Islam

Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Once again, we are seeing the dreaded orange jumpsuits on our television screens during the news. Once again, it appears that we have an Islamic State video threatening the lives of hostages, if a Western power does not give the terrorists what they want.

This time, it's Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is facing the threats made by the YouTube-seeking terrorist with the British accent.

And who are the two hostages? What are there stories and, this time around, will journalists dig into the poignant details?

In The Washington Post, readers were told early on:

Japanese officials declined to discuss whether they would consider paying for the release of the hostages: journalist Kenji Goto Jogo and self-styled military consultant Haruna Yukawa.

The Post team doesn't tell us much about Goto, but is truly interested in the details of the story behind the "self-styled" -- what a loaded term -- military consultant.

Goto, 47, a well-respected Japanese journalist, was last heard from Oct. 24. He had told friends he was traveling to Kobane, a flashpoint town on the Turkish-Syrian border, but it is unclear exactly where he was kidnapped while covering Syria’s multiple conflicts.

And Yukawa? That's another story:

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For Supreme Court, it's all about that Muslim beard — or was religious liberty case really about Hobby Lobby?

For Supreme Court, it's all about that Muslim beard — or was religious liberty case really about Hobby Lobby?

Did you hear about the U.S. Supreme Court case involving a Muslim inmate's right to grow a beard for religious reasons? 

In case you missed it, justices ruled unanimously Tuesday in inmate Gregory Houston Holt's favor.

From The Washington Post:

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court, said Arkansas prison officials had violated a federal law passed to protect religious practices from policies set by state and local officials.
Alito said the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does not require a prison to grant religious exemptions simply because a prisoner asks or because other prisons do. But he said Arkansas officials offered no evidence that a short beard presented security risks or could serve as a hiding place for contraband, as the officials once argued.

Most of the media coverage — from CNN, The New York Times and others — seems pretty straightforward.

But give The Associated Press and the Post extra credit for explaining the prisoner's religious reasoning.

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Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

Where will various religions stand in the same-sex marriage church-state showdown?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s April hearing and June ruling on same-sex marriage will be historic for the nation’s religions as well as for partisan politics, law, and society. There’s sharp division in this case among faith groups, and sometimes within them, so reporters will want to carefully monitor the inflow of religious and moral arguments as “friend of the court” briefs are filed in coming weeks.

The court defines two issues: Does the Constitution’s “equal protection” clause require that all states issue same-sex marriage licenses? Does the same clause require that a state recognize all marriages lawfully licensed by other states?

An implicit issue: whether judges or state legislatures and voters have power over contested social policies.

Religious proponents of marriage change are confident of Supreme Court victory and likely to file briefs. They include liberal Jews, Unitarian Universalists, and the Metropolitan Community Churches (whose primary ministry is with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered), along with organizations of atheists and humanists.  Defending traditional marriage  are the the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, evangelical and conservative Protestants, some African-American Protestants, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

But what about the so-called “Mainline” Protestants who’ve lately been shifting -- especially at the level of pulpits and church boards -- in favor of gay couples?

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Preacher Terry Jones -- yes, him again -- on burning scriptures, crispy fries and free speech

Preacher Terry Jones -- yes, him again -- on burning scriptures, crispy fries and free speech

Want to take an interesting and, frankly, rather surprising trip to the front lines in the post-Charlie Hebdo wars over the First Amendment?

Well, the Washington Post offered exactly that in its recent feature story updating the tale of the Rev. Terry Jones -- he isn't granted "the Rev." in this story for some strange reason -- the Florida preacher globally known for trying to burn Korans. The video above is a flashback, of course, to a previous blast of coverage.

What did Jones do to merit coverage, once again? The lede is dead perfect:

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the week began, there was Terry Jones, infamous burner of Korans and the No. 2 target on an al-Qaeda hit list, in plain sight at a Florida mall. Around the world, millions were mourning victims of the massacre in Paris who included another target on the hit list, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, but Jones was at the food court in DeSoto Square running his french fry stand.
The canned music, the display at Vitamin World -- this was the landscape of America’s most brazen offender of Islam, working the counter at Fry Guys Gourmet Fries with a 9mm strapped to his ankle. ...
The 63-year-old preacher has faced hundreds of death threats. He’s got a $2.2 million bounty on his head from the Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa. But until the attacks in Paris, few knew he had just opened a business at a struggling mall on U.S. 41 in Bradenton. When fears of global terrorism were once again stoked, Jones moved back into crusade mode. Fry Guys became a strange pulpit of defiance and chili cheese dogs, and people came to see him for both.

Let me be clear: Other than labeling Jones a "fundamentalist" and moving on, this article isn't all that interested in why the man does what he does and believes that he believes. However, it does offer a surprisingly evenhanded slice of life involving people who are attracted to his public agenda.

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Your weekend think piece: Concerning the ratio of Paris coverage to that of Boko Haram

Your weekend think piece: Concerning the ratio of Paris coverage to that of Boko Haram

I am not a Calvinist, but it became very clear this past week that my "think piece" entry this weekend was predestined to be about this question: Why did the Charlie Hebdo massacre receive so much more coverage than the massacre of thousands of Christians and moderate Muslims in Nigeria?

On Twitter, I tried to point this out with a simple appeal: #IAmANigerianChristian. There weren't many takers.

How bad was this latest wave of death and destruction by Boko Haram? By the end of the week, GetReligion readers were sending in URLs about the fact that the best way to assess the damage was through satellite images. Check this out in The New York Times:

DAKAR, Senegal -- Thousands of buildings were burned, damaged or destroyed in northern Nigerian towns in recent days when Boko Haram militants stormed through, using scorched-earth tactics against civilians, according to a new analysis of satellite images by human rights groups.
In a succession of attacks, fighters from Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgent group that has gripped northern Nigeria and battled the government for years, have swept through a cluster of villages along the shores of Lake Chad in a “systematic campaign of arson directed against the civilian population in the area,” according to Human Rights Watch.
About 57 percent of one town, Doro Gowon, the location of a now-destroyed military base, appears to have been leveled, probably amounting to several thousand residential and commercial structures, Human Rights Watch said.
Amnesty International, which has also analyzed the satellite images, said Thursday that about 3,100 buildings in the town had been damaged or destroyed, demonstrating a “deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt-out ruins.”

How bad was it? Eventually, journalists were so tired of hearing questions about the imbalance between the coverage of these two big stories -- almost always framed as lots of coverage of white, French secularists vs. minimal coverage of black, Nigerian Christians -- that some journalists began to fight back.

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The new (actually rather old) debate: Is it really time for French Jews to flee? Why?

The new (actually rather old) debate: Is it really time for French Jews to flee? Why?

Several times during my years working as a religion-beat reporter in mainstream newsrooms, I heard editors, usually with a moan, say something that sounded like this: "Why in the %*&# is it taking so $%^*&@# long for the leaders of (insert name of religious group here) to make up their mind about whether or not to (make a historic change in this or that doctrine or rite, usually in the name of cultural relevance, often linked to the Sexual Revolution)?"

The problem, of course, was that I had been saying things like: This is a major story. Big issues are at stake and we need to cover it, because XYZ could happen." Then, as often happens, the religious group's leadership would settle for some kind of tiny, subtle victory, after realizing that it was too risky to make a major change and, thus, there were no big headlines.

The bottom line is that radical changes take place very slowly in institutions that are hundreds or thousands of years old and lots of money, property, power and, for many people, eternal truths are at stake. If you are going to cover religion, you have to be patient enough to cover big changes that are taking place over time. This is not a beat for people with short attention spans. I like to say that covering religion news is rather like covering politics and opera at the same time.

This brings us, of course, to the truly historic story unfolding in Jewish neighborhoods in France, where Jews are hitting the exits.

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Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Gol' durn. Do the mainstream media finally "get" papal coverage?

You no doubt recall the circus after Pope Francis answered a question about gays -- “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” -- a circus that is still ongoing in some outlets. But most journos seem to realize their favorite Catholic has not, in fact, rewritten centuries of teaching on sexuality.

Well, we had another near-viral experience this week, when Francis was flying from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. A French reporter asked about religion and free speech, apparently without mentioning the jihadi massacre of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. According to the much-quoted account in the Associated Press, Francis used the example of papal trip organizer Alberto Gasbarri:

"If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

This time, though, most mainstream media didn't seem to freak. AP noted that Francis has also denounced religious violence as an "aberration" and has called on Muslim leaders to speak out against religious extremism.

The Washington Post folds the AP piece into its own report on Francis' remarks. The newspaper then updated its piece with a Vatican statement:

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Three things I liked about The Washington Post's story on French Muslims torn by 'I am Charlie' slogan

Three things I liked about The Washington Post's story on French Muslims torn by 'I am Charlie' slogan

In an excellent story on French Muslims, The Washington Post introduces readers to a different side of Paris. 

The Post steps off the beaten path of reporting in the wake of last week's terror attacks and ventures into a heavily Muslim suburb.

Here's the nut graf (aka the summary up high that tells readers why they should care):

Within France’s Muslim community of some 5 million — the largest in Europe — many are viewing the tragedy in starkly different terms from their non-Muslim compatriots. They feel deeply torn by the now-viral slogan “I am Charlie,” arguing that no, they are not Charlie at all.
Many of France’s Muslims — like Abdelaali (a 17-year-old high school senior) — abhor the violence that struck the country last week. But they are also revolted by the notion that they should defend the paper. By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.

This story succeeds on at least three levels.

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Journalism and blasphemy: Can The New York Times cover Charlie Hebdo images with words, alone?

Journalism and blasphemy: Can The New York Times cover Charlie Hebdo images with words, alone?

So who is forgiving who and for what?

In the world of religion, and human rights, there is one story out there that must be discussed today and that's the post-massacre issue of Charlie Hebdo. The problem, of course, is that print journalists are trying to discuss a visual image -- yet their decision to show, or not to show, the image itself is affecting their coverage.

The New York Times -- one of the key players in this debate -- has a lengthy report on this subject that, to be blunt, quotes an admirable array of experts on what the cover may or may not mean. It's a fine story, in many ways. However, as GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway notes with near fury at The Federalist, where's the art? We'll be back to that in a minute.

Here is how the Times states the crucial issue: What does the cover say?

The cover shows the bearded prophet shedding a tear and holding up a sign saying, “I am Charlie,” the rallying cry that has become synonymous with support of the newspaper and free expression. Above the cartoon on a green background is the headline “All is forgiven.”
While surviving staff members, at an emotional news conference, described their choice of cover as a show of forgiveness, most Muslims consider any depiction of their prophet to be blasphemous. Moreover, interpretations quickly swirled around the Internet that the cartoon also contained disguised crudity.

So forgiveness mixed with, yes, blasphemy. I would also like to raise another question: While the "All is forgiven" statement is not in a thought balloon, is it completely clear who is being forgiven and who is doing the forgiving?

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