Islam

Trying to figure out the 'Why?' in hellish reality of the school massacre in Pakistan

Trying to figure out the 'Why?' in hellish reality of the school massacre in Pakistan

All school shootings force journalists to wrestle with images from hell and the information that poured out of Peshawar, Pakistan, was tragically familiar. Here is part of the barrage from the top of a long report in The Los Angeles Times:

When it was over, 132 children and nine staff members were dead ... at an army-run school in this northeastern city in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s troubled history. Many were shot in the temple at close range. One 9-year-old told his father that a classmate’s head was nearly blown off.

Seven assailants wearing explosives-laden suicide vests fought a daylong gun battle with Pakistani soldiers and police commandos, trapping hundreds of students and teachers in the Army Public School compound where the attackers planted bombs to deter the security forces.

The story is packed with the kinds of details news consumers expect in live, dateline reports from major news scenes. If you want the "who," "what," "when," "where" and "how" of this story, you are going to find it in this Los Angeles Times report and in many similar reports in the mainstream media.

But the "why" is another matter. Many journalists seem to assume that readers already know the "why" part of the equation and leave this crucial information unstated.

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After the horrors in Sydney: How do journalists report the motives of a truly radical, fringe Muslim believer?

After the horrors in Sydney: How do journalists report the motives of a truly radical, fringe Muslim believer?

The horrors that surround hostage dramas are confusing enough on their own. Throw in complex questions about religious faith and terrorism and journalists and this kind of story pushes journalists -- in real time, under unbelievable amounts of pressure -- to their intellectual and personal limits.

Looking back on the Sydney crisis (following the early post by Bobby Ross., Jr.) I am struck by one interesting question that journalists faced and, for the most part, ducked: What was the motive? Why did gunman Man Haron Monis -- the most frequently used of his many names -- do what he did? Lacking the ability to read his mind, what concrete clues were offered during this act of symbolic violence?

A news report from The Daily Beast offered this interesting information, which I did not see repeated in most other mainstream reports:

Monis walked into the café on Monday and took everyone inside hostage. He used some of the captives as human shields and forced others to hold a black flag with white Arabic writing against the window. ...
Monis had been convicted on charges related to offensive letters he sent to the families of Australian soldiers who died serving in Afghanistan. He was out on bail as an alleged accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, as well as a string of 50 indecent and sexual-assault charges in connection to his time as a self-proclaimed spiritual leader.
Monis used a YouTube account to post a series of videos showing hostages reciting his demands, which included the delivery of the black flag of ISIS. He asked “to please broadcast on all media that this is an attack on Australia by the Islamic State,” and to speak to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (YouTube has since removed the videos from the account.)

Yet at the end of this same report, readers were told:

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Hezbollah, Israel, media silence and the PCUSA

Hezbollah, Israel, media silence and the PCUSA

Nowhere has it surfaced in mainstream American press that an Israeli civil rights organization filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS, accusing the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) of violating its tax-exempt status through overt political lobbying, and by violating US anti-terror laws through links with Hezbollah.

Reports have been printed in the religious press (Jewish and Christian), but save for English-language stories in Israeli press, Arutz Sheva 7 and the Jerusalem Post, this story has not captured the interests of editors. 

Perhaps the extensive coverage of the Catholic Church and conservative Protestant lobbying against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Houston sermon scandal has satiated the editors' appetites for First Amendment church/state stories. But it remains odd nonetheless that no one else is discussing a politics-and-religion story that has arisen this time from the “left."

What has been written is pretty good, however. The Jerusalem Post story is a well-crafted piece that shows how one writes a story when one side will not play ball, the reporter has limited information, and is working within space and deadline constraints.

(As an aside, I wrote for the Jerusalem Post for a number of years as one of their London correspondents, but am not now affiliated with the newspaper and do not know the author of the article in question.)

The kernel of the various stories comes from the same, not very well written, press release

Where the Jerusalem Post stands out is in the value it added to the press release. It begins its story in a matter-of-fact tone.

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Islamic extremism role in Australia? Facts sketchy in Sydney hostage crisis

Islamic extremism role in Australia? Facts sketchy in Sydney hostage crisis

As I type this, the possible role of Islamic extremism in the Sydney hostage crisis remains unclear.

 

The latest from The Associated Press:

SYDNEY (AP) -- Five people escaped from a Sydney cafe where a gunman took an unknown number of hostages during Monday morning rush hour. Two people inside the cafe earlier held up a flag with an Islamic declaration of faith that has often been used by extremists, raising fears that a terrorist incident was playing out in the heart of Australia's biggest city.
The first three people ran out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney six hours into the hostage crisis, and two women sprinted from a fire exit into the arms of waiting police shortly afterward. Both women were wearing aprons with the Lindt chocolate logo, indicating they were cafe employees.
As the siege entered its 12th hour Monday night, basic questions remained unanswered. Police refused to say how many hostages were inside the cafe, what they believed the gunman's motives might be, whether he had made any demands or whether the hostages who fled the cafe escaped or were released.
"I would like to give you as much as I can but right now that is as much as I can," New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said. "First and foremost, we have to make sure we do nothing that could in any way jeopardize those still in the building."

The AP report notes:

Television video shot through the cafe's windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass, and two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.
The Shahada translates as "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger." It is considered the first of Islam's five pillars of faith, and is similar to the Lord's Prayer in Christianity. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.

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The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

If there has been one consistent theme over the past decade in GetReligion posts about Islam it has been a complaint that mainstream journalists rarely attempt to wrestle with the religious and even doctrinal content of the debates that are taking place inside the complex world of modern Islam.

Instead, the assumption in most newsrooms seems to be that so-called "moderate," or pro-Western Islam is the true Islam and that more fervent or even radical forms of the faith are "fundamentalist" and thus fake or twisted. Millions of Muslims, of course, are on opposite sides of that debate, which only goes to show that it is simplistic to view this complex and global faith as some kind of monolith.

But what do these debates look like at the human level, at the level of families, local mosques, schools and trips to the local shopping mall? Have you ever been waiting to board an airplane in an American airport and seen a Muslim family with the dad in a suit, the mother in modest clothing with a veil and the children standing behind them -- video games in their hands, hip headphones in place and decked out in clothing fresh off the fad racks at the local mall? What are the debates inside that family?

Journalists at The Washington Post tried to dig into that kind of story the other day with a Chicago-datelined piece about how some typical American Muslim teens ended up trying to flee this apostate land in order to support the goals of the Islamic State. It's clear that this was an attempt to wrestle with questions linked to what experts call "cocooning," the process of trying to keep children in the faith by, as the story says, "shielding" them from as "much American culture as possible by banning TV, the Internet and newspapers and sending them to Islamic schools."

Does this work? In this case, it didn't.

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Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for The Washington Post to believe it, too? 

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classic model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem." My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete or lacking in context. Could it have been written from an editorial mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here?

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It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

IRA ASKS:

Both Jews and Muslims lay religious claim to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary, which has long been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is the basis of their competing claims?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This uniquely and deeply revered religious site in the eastern sector of Jerusalem’s Old City is called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”) by Muslims. Smithsonian magazine says this tract “has seen more momentous historical events than perhaps any other 35 acres in the world,” while The Economist magazine considers it “one of the world’s most explosive bits of real estate.”

That second assertion has been amply underscored in recent months. An expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace tells huffingtonpost.com that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has developed a religious character that was not as explicit in the past.”

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Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Our GetReligion guru, tmatt, likes to complain how news media talk about "generic Christians" in the Middle East. Well, much of the coverage of Saturday's mass murder in Kenya goes one further -- making the victims into generic "non-Muslims."

Here's the lead of the widely used version by the Associated Press:

Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, Al-Shabab, attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan police said.
Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, a survivor told The Associated Press.

AP later says the killers "separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims  — mostly non-Somalis — from the rest." Their source for much of this? A "non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera [who] survived the attack." (Emphasis mine.)

The Los Angeles Times account follows suit in 800 distressingly vague words.  It says the killers "separated Muslims from non-Muslims," then shot the latter. Even when giving background -- saying the attack "follows the pattern of previous terror attacks in Kenya in which Muslims have been spared" -- it's fuzzy on Muslims as opposed to whom.

If the victims' religion made a difference, what was it? Buddhism? Hinduism? The answer should be obvious  to anyone who checks a database like the World Factbook by the CIA: 82.5 percent of Kenyans are Christian. While the nation also includes people of "traditionalist" faiths, and 2.4 percent are "nones," it's safe to say the main targets last weekend were Christians.

Especially when the Times quotes an Al-Shabab spokesman using the term "crusaders":

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When they want your head: Veteran journalist tells risks of Middle East reporting

When they want your head: Veteran journalist tells risks of Middle East reporting

At some point, reporters in the Middle East stopped covering murders and started getting murdered.

Jeffrey Goldberg remembers the turning point in Before the Beheadings, aptly named article in The Atlantic. Goldberg once enjoyed his dangerous beat, covering terrorism and religious wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.  

At least he did, until the danger spread to reporters like himself -- a danger that preceded the killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff this year:

The attacks of 9/11 weren’t the decisive break in the relationship between jihadists and journalists. It was the decision made by a set of extremists in Pakistan to kidnap the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002 that represented a shift in jihadist thought. To his kidnappers, Pearl was not a messenger to the outside world, but a scapegoat to be sacrificed for the sins of his fellow infidels. Murder was becoming their message.

Goldberg describes the paradoxical sense of danger and safety in reporting on various jihad groups. He writes about interviewing terrorist leaders on willingness to use nuclear bombs if available, and on how one even thought the Jews were "from Satan." But the jihadis gave safe passage to reporters, even Jewish ones like Goldberg, in order to tell their stories via news media.

Goldberg describes one such meeting, with Pakistani terrorist Fazlur Rehman Khalil:

I had glimpsed a treacherous and secret subculture, and I was happy, because a reporter’s deepest need is to see what is on the other side of a closed door. In exchange, I would tell people in the West about Khalil and his beliefs. I was appalled by his message, and I wanted readers to understand the horror of it. But Khalil believed he was doing good works, and he wanted the world to celebrate his philosophy. Back then, the transaction worked for both parties. Today, when I think about the meeting, I shudder.

He relates a fellow journalist's attitude: “I used to tell people that as a reporter for an American news organization, it was like we were wearing armor. “People just didn’t go after American reporters.”

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