Make suds not war

by - 19th September 2013

Bishop ThomasPreparing my speech for tonight at the National Liberal Club in London, where we are hosting our first event with foreign policy think tank, Henry Jackson Society, on Reporting the Middle East.

And even as I read to myself the story I intend to start with, I’m tearing up.  Goodness this work snags at your heart.

It’s a story about Bishop Thomas, whose diocese is in poverty-stricken Lower Egypt whom I personally have stayed with, that did the rounds of the social media networks but did not make the press, or CNN …

‘We learned that extremists were going to attack us with machine guns, but we did not prepare ourselves for the attack with weapons. We did something simple,’ says Bishop Thomas, about that day he received a message that armed hardliners were on their way to his episcopal residence in the Al Quosia-region of Lower Egypt.

Determined to defend themselves without violent means, the church fathers applied soap and water on the rocky path leading to Bishop Thomas’ residence.

‘I saw them coming with their machine guns far down the road. They tried to get to the house, but they slipped and fell. They tried over and over again, without succeeding,’ says the Bishop, smiling with grief as he talks about the episode.

He goes on to say that the attacks have brought Muslims and Christians of his area closer together:

‘Poor Muslim families brought blankets to the Christians who lost their homes, and together we formed a civil front – not Christians against Muslims – but civil society against extremism,’ explained the Bishop.

Among the issues discussed jointly were defense-tactics and how to prevent any new attacks – including the use of soap.

Images and video-clips from Muslims and Christians, who hand in hand formed a protective ring circle around churches, were shared on social media across the globe.

‘No one who has not experienced sectarian violence close up will be able to imagine what this solidarity means to us, as a society,’ said Bishop Thomas. ‘We did actually lose hope under Morsi.  Now we are hoping and praying that the price Copts are paying now will benefit generations of Egyptians in the future.’

Next time you pick up a bar of soap, say a prayer for Egypt – and think a little harder about your own religious prejudices.