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Open thread on 2011 religion news

How long have I been away from my desk, out on the nation's highways visiting various encampments of family members? Well, so long that I have not had a chance to seek the comments of GetReligion readers on the results of the Religion Newswriters Association poll to determine the top 10 events and trends on the religion beat in 2011 (click here for the full press release).

Comment No. 1: Is it just me, or did anyone else think that the poll results received less ink (digital or analog) this time around? Less coverage than normal?

At the same time, this was clearly a year when there was one event that drew the most mainstream news coverage and the biggest headlines. However, this was also an event that was so important that many editors probably didn't think of it as a religion-beat story, in and of itself.

In other words, this news story was too important to be a religion-news story. Don't you hate it when that happens?

You can sense this paradox in the CNN Belief Blog analysis of the poll results. Here's the top of that essay:

Washington (CNN) -- The killing of Osama bin Laden was voted the top story of the year by the Religion Newswriters Association, beating out Rep. Peter King’s hearing on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims and Catholic Bishop Robert Finn’s failure to report the suspected abuse of a child.

Though on face bin Laden’s death is not a religion story, it created conversation on a number of faith topics, the RNA said.

“Faith-based groups reacted to the terrorist leader’s death with renewed sympathy for victims’ families, scriptural citations justifying the demise of evil, and hopeful prayers for peace among the nations,” stated the RNA release.

In other words, the killing of the world's most famous Islamist radical was not really a religion story, just as bin Laden's career was not really rooted in his religious worldview and his interpretation of Islam?

Also, this year's poll results were, for me, a clear, but painful, illustration of harsh reality in the news biz. Some events are big stories because they are big stories. Other stories are not as important to editors because they are not as important to readers, even if the consequences of these stories may be greater in the long run.

That's how I felt about bin Laden's death. I mean, everyone knew that U.S. officials were going to find him sooner or later. It's also easy to argue that his real power, his power to shape world events, had already declined sharply during his years in hiding.

Meanwhile, other bloody events were taking place in Pakistan during 2011 that I was convinced offered sharp, clear insights into the confused state of affairs in that tense, confused and potentially deadly land.

Thus, I focused my Scripps Howard News Service column on a pair of events that didn't even make it into the RNA top 10 list. Instead, they drifted all the way down to the No. 16 slot. Thus, while opening with bin Laden's death, I quickly offered this summary of these other religion-news events that I am convinced were the year's most poignant and, perhaps, significant:

... (When) I think about religion news events in 2011, another image from Pakistan flashes through my mind -- a shower of rose petals.

I am referring to the jubilant throngs of lawyers and demonstrators that greeted 26-year-old Malik Mumtaz Qadri with cheers, rose petals and flowers as he arrived at an Islamabad courtroom to be charged with terrorism and murder. Witnesses said Qadri fired 20 rounds into Salman Taseer’s back, while members of the security team that was supposed to guard the Punjab governor stood watching.

Moderate Muslim leaders, fearing for their lives, refused to condemn the shooting and many of the troubled nation’s secular political leaders -- including President Asif Ali Zardari, a friend and ally of Taseer -- declined to attend the funeral. Many Muslim clerics, including many usually identified as “moderates,” even praised the act of the assassin.

Calling himself a “slave of the Prophet,” Qadri cheerfully surrendered. He noted that he had killed the moderate Muslim official because of Taseer’s role in a campaign to overturn Pakistan’s blasphemy laws that order death for those who insult Islam, especially those who convert from Islam to another religion.

A few weeks later, Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs -- the only Christian in the national cabinet -- died in another hail of bullets in Islamabad. Looking ahead, Shahbaz Bhatti had recorded a video testimony (see video with this post) to be played on Al-Jazeera in the likely event that he, too, was assassinated.

”When I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia laws, for the abolishment of blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized — persecuted Christian and other minorities — these Taliban threaten me,” said Bhatti, who was immediately hailed as a martyr by Catholic bishops in Pakistan. “I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.”

Meanwhile, the gunmen tossed pamphlets near Bhatti’s bullet-riddled car that threatened him by name and stated, in part: “From the Mujahideen of Islam, this fitting lesson for the world of infidelity, the crusaders, the Jews and their aides … especially the leader of the infidel government of Pakistan, Zardari. … In the Islamic Sharia, the ruling for one who insults the Prophet is nothing but death.”

So, GetReligion readers, do you have any comments on the RNA poll? Did you see any other coverage of the year's top religion-news events that you want to share, via URLs in our comments pages? Tee off.

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