It was at one of the dusty stalls, at the end of our tour of the Karnak Temple in Luxor, that we got chatting to the young man with the odd tattoo on the inside of his right arm. It looked like a Celtic cross, but surely it couldn't be - not in Muslim Egypt. And it wasn't. What it was, explained our new friend, was a symbol of his religion, Coptic Christianity.
Actually it was more than a symbol, it was also a mark of protection. In a region where Christians often had cause to complain of persecution, many churches needed to check that those entering were in fact, Christians, and not religious terrorists. I thought of this young man last Tuesday, when news that an 85-year-old priest saying Mass was forced to his knees, on the altar of his church, so religious terrorists could murder him.
The church is situated in the tiny village of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, in France, a place not noted for religious violence since the 16th century Wars of Religion. But this wasn't the first time I had thought of that young Egyptian in the context of religious terror. I remembered him in February of 2015 when Daesh [Isil] released a video of the public beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya. I had remembered him when I saw the hashtag #EgyChurch being used on social media to inform an astonishingly deaf world of the mass destruction of Coptic churches, businesses and homes in Egypt by the "peaceful" Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.
And I had remembered him in 2011 when 23 Coptic Christians were killed at the Maspero Massacre, Cairo, by the Egyptian army and a Salafist mob. Unfortunately, I was not surprised by news of these events, though I was surprised by the reaction - or rather lack of reaction - to them in the West. Christianity has been under attack worldwide in recent decades. "Christians are fast disappearing from entire regions - most notably a huge chunk of the Middle East [and] ... In large part, this migration is the product of an ethnic cleansing," said a report published in October 2015 by the Catholic campaign group that monitors persecution, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Its 2014 report on religious freedom said that, although Muslims also face terrible and systemic persecution … and Jewish communities have also suffered increased threats and violence, Christians were by far the most persecuted faith group.
In 2003 in Iraq, Christians comprised 8pc of the population, today they are less than 1pc. In Syria the Christian population has "lost" two-thirds of its members in the past five years. And while we often hear of the horrors inflicted on the Yazidi people and other minorities targeted by groups like Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra, we seem reluctant, embarrassed even, to look clearly at what is happening to the Christians there and to be outraged by the genocide. Because genocide it is.
The European Parliament this year backed a resolution asserting that Daesh [Isil] was committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic minorities as did the UK parliament, and US Secretary of State, John Kerry.
But the West seems unable to fully confront the possibility that every Christian in the Middle East could be ethnically cleansed from there. Yet the atrocity that shocked us so much last week in Rouen has been occurring all over the Middle East in recent years. For example, do we remember the murder of Fr Thaer Abdal at the altar of the Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad in 2010? No? In total, 57 other Catholics died with him, murdered by an Iraqi faction of Al-Qaeda... but we didn't notice, did we? It's not like they were Muslims being killed by Jews, is it? Then there would have been Western outrage.
So, why do we - and by "we" I mean the liberal West - ignore, or at best give lip service to the annihilation of members of the church in which most of us were reared? Is it because, as the French philosopher Regris Debray said, "the victims are 'too Christian' to excite the Left, and too 'foreign' to excite the Right"? The American Right has belatedly awoken to the fact that there is a genocide of Christians taking place, but it seems that this may be because of their irrational fear of Islam, stoked by the likes of Donald Trump, rather than their love of their "foreign" co-religionists.
The bigoted and racist Muslim-banning Trump declared in April: "We have done nothing to help the Christians in the Middle East.. We left Christians subject to intense persecution and even genocide." But what liberal Westerner wants to admit that the likes of Trump may have a point?
But what is even more relevant about our refusal to acknowledge the plight of Middle Eastern Christians is that it goes against the accepted narrative that the only victims in the wars of the Middle East are Muslim and that this is all our fault. Due to centuries of Western meddling (which completely ignores the impact of the Ottoman Caliphate), Christians are seen as being somehow to blame for their own annihilation.
In a 2015 report the ACN organisation said that "Christians have been targeted [because]... Christianity [is seen] as a foreign 'colonial' import. Christians are seen as linked to the West, which is perceived as corrupt and exploitative." In another report it said that "the Western media has avoided covering the story of the Islamic genocide of Middle East Christians because of 'misplaced embarrassment about the 19th-century colonial powers evangelising the natives in far flung places'."
In effect, our grasp of history is so poor and our colonial guilt so great that we view Middle Eastern Christians, communities which pre-date Islam, as Western imports.
This would imply that we believe the only 'authentic' people of the Middle East to be some type of homogenised Muslim group - despite the fact that there are as many Muslim sects as there are Christian, and that both Jewish and Christian communities have lived in the Middle East for hundreds of years (thousands in the case of Jews) before the birth of Muhammad.
Then there is also the Left's great cause, the Israel/Palestine question with its British/French colonial history and American involvement. Protesting the slaughter of Christians by Muslims is not quite such a righteously attractive cause as fighting Western Imperialism.
What groups like Daesh are trying to recreate is an medieval war of Muslims against Crusader. Obviously no decent Muslim, Christian, Jew or atheist etc wants to ignite a war of religion, but ignoring the ethnic cleansing of an entire faith group is just helping the cause of the religious terrorists.
We may have been able to turn a blind eye to the destruction of the West's mother church in far-away-lands like Egypt, Syria or Iraq, but it is not so easy to ignore it on our doorstep.