Targeting Christians in Egypt is also a way for Islamists to attack the leaders of the most important Arab country
(Jose Antonio Sanchez)
After the New Year's Day church bombing in Alexandria, Egypt, there are at least two ways we can choose to interpret this grave, anti-Christian attack. The first focuses on the peculiarities of the most important of Arab countries; the second requires examining the overall dynamics of the Middle East and the general deterioration of security (shall we say: survival) of Christians throughout the Arab and Islamic world. My view is that the two are so intertwined that they must be kept simultaneously in mind if you really want to understand the scope of the events that we are witnessing.
What appears to be underway is a real push to homogenize the social fabric throughout the Middle East from a religious point of view. For a long time, the Muslim world has experienced a scourge of revolt against those leaders deemed corrupt and apostate by the movement that considers itself the only true interpreters of the message of the Prophet.
Thinking of Egypt, the courageous Anwar Sadat and his trip to Jerusalem immediately comes to mind, recalling how the Egyptian president was assassinated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood a few years after the first peace agreements with Israel were signed. In the Shiite camp, with its necessary distinctions made clear, it is impossible to forget the Khomeini revolution, which led to the fall of the Shah Reza Pahlavi and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.
In reality, this violent rebellion and tyrannicide is an ancient practice, dating back to the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in the eighth century and the Kharijites, which since the beginning of the Arab-Islamic tradition (Muhammad preachings date to the seventh century) has helped add legitimacy to violence as an instrument of political struggle. The "paradise of the martyrs' has always been open because almost nothing has changed in the management style of the political regimes in the region over the past 1200 years.
It matters little whether you call it a distant and confused socialist revolution (Egypt), religious obscurantism (Saudi Arabia), or some conceptual jumble born from foreign control after the violent fall of a former tyrant (Iraq ): the fact remains that the effective areas of tolerance and respect for diversity and individual sovereignty that such regimes contemplate are so ridiculous that they end up legitimizing the violence that we are witnessing.
It is what the violent fundamentalist call a ‘fitna" (a struggle within the Muslim world against apostates and heretics), and it has now raged on for more than a decade sparking a real jihad whose aim is to purify society of any Christian presence. This is due in part to the simplistic overlap between Christianity and the West, which has been marked since the 20th century by the political marginalization of the former and predominance of the latter. But it is also linked to making Arab societies religiously uniform, so that there are no more obstacles to obscure the message exclusively associated with the political revolts and the radical Islamist interpretation.
On the other hand, in the many illiberal regimes that have long dotted the region, Christians have found protection (but not rights) as a community committed to the political powers that be, and not as individuals, as indeed the same Koranic tradition and the long custom of the first Arab and Ottoman domination had taught them. This is why it has always been particularly easy and hateful to finger their leaders as "abettor" of the tyrant, linked to the leader yet distinct from the wider society constructed so vulgarly and violently as something monolithic.
Egypt is traditionally the most important country in the Arab world, and the only real ally (rather than client) of the Americans. It was in Cairo that Barack Obama chose to deliver his most important and ultimately unsuccessful speech to the Muslim world. Two years later, the regime seems to be more and more tangled up in a transitional crisis with no acceptable exit strategy, where the introduction of elections by a puppet government has further exacerbated the political and social tensions -- and where the future of the Christian minority that has struggled for 2,000 years seems bleaker than ever.
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Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.