The Christmas season of believers in another country has been ruined. Year-end roundups have been celebrating the supposed revolutionary potential of social media, and the supposed blessings of the “Arab Spring”, but this says nothing for either phenomenon…

Around 200 Coptic Christians and Muslims clashed in a southern Egyptian province after a drawing depicting the Prophet Muhammad was posted on a local Christian student’s Facebook page.

Troops sealed off several flashpoint villages after angry residents in the province of Assiut, 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Cairo, burnt seven Coptic homes in reaction to the drawing.

Seven houses for a drawing? Hmm. They can’t have “liked” that.

In strict terms, of course, it was a “clash”, but I’m not sure that an event that started with these Muslims intending to punish Copts and ended up with 7 of the latter’s homes destroyed is fairly summarised by the term. It makes it sound too balanced. This, in fact, is a linguistic habit of journalists that’s bugged me for some time. There was the “clash” at Maspero this October that ended with 26 Copts dead; there was the subsequent “clash” that involved protesting Christians being hailed with stones. Earlier this year there was a “clash” that involved the burning of a church in Cairo; a “clash” that ended with the burning of another church; a “clash” that followed the suicide bombing of – yes – another church.

I’m not offering dark insinuations here – these “he burned”/”she burned” pieces come in daily from all corners of the globe and I can empathise with journalists who don’t feel willing to explore the dynamics at play – but the aloof reportage does seem to omit the fact that these aren’t just sectarian squabbles but, more often than not, elements of a trend of vicious persecution of Egyptian Copts. If they’ve been attacking Mosques and torching Muslim villages I can’t have noticed it – it seems to me like all the aggro is coming from the other way. That’s why – like Christians in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere – Copts have been fleeing Egypt in their thousands.

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