Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda made the following observation during a recent speech: "Having faced for 1,400 years the slow-motion genocide that began long before the ongoing ISIS genocide today, the time for excusing this inhuman behavior and its causes is long since passed."
That Muslims have cleansed non-Muslim peoples by the sword since the seventh century to the present is of course factually well-documented. But what of the more subtle "slow-motion genocide"? How does that work? The answer is connected to another question: Why did so many non-Muslims become Muslim in the first place?
Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups
Many modern day Muslims and Western apologists claim that the ancestors of today's 1.5 billion Muslims converted to Islam due to its intrinsic appeal; that the modern day coercion and persecution committed by the Islamic State and others is an aberration.
Conversely, many Muslim and non-Muslim historical records make clear that most people embraced Islam, not out of sincere faith, but for a myriad of reasons--from converting in order to enjoy the boons of being on the "winning team" to converting in order to evade the dooms of being on the "losing team."
Because well documented facts have little influence on the modern West's ahistorical sense of reality, happily the exercise of common sense validates what history records: the Islamic world is built atop, not so much the physical genocide of infidels, but the spiritual and cultural genocide of their identity. This killing of two birds with one stone was always more advantageous for Islam, for while the non-Muslim's former religious/cultural identity is purged, his body remains to strengthen the ranks of Islam.
Consider Egypt. In the 7th century, when Islam was being formulated, it had been Christian for centuries, before most of Europe had converted. Alexandria was the most important ecclesiastical center of ancient Christian learning and, along with Rome and Antioch, one of the original three sees. Writing around the year 400--roughly two-and-a-half centuries before the Arab invasions--John Cassian, a European, observed that "the traveler from Alexandria in the north to Luxor in the south would have in his ears along the whole journey, the sounds of prayers and hymns of the monks, scattered in the desert, from the monasteries and from the caves, from monks, hermits, and anchorites." In recent times, both the oldest parchment to contain words from the Gospel (dating to the 1stcentury) and the oldest image of Christ were discovered in separate regions of Egypt.
What made such an ancient and heavily Christian nation become Islamic? More specifically, what made the ancestors of today's Egyptian Muslims--most of who were Coptic Christians--slough off their identity and become Muslim?
Before answering these questions another overlooked factor needs to be kept in mind. From the time Islam conquered Egypt (and much of the then known Christian world) in the 7th century and well into the premodern era, religion was not something to be casually adhered to or changed, as it is today in the West. People then were sincere believers; there was no alternative narrative--no so-called "science vs God" claims.
Despite the many movies that project a sort of cynical modernity onto medieval Christians--such as the Kingdom of Heaven's lead character, the "nuanced" and "secularized" Christian, Balian--"for medieval people, religion was not something one just did at church. It was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity, and their hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth."
In other words, even if Islam offered intrinsic appeal, the idea that pre-modern Christians were "free" to choose to convert--free of guilt, free of fear from hell, free of existential trauma that comes with apostasy--is anachronistic and implausible. Again, those who change religions as often as they change shoes may have great difficulty in fully appreciating this idea; but it is true nonetheless.
If Europeans were this dedicated to Christianity in the medieval era, naturally so too were the Copts of Egypt who became Christian centuries earlier. What, then, made them convert to Islam in mass is the question before us?
Is it true, to quote Georgetown University professor John Esposito, that Christians "were free to practice their faith to worship and be governed by their religious leaders and laws in such areas as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. In exchange, they were required to pay tribute, a poll tax (jizya) that entitled them to Muslim protection from outside aggression and exempted them from military service"? And yet, though left in peace and unpressured, Egypt's original Christians found the new creed of sword-swinging, camel-riding Arabs so intrinsically appealing that they willingly apostatized in mass from the religion of their forefathers?
In fact, common sense suggests that nothing less than extremely severe circumstances and hardships--persecution--prompted the Copts and others to convert to Islam.