in the name of public health. As has been widely reported, the campaign stems in part from the Egyptian abhorrence of the pig, the Koran's ultimate "unclean" animal. But other Muslim countries have not taken similar steps to wipe out their pig populations. Israel neither.

Which brings us to the second reason for the pig assault in Egypt: the Coptic Christian pig owners. Egyptians never seem to miss an opportunity to unsettle its Coptic minority. One of our readers sent us the State Department's 2008 report on religious freedom in Egypt which makes it clear that even before this outbreak things are getting worse for the Copts.

Copts complain about harrassement, discrimination in employment and lack of representation in government. Some live in fear that their children will be kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. They have taken to tattooing a Coptic cross to the wrists of their children as a sign of their identity (second photo).

The key here is that killing all the pigs in Egypt would be a financial disaster for pig owners. In other words, the Copts. Miss that angle and you miss the story.

The other widely-reported religion story related to swine flu was about an Orthodox Jewish public health official who said that Israel should call it the "Mexican flu" instead of naming it for an unkosher animal. From the AP:

Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said the reference to pigs is offensive to both religions and "we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu," he told a news conference at a hospital in central Israel.

While the story was widely reported, the repudiation of the official was not. I found on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which is sometimes called the AP for the Jews.

The swine flu will not take any new names in Israel despite the unease of a health official from a fervently religious party. ...

"Israel has no intention of giving the flu any new names," the official said. "It was nothing more than a slip of the tongue."

coptic_cross01Finally, the flu scare has prompted warnings from several church bodies about the common cup used in communion. This from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:

Concerns about a possible swine flu pandemic spread through Wisconsin houses of worship this week, where leaders were taking steps to educate their congregations and minimize any potential spread.

The Milwaukee diocese reminded pastors that they have the option not to offer communal wine for the Eucharist. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said that it was using the outbreak as a "teachable moment" to underscore the idea that Christ is present in both the bread and the wine. Pastors were given the option not to offer the communal wine. "To receive just the host is still to receive the body and blood of Christ," she said.

Other churches were stocking up on hand sanitizer and tissues to pass around after the "kiss of peace." Pastors are reminding people that no actual kiss or handshake is required. In the age of swine flu, sometimes just a smile is enough.

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