The Power of Rumors, Cairo Edition

Christian-Muslim violence in Cairo threatens to spin out of control. Twelve people dead yesterday, two churches burned, and no particular reason to think the government can put a lid on it. It's terrible, and also fascinating to see how the violence unfolds. Over the weekend, it unfolded the old-fashioned way -- with a rumor that Christians were holding a Muslim woman against her will: Here is part of David Kirkpatrick's report:

Like many recent episodes of Muslim-Christian violence here, the strife started with rumors about an interfaith romance and a woman's abduction. According to a police report, a Muslim named Yassim Thaabet Anwar from a city up the Nile had come to Imbaba looking for his wife. He said she was a former Christian from the neighborhood who had converted to Islam in 2010 but had recently disappeared. And he asserted she had been kidnapped and held in the Church of St. Mina against her will -- a pattern of allegations that has recurred in several recent high-profile episodes of sectarian conflict.

Christians in the neighborhood said that there was no such woman in the church, and, by Sunday night, the local police and government officials agreed.

But early Saturday evening, Christian men in the neighborhood began receiving phone calls from friends warning that a group of Salafis was approaching the church. More than 500 raced to defend it, armed with sticks, knives and other makeshift weapons, according to Christian residents and the police report.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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