Copts Under Seige
It is not news that this is not a good time to be a Christian in the Arab world (the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops on April 22 in Syria reinforced awareness of that); but as Arab Spring revolutions struggle to evolve into representative governments, often with the moral and practical support of the United States, expectations must be made clear about the treatment of religious minorities in the future Arab republics. Nowhere has the situation of Christians become more precarious than in Egypt, a vital ally of the United States and a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid that presumably remains susceptible to American diplomatic pressure.
A spate of mob attacks since the beginning of April resulted in the killing of a number of Copts and, most alarmingly, included a prolonged assault on St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, abetted, some eyewitnesses said, by Egyptian security forces. President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies quickly condemned the sectarian violence. But the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II said Egypt’s Christians are tired of promises, especially when the soothing words of official leaders fail to contest the threats and calumny spouted by the nation’s Salafist firebrands.
“The president assured us personally that he would do everything to protect the cathedral...but in reality this was not the case,” Pope Tawadros told a private television station. “We have seen enough committees being formed. We want action, not words.”
Pope Tawadros is correct that the time for words has passed. That injunction applies to the U.S. State Department as much as it does to the Morsi government. The United States must do more than issue tepid statements of condolences to Copt families and vague expressions of concern to President Morsi. It should be clear that the United States is watching and that Egypt’s crucial foreign aid flow is on the line.
Who's Minding the Children?
The social support network in the United States has been assembled painstakingly since the Great Depression. Universal health care took far too long to pass and still faces deep resistance. And there is little chance that another crucial piece of government assistance—quality affordable child care—will receive legislative support any time soon. Yet expanded child care would have both economic and social benefits. More women would enter the work force if they had a safe, reliable place to leave their children during work hours. And studies have shown that when workers have access to quality care for their children, they are more effective at work. Good child care is also a key factor in helping to move people out of poverty. Early childhood education has been shown, time and again, to improve prospects for children later in life.
Some lawmakers have been reluctant to embrace universal child care because it has the whiff of Scandinavian-style socialism. Yet as Jonathan Cohn reports in The New Republic (“The Hell of American Day Care,” 4/29), the U.S. government has a proven record of providing child care. One of the most successful initiatives took place during World War II, when the demands of war led more women to enter the workforce. That child care program was shut down after the war despite the pleas of children’s advocates. Today the child care program run by the Defense Department is seen as a “model for the nation.” Women are signing up to serve in the military, and the government is stepping up to take care of their children. Why can’t Congress do the same for the rest of America’s women?
Eyes Wide Shut
Google is developing a technology, known as Google Glass, that would place a digital interface right before your eyes. No need to fumble for your smartphone—directions, contacts, local restaurant listings would all be accessible from a glass interface that responds to voice commands. The technology could be a boon to many. Travelers could ask and receive language translations on the fly. People with hearing disabilities could have conversations transcribed for easy reading. Drivers would be able to keep their eyes on the road rather than on their GPS device.
Google Glass sounds like a breakthrough piece of technology, but how it will affect social interaction? Eleven years ago, Apple introduced the iPod, and soon everyone was enclosed in an audio cocoon. Our ears were sealed. Will Google Glass seal off our eyes as well? Social events are already compromised by the constant buzz and clamor of smartphones. Digital eyewear could very well make our lives easier, but it could make us more distant from one another as well.
The key is to master the technology rather than let it master us. Over the last 15 years, the pace of change has been so rapid it may take time to learn to use our devices properly. Technology can connect us with friends and make our work life more efficient; it can also take time away from family and prayer. Sometimes it will be necessary to turn off the phone, shut down the tablet, take off our glasses—and let conversation begin.