In the beginning of the book, Mosebach writes an imagined conversation with a secular Egyptian about the nature of martyrdom. The Doubter, as Mosebach calls his interlocutor, finds the Twenty-One’s refusal to repudiate their religion in order to save their own lives “a bit creepy”. Shouldn’t they have done whatever it took to survive? Isn’t openly accepting death a bad business model for the continued existence of a religion? “It sounds like your peasants from those dumps in Upper Egypt might be the very last Christians,” The Doubter taunts. To which Mosebach responds: “At the moment it may seem so. But if the phrase from the early North African church still holds true—that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’—then perhaps the Twenty-One should not be counted among the very last Christians, but rather among the first.”
It’s a brilliant retort, even if it’s just against his own imagination, and it gives us some sense of what the attitude that Mosebach himself brings to the book. He isn’t a skeptic. He wants to understand. He longs for some firsthand knowledge of the spiritual strength of these people. Mosebach says that in everyone he spoke to, there was no hunger for violent retribution. Neither was there a dull fatalism, an acquiescence to the ‘senseless’ of the act. Of course the act made sense. Of course it had meaning. As Mosebach writes of the beheading video near the beginning of the book, “This video is two things at once: both the documentation of a very real massacre and an allegory of the never-ending struggle between good and evil.” It’s a credit to the Copts that they always maintain this double vision, seeing the the bare act itself as well as the rich spiritual context which gives it meaning. This sometimes manifests in small pronouncements of humility and gratefulness, as when a church leader says to Mosebach:
"We find ourselves in the odd position of being grateful to the Islamist killers for the film with which they documented their acts. Now, instead of relying on potentially contradictory testimonies, we can see it all with our own eyes. Had the killers had any idea of the significance this video would have for the Coptic Church, they probably would not have made it. Far from being intimidating, it gives us courage. It shows us the martyr’s heroic bravery, and the fact that they spent their last moments alive in prayer proves the strength of their fate."
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor