Martin Mosebach’s new book, The 21, tells the story of 21 Coptic Christians martyred by Muslim extremists on a Libyan beach in 2015. I completed reading it a day ahead of the horrific terrorist attack by a white nationalist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The echoes among the martyrdoms in Libya and Christchurch are uncanny. In each instances, the perpetrators created a video recording of their violent acts in order to heighten worry and market their demented vision of purity. In each instances, the victims died due to the fact of their faith—and, for quite a few, due to the fact they had been vulnerable as migrants who had gone to a foreign land to operate or make a new life.
In the aftermath of such terror, we normally debate the extent to which we ought to concentrate interest on the terrorists and their motives. We’re conscious of how excess publicity can spread their destructive suggestions and encourage imitators. (The Christchurch terrorist claimed that particular murderous predecessors had precisely this impact on him.) However our understandable interest in the perpetrators and wish to counteract what has gone incorrect ought to under no circumstances drown out our concern the victims, due to the fact they deserve our grief. And 1 way to honor them is by understanding their stories and searching for deeper understanding.
This is the strategy Mosebach, a German novelist, requires in The 21. In the book’s introduction, he explains he “had no intention to study something additional of the perpetrators. … It was adequate for me to leave them in the darkness they themselves aspired to. … I was drastically additional moved by, and motivated to know additional about, the fate of the murdered males.”
Contemplating the victims’ humanity tends to make the tragedy really feel heavier. But in a modest way, it also tends to make area for light to shine in, due to the fact it affirms that evil and the killers do not get the final word.
‘Completely Standard Guys’
In The 21, Mosebach travels to check out the land, residences, households, and churches of the males killed in Libya by ISIS militants. Their deaths had been dramatic: They had been marched in orange jumpsuits along a beach, each and every led by a sword-wielding man dressed in black from head to toe (only their eyes had been visible). But their lives, ahead of their martyrdom, had been quiet and unassuming. All but 1 had been migrant workers from Egypt, and they had been Coptic Christians by faith. As Mosebach quotes 1 of their pastors, “These had been typical young males, totally regular guys. I under no circumstances would have believed they’d turn into saints!”
Every chapter begins with a photo of 1 of the males. Mainly because their lives had been so “normal,” there is restricted biographical material for Mosebach to recount, which normally tends to make the book appear as significantly about the author’s journey in a lesser-identified (for quite a few of us) branch of Christianity as about the martyrs themselves.
Coptic Christians trace their history back to Mark, 1 of the 4 gospel writers. Following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, they broke from the Roman Catholic Church on account of disputes more than the precise nature of Christ’s humanity and divinity. A couple of centuries later, their position inside Christendom became even additional marginalized. Ever due to the fact the Arab conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, the Copts have persevered as a minority religion inside their nation.
The 21’s strongest chapters take us deep into the lives and churches of these Coptic believers, with Mosebach exhibiting an interest to detail befitting his novelistic gifts. In a chapter known as “The Martyr’s Liturgy,” we check out their church and study about the sanctuary, liturgy, and eucharistic service. We hear that Hany “was friendly and had a sort heart” and that Sameh “gave alms even even though he was poor.” When operating in Libya, they slept in a single area, side by side on the floor. They sent the funds they earned back to their Egyptian households. In the evenings they sang, prayed, and study the Bible, while some could only listen due to the fact they had been illiterate.
We achieve a wealthy impression of what shaped the lives and faith of these martyrs, and we witness how their martyrdom reverberates to this day via their households, churches, and communities. Their households each and every have an iPad with the video of their martyrdom. Images of them as saints are on show in residences and churches.
As we stick to along on Mosebach’s journey, we’re provided a possibility to contemplate how the martyrs’ present is twofold: They gave their lives to God, but their lives are also a present to these left behind, each a supply of inspiration and an invitation to reflect on our personal lives. They cease me in my tracks, compelling me to ask myself how critical I am about what is eventually significant. I’m inspired to ask what my story tells about experiencing God’s grace and following Jesus. And when I contemplate how they had been vulnerable due to the fact they’d traveled as migrant workers to deliver for their households, I keep in mind migrant workers who have faced dangers, household separation, and other challenges coming to the US as the only way to deliver for their households. I consider of the dad and son martyred in the Christchurch mosque who had been Syrian refugees. I ask once again how we can aid these operating and attempting to survive on our society’s margins.
“They had been poor—just an inconspicuous small group,” writes Mosebach, “heading out to appear for jobs collectively. Who would care about such people today?” The 21 reminds us why we ought to care about such people today, our innocent neighbors suffering in different approaches, even unto death.
Mosebach’s book carries the subtitle, A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs. At occasions, as I study, I located myself impatient with the notion of journey, wanting as an alternative to hasten on to the location. The book begins with a vivid description of the video in which these males are led out onto a beach to have their heads reduce off. The scene is gripping, and I was anxious to enter straight into the stories of the 21 males. Rather, having said that, we meander via a extended imaginary conversation in a Cairo teahouse, a paragraph about birds that “cavorted,” a paragraph-extended reflection about garbage as “one of the twentieth century’s most diabolical inventions.”
Sometimes Mosebach’s musings felt off-tune, like when he writes of 1 of the martyrs that “he was fair-skinned, and looked as if he could’ve been of European descent. May the influence he was mentioned to have on [the other martyrs] have come precisely from this—the reality that he looked like a foreigner amongst the other people, and somehow stood equally apart from all of them?” I would be reluctant to speculate that his European-ness is aspect of what created him unique, specifically in light of the Christchurch terrorist’s manifesto, which objected strenuously to “mass immigration” and remarked, “I only want I could have killed additional invaders and traitors as effectively,” and “I am just a typical White man, from a typical household. Who decided to take a stand to guarantee a future for my people today.”
The book’s travelogue structure wasn’t constantly the strategy I located myself wanting, but it could not pose a challenge for other readers. I’m grateful Mosebach created the journey so I could devote time understanding about males whose story I only vaguely remembered from the news headlines a couple of years ago.
Our Subsequent Actions of Really like
The 21 also encouraged my personal connected (even though significantly shorter) journey to attend a vigil for Christchurch mosque victims at a Chicago-location Islamic center two days immediately after the attack. Amongst these who spoke had been pastors, politicians, rabbis, and members of law enforcement. Extra than a thousand people today attended. About half stood crowded about the walls of the area. Up front was 1 prayer rug for each and every victim. The imam mentioned that as we mourn, we’re left with two inquiries: Why did this take place? What can I do about it?
The 21 models 1 significant answer to the latter query. We can honor our martyred neighbors by searching for peace that passes—or perhaps comes through—understanding. We can take a journey of empathy toward people today we do not know or have an understanding of. We can pray for God’s wisdom and guidance along the way. We can ask who amongst us is most vulnerable and demands protection. We can make the work to study and develop. We could not resolve all our critical disagreements, inquiries, and confusions. But we hope to create the sort of empathy and connection that assists us like each and every other as neighbors and reside effectively collectively.
Hospitality at the Islamic center vigil was exceptional, even as police had been stationed in the lobby due to the fact of possible danger. I paused awkwardly at an entrance, questioning if I was about to enter a door reserved for girls. A young lady in a hijab noticed and immediately mentioned it was okay. She graciously showed me exactly where to go. Males shook hands and thanked guests for coming. They appreciated these who had taken a step in their path in a moment when their neighborhood was mourning and feeling vulnerable.
In light of the sacrifice of these Coptic martyrs, this sort of individual commitment does not ignore the challenge of taking on Muslim, Christian, nationalist, or white-supremacist extremists. It does not ignore significant theological variations. Rather, we can affirm that we will not be paralyzed by worry. We can accept Jesus’ invitation to a faithful journey of following him, getting his witnesses, and loving our neighbors.
Actions along this journey are critical now if we’re going to have a additional peaceful tomorrow. At the vigil, 1 of the pastors quoted Jesus’ words in John 14:27, words embodied by these Coptic males with each and every step they took on the beach that day—and words that can encourage us to take our subsequent methods of like: “Peace I leave with you my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the globe offers. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Kent Annan is director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College. He is author, most lately, of You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Mainly because God Very first Loved Us (InterVarsity Press).