Jim Davis

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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NYT tackles Ebola in Liberia, but gives short shrift to spiritual facet

NYT tackles Ebola in Liberia, but gives short shrift to spiritual facet

In a new feature, The New York Times  inspects the specter of Ebola in Liberia. Unfortunately, the religious ghosts stay fairly well concealed.

The 1,700+ article does have its positives, including a lucid narrative of the virus spreading throughout Monrovia, the Liberian capital of 1.5 million. Here's the lede:

The girl in the pink shirt lay motionless on a sidewalk, flat on her stomach, an orange drink next to her, unfinished. People gathered on the other side of the street, careful to keep their distance.
Dr. Mosoka Fallah waded in. Details about the girl spilled out of the crowd in a dizzying torrent, gaining urgency with the siren of an approaching ambulance. The girl’s mother had died, almost certainly of Ebola. So had three other relatives. The girl herself was sick. The girl’s aunt, unable to get help, had left her on the sidewalk in despair. Other family members may have been infected. Still others had fled across this city.
Dr. Fallah, 44, calmly instructed leaders of the neighborhood — known as Capitol Hill, previously untouched by Ebola — how to deal with the family and protect their community. He promised to return later that day, and send more help in the morning. His words quelled the crowd, for the moment.
“This is a horrific case,” he said as he walked away. “It could be the start of a big one right here. It’s a ticking time bomb.”

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Female imams in China: Detail-rich report reveals a little-known Muslim community

Female imams in China: Detail-rich report reveals a little-known Muslim community

Non-mainstream media often live with a compromise: fewer facts and less-professional writing in exchange for promoting their own viewpoint.

Not so with ChinaFile, a project of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. Its  detail-rich, faith-related, enterprising feature story on a little-reporting topic: women's mosques in China that are led by other women.

The work of veteran China writer Kathleen McLaughlin, the story centers on the Hui, an ethnic group in the inland. McLaughlin delivers both a broad overview and personal anecdotes alike. She offers a taste of its three centuries of custom, and even tries to assess its precarious prospects.

And she adds plenty of color, making us almost feel part of the land and the communities. Check this out:

Sangpo, a dusty hamlet about two hours from the capital of China’s landlocked Henan province, is home to about 5,000 people, some 95 percent of whom are Hui Muslims. The Hui, China’s third-largest ethnic minority, number nearly 10 million followers of Islam in China. Many are direct descendants of Arab traders on the Silk Road who married local Chinese women, but the Hui today are mainly identified through their religion rather than by ethnic characteristics.
Packed into this town are six mosques run by women, whose congregants are all female, and only five headed by men—an imbalance the women point out with pride, and a rarity among Muslim communities in China, let alone the rest of the world.

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Why did WaPo run a vague musician profile? It's, well, complicated

Why did WaPo run a vague musician profile? It's, well, complicated

Musician Michael Taylor has a "complicated faith," the Washington Post says. He can slide chords and sing about quests for meaning. Just don’t pin him down.

And the Post's  profile feature on him doesn't try. It collects a lot on the music, family and lifestyle of the indie artist who calls himself Hiss Golden Messenger. His spiritual beliefs, not so much, even though the newspaper headline it "Complicated faith: Searching for God in the songs of Hiss Golden Messenger."

The story reads rather fast despite its 1,600 words. It tells of Taylor's journey from a Southern California upbringing to his current home in Durham, N.C. -- a musical trek from punk to folk-rock to "still-water folk" (a term, however, that isn't defined).

Richards praises Taylor's new album, Lateness of Dancers, though he has trouble pinning down its virtues: "The songs on it feel both ambiguously sweet and deeply personal, but ultimately confident in their own vagueness."

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As Lebanese Christians re-arm themselves, AP writes a powerful account

As Lebanese Christians re-arm themselves, AP writes a powerful account

Finally, tragically, the jihad of the so-called Islamic State and other groups is approaching Lebanon. And a masterful Associated Press newsfeature captures the facts and feelings with admirable sweep.

News of conflicts and atrocities has spread almost as fast as the jihadis themselves, filling Christians in Lebanon with "dread," as AP aptly terms their reaction. "If they come, they will slit our throats for no reason," a rifle-toting villager tells AP.

As the Christians buy guns and take defensive positions, Reporters Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam present intense snapshots and broad brushstrokes alike in this indepth, which reads fast despite its 1,200+ words. Here's an example:

Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria are now sheltering in Lebanon, sensing safety in a pluralistic country which has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. Lebanon is also the only Arab country with a Christian head of state.
But the fear has spread to Lebanon as well. This week, after a video was posted online showing a group of boys burning an Islamic State flag in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut, vandals spray-painted the outer walls of several churches in northern Lebanon with the words: "The Islamic State is coming."
In Qaa and Ras Baalbek, two Christian villages in the northeast, on the border with Syria, the anxiety is palpable. Many of the thousands of expatriates who used to spend the summer here stayed away this year. Restaurants and the villages' main squares were deserted on a recent day.

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Same-sex marriage decision in Louisiana: With AP, it's a pigment of the imagination

Same-sex marriage decision in Louisiana: With AP, it's a pigment of the imagination

All too often, Associated Press articles look like those paint-by-the-numbers pictures. Especially articles about same-sex marriage, like one this week.

Pro-gay viewpoint? (paint, paint) Got that colored in.

Conservative labeling? (brush, brush) Got that one.

Touch of ad hominem? Got that, too.

This time it was Louisiana's turn, with a U.S. district judge upholding the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

AP follows the template in rendering the decision as "a rare loss for gay marriage supporters who had won more than 20 consecutive rulings overturning bans in other states." Not as, say, a rare victory for supporters of the historic understanding of marriage.

The story also brings out a law professor at Loyola New Orleans, who said "she didn't see the ruling as a significant road block." Even if the ruling is upheld on appeal, it will affect "only" three states -- Texas and Mississippi as well as Louisiana.

In one case, AP even appears to contradict its own cited source. Watch this.


It's likely the Texas case will be the first to go to the 5th Circuit, and cases elsewhere likely will reach the Supreme Court before Louisiana's, said Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. Nevertheless, he said, Feldman's ruling is significant.
"It is important, because Feldman is a very experienced federal district judge, and no other federal judge has ruled that way at the trial level," Tobias said in a telephone interview. Feldman was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

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ISIS is the 'in thing' for German jihadis? Please explain, Reuters

ISIS is the 'in thing' for German jihadis? Please explain, Reuters

ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State, whatever it's called this week, is supposed to be the "in" thing, a "more authentic" organization, according to a recent piece from Reuters.

Like how? That's where it gets murky.

There is a link between the successes IS has had so far in Iraq and the activities here in Germany and the propaganda and canvassing activities aimed at young jihadists," said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency.

"The Islamic State is, so to speak, the 'in' thing - much more attractive than the Nusra Front, the al Qaeda spin-off in Syria," the BfV chief told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

"What attracts people is the intense brutality, the radicalism and rigor. That suggests to them that it is a more authentic organization even than al Qaeda," he said. "Al Qaeda fades besides the Islamic State when it comes to brutality."

OK, we get it. ISIS is brutal and radical. All of us who have read stories of their rhetoric, or seen videos of their murders -- including that of Steven Sotloff just yesterday -- have noticed. But ... a "more authentic organization"?

More authentic in terms of loudness or effectiveness? Just maybe. Al-Qaida, the estranged parent of ISIS, has favored big targets like the World Trade Center and the U.S. embassies in eastern Africa. Al-Qaida also hasn't targeted other Muslims and blown up their mosques, as ISIS has.

More authentically religious? Reuters doesn't say. And it's important for Germany to know given the numbers in this story:

 

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Veiled references: Reuters feature doesn't get the hijab done

Veiled references: Reuters feature doesn't get the hijab done

British Muslim women are increasingly wearing head veils, although the faith doesn't require it -- and despite growing attacks targeting them, says a new feature article from Reuters. But the story doesn't prove any of that.

This is the kind of reporting in the lengthy feature on the topic. Starting with 18-year-old Sumreen Farooq, we get:

"I'm going to stand out whatever I do, so I might as well wear the headscarf," said Farooq, a shop assistant who also volunteers at an Islamic youth centre in Leyton, east London.

While just under five percent of Britain's 63 million population are Muslim, there are no official numbers on how many women wear a headscarf or head veil, known as the hijab, or the full-face veil, the niqab, which covers all the face except the eyes. The niqab is usually worn with a head-to-toe robe or abaya.

But anecdotally it seems in recent years that more young women are choosing to wear a headscarf to assert a Muslim identity they feel is under attack and to publicly display their beliefs.

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AP 'chips' away at differences between LDS and 'fundamentalists'

AP 'chips' away at differences between LDS and 'fundamentalists'

Can fundamentalists break with the fundamentals?  (head exploding)

It sounded like that this week when the Associated Press reported two "fundamentalist" Mormon sects practicing polygamy, and one of them getting into winemaking. The real problem, though, was trying to summarize too much.

In both stories, the writer dutifully reports that the "mainstream" Mormon church "strictly prohibits the practice" of plural marriage. But it doesn't say why, or even what the mainstream church is called.

One of the stories deals with a legal ruling in favor of the subjects of that TLC reality show Sister Wives. Kody Brown and his four wives had fled Utah after being threatened with prosecution for their matrimonial tastes. This week, however, a U.S. district judge ruled that the state law against "cohabitation" violated Browns' freedom of religion.

Both sides are now huddling over the prospect of appeals, leaving the rest of us to scratch our heads: Where in the religioverse do the Browns belong? This paragraph doesn't help much:

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