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An Anecdote on Christian Kidnapping

From Slate, a unique first-person account of travels to Upper Egypt, to witness the alleged surge in weapons trading. The journalists find a sleepy town filled with older arms models, feuding families, and unengaged police, but little evidence of proliferation.

But they do encounter a local thug:

A man in a karakul hat—a favorite with Soviet party leaders and Bond villains—strides up to our table and sits next to the omda [village mayor]. He regards us with a rather unctuous smile, revealing his coffee- and nicotine-stained teeth.

Before he arrived we had been talking about government negligence. He offers us a curious anecdote. We’re, it seems, in the company of a kidnapper.

He is a kidnapper armed with what he and the omda’s pals think is unassailable logic. That is, without loans from agricultural banks—who refuse them on “security grounds”—he and other farmers are left without a steady income. Kidnapping, being a very lucrative trade, allows him and others like him to purchase property and build.

“Some ask why we target Christians and not Muslims,” he says with a smirk, looking at my colleague and me. “Because our [Muslim] men are not worth as much.”

He turns to one of the omda’s friends, a Christian who is seated at the table. “It’s nothing personal.”

Often amid the evidence of Christian persecution in Egypt is the tragedy of Christians being kidnapped. Many times the stories say the victims, usually underage girls, are forced to marry and convert to Islam. Surely some of these stories are true, sometimes perhaps not.

But this anecdote reminds us the reality is very complex. Some might use this version alone to deny the more obvious persecution accounts. But a single, simple narrative is best to advance a cause, on whatever side of the issue you advocate.

Meanwhile, muddying the waters in complexity works well to promote confusion and immobility, denting outrage through a fog of uncertainty. It elevates the status of the ‘expert’, but does little to help everyday realities.

God help us. The task is a commitment to both truth and justice. Truth includes the diversity of anecdotes, testing every narrative to divide the wheat and the chaff. Justice proceeds further, to process the wheat and cast off the chaff. The former is made useful into sustaining bread; the latter deemed worthless and thrown to the wind or fire.

May we remember, and act accordingly. And, may all kidnapping cease.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Why Egypt’s Christian Families are Paying Ransom

Coptic Ransom

From my recent article at Christianity Today, published online on January 8, 2014, and in the Jan/Feb print edition:

In 2011, Nadia Makram, 13, was walking home from church near her working-class Cairo neighborhood when she vanished.

Her mother, Martha, went to the police, who refused to file a report. Soon after, Martha received a call demanding $15,000. She went back to the police, who registered a complaint but noted only Nadia’s disappearance.

When the police did nothing, Martha gathered money from family and friends and traveled to a village 65 miles south.

Martha met Nadia’s 48-year-old kidnapper in the home of the local mayor. After she handed over the money, the men showed her what they called a “marriage certificate.” Nadia, they said, had converted to Islam and married her abductor. Martha left empty-handed—an increasingly common story among Coptic Christians. Abductions have increased sharply in the past few months.

The article deals with grassroots efforts to uncover these cases, some of the details in paying ransoms, theological reflection from an Egyptian seminary professor who’s relative was a victim, and budding hopes that a new government ministry might partially solve this issue.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today. (photo credit: AP/Thomas Hartwell)