Islam

Here we go again: What does 'moderate' mean in today's Syria warfare?

Here we go again: What does 'moderate' mean in today's Syria warfare?

Several years ago, I was asked to travel to Prague to speak to the newsroom staff at Radio Liberty. The topic: Efforts to improve news coverage.

However, once I was there it became clear to me that some members of the staff wanted me to discuss a much more specific topic. Thus, I ended up in a small room with a circle of Muslim journalists linked to radio broadcasts into Afghanistan and surrounding regions. The key question: Why do American journalists insist on using "fundamentalist" and "moderate" as labels to describe Muslims, since these are terms never used by members of that faith? Don't they know these labels are offensive?

One journalist said, and I paraphrase: Do Americans basically use "fundamentalist" to describe Muslims that they don't like and "moderate" to describe Muslims that they do like?

I said: "Yes." What to do? Instead of accepting these labels, I urged them to try to use quotes that showed where different Muslim leaders stood in relation to the issue or issues being covered in a particular story. Show the spectrum of belief, in practice.

Oh, and I also read the following passage from that famous "Preserving Our Readers' Trust" self study of The New York Times self study published in 2005 (and quoted many times here at GetReligion):

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'Where's the beef!?' in TV station's report on Oklahoma petition asking Muslims to 'go home'

'Where's the beef!?' in TV station's report on Oklahoma petition asking Muslims to 'go home'

"It certainly is a big bun."

"It's a very big bun."

"A big, fluffy bun."

"It's a very big, fluffy bun."

Readers of a certain age will remember the old Wendy's commercial in which two gray-haired ladies admire the size of a hamburger bun, while a third woman asks the obvious question about the tiny patty: "Where's the beef!?"

I was reminded of that question when I saw an Oklahoma television station's report on a purported petition in my home state asking Muslims to "go home." I avoid as much local TV news as I can, so I came across the story link via Tennessee-based Godbeat guru Bob Smietana's Twitter feed.

The top of the story:

DEL CITY, Okla. – A metro woman says fear about her religion led to an unusual encounter this week.
The Muslim woman says a woman asked her to sign a petition asking that all Muslims “go home.”
The run-in took place this week outside a gas station in Del City.
“Muslims are a peaceful people,” said Deb Beneta. “I wish people would see us as humans and not this mythical Muslim monster.”
Unfortunately for Deb, fear of the religion may be near an all-time high.

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Why the press silence about persecution by radical Islamists in the West?

Why the press silence about persecution by radical Islamists in the West?

The harassment of Christians of Middle Eastern extraction in the West by immigrant Muslim extremists appears to be one of the unexplored angles in the unfolding Islamist story.

While the press is quick to run stories warning of a backlash against Muslims in the West in response to the actions of their coreligionists here and abroad, we seldom see serious reporting on incidents that are happening in Europe, America and Australia.

A wire service story from the AAP (Australian Associated Press) run by the Guardian last week left me frustrated by its lack of detail. The story entitled "Two teens charged after death threats allegedly screamed at Christian school" reported:

Two teenagers have been charged after death threats were allegedly screamed at a Christian school in Sydney’s west. A 14-year-old was in the front passenger seat of a red hatchback when he allegedly began yelling abuse outside the Maronite College of the Holy Family in Harris Park on 16 September. Onlookers said the boy and the car’s driver threatened to "kill the Christians" and slaughter their children while brandishing an Islamic State flag out the window.

The article goes on to say the two were arrested, but offers no further details. What is the Maronite College of the Holy Family? Who attends this school? Who made these remarks? 

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Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

For some reason, I got a bit fired up during the recording of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in). The subject wasn't all that controversial, but it really got under my skin. We were talking about my recent post on the topic of the spiritual wanderers called the Baby Boomers (talkin' 'bout my generation) and the trend toward "green funerals." 

Now, that is a topic that has interested me for several decades -- dating back to when I taught as "Communicator on Culture" at Denver Theological Seminary (right after my exit from full-time religion-beat reporting at The Rocky "RIP" Mountain News).

At that time, 1991-93, America was still in the (a) New Age religion era, while also (b) experiencing a wave of death-and-dying movies at the local multiplex (biggest hit, of course, was "Ghost"). Thus, I led a seminar on "The Good Death" and how traditional Christian views on the subject were not what was being sold at the local shopping mall (or most funeral homes).

The main takeaway from the seminar was that the spiritual adventures of the 1960s era were leading Americans in all kinds of different directions, from Eastern religions to traditional forms of Christianity and Judaism, from Oprah spirituality to damned-if-I-don't secularism. There was, in other words, no one trend dominating the death-and-dying landscape.

That was true then and I would argue it's still true today, which is why the recent Washington Post report on "green funerals" bugged me so much.

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Schoolgirl jihadis: The Guardian does an extraordinary report on a horrific trend

Schoolgirl jihadis: The Guardian does an extraordinary report on a horrific trend

Muslim terrorists are doing more than beheading men. They're also reaching into Europe and the United States, coaxing teenage girls to sneak away, travel to the Middle East and marry jihadis -- and occasionally pose for photos, brandishing AK-47s.

There has been tons of coverage of this issue in advocacy publications, with The Daily Beast leading the way with its whole "bedroom jihad" wave of digital ink. Now, this angle and more has been captured in an extraordinary newsfeature in The Guardian, which fielded six reporters to scan the tragedy in five nations: France, Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The 3,000-word story is sweeping yet precise, penetrating yet personal. And rather than sensationalistic adjectives and metaphors -- the favored tools of tabloid papers -- The Guardian lets the horrific facts speak for themselves:

Girls as young as 14 or 15 are travelling mainly to Syria to marry jihadis, bear their children and join communities of fighters, with a small number taking up arms. Many are recruited via social media.
Women and girls appear to make up about 10% of those leaving Europe, North America and Australia to link up with jihadi groups, including Islamic State (Isis). France has the highest number of female jihadi recruits, with 63 in the region – about 25% of the total – and at least another 60 believed to be considering the move.

For now, the known numbers of "schoolgirl jihadis," as The Guardian calls them, are small: 63 from France, 60 from the U.K., 40 from Germany,  14 from Austria. (Astonishingly, the U.S. apparently has no matching numbers.) What sells this story is the emotional shock of seemingly content girls reading blogs, connecting via Facebook, and deserting their loved ones. And at least one expert says the reported cases may be only the "tip of the iceberg."

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Ah! It's easier to cover 'religious liberty' stories when they are not about sex?

Ah! It's easier to cover 'religious liberty' stories when they are not about sex?

Ah, good times. Today we get to praise some mainstream news reports about a major religious liberty story -- as opposed to a news story that is about "religious liberty."

Why is this the case? It would appear that it is much easier to see religious liberty conflicts as religious liberty conflicts when they are not the result of collisions between the doctrines of the Sexual Revolution and the moral doctrines claimed (and, of course, to a lesser degree practiced) by most religious believers on Planet Earth.

In other words, take clashes between sex and most traditional forms of religion out of the equation and, it appears, mainstream journalists are able to listen to people on both sides of issues linked to basic First Amendment rights.

So, want to see some interesting, informed, coverage of a religious liberty case at the U.S. Supreme Court? Click here for the Religion News Service coverage of Abdul Maalik Muhammad and his right to grow a beard after his conversion to Islam. During court testimony, the justices pushed back on this case for an interesting reason -- the case was too easy.

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Time searches for red line between good religious liberty and bad religious liberty

Time searches for red line between good religious liberty and bad religious liberty

Day after day, that must-read Religion News Service email digest offers readers an interesting collection of links to news about religion, politics, entertainment, gossip and sex -- almost always delivered with some wit, which veers off into snark, from time to time.

That's fine, since your GetReligionistas appreciate the occasional bit of snark, especially when a news product is clearly defined as commentary. Anyway, here is a timely sample: 

Now that most people in the country live in states that allow gay marriage, and it looks as if the momentum for same-sex marriage is growing yet stronger, those who oppose it are searching for a new front, writes Reuters. Many of them have found it in a fight for “religious freedom,”defined in some cases as the right not to bake a wedding cake for lesbians.

Or the right of a lesbian Episcopalian -- as a matter of conscience and doctrine -- to refuse to do photography for a Catholic ministry that encourages gays and lesbians to live chaste lives, in keeping with Catholic teachings. Or whatever. You know, that whole First Amendment thing.

Anyway, it is clear that some journalists are struggling to find that bright red line between good religious liberty and bad religious liberty.

That task used to be so much easier, when it was simply neo-Nazis fighting for the right to march through a Chicago suburb full of elderly Holocaust survivors. Now you have poverty-fighting nuns trying to avoid paying for birth control that violates the Catholic doctrines that define their own ministry. Times are tough.

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Yo, Washington Post editors: Spot the religion ghost in that Syrian refugee crisis

Yo, Washington Post editors: Spot the religion ghost in that Syrian refugee crisis

Of the many agonizing news stories linked to the rise of the Islamic State, I have -- as an Eastern Orthodox Christian -- been paying quite a bit of attention to those focusing on the Jihadist persecution of a number of different groups of "infidels" and "crusaders." Click here, if you wish, for my Universal syndicate column on that topic.

This renewed persecution, especially the crushing of religious minorities in the Nineveh Plain region, has led to yet another wave of refugees fleeing ahead of the judges, swords and tanks of the Islamic State. In the case of the faithful in Christian flocks, it is logical to ask if these believers will ever be able to return to their destroyed homes, businesses and irreplaceable ancient sanctuaries.

In other words, will these refugees eventually need to seek asylum in new lands, perhaps noting that their lives are at risk because of their minority-faith status?

As you would imagine, I read with great interest the recent Washington Post report that ran under the headline, "U.S. to greatly expand resettlement for Syrian refugees.

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In beheading case, The Oklahoman digs and uncovers the crucial, sometimes conflicting details

In beheading case, The Oklahoman digs and uncovers the crucial, sometimes conflicting details

In a recent post, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly highlighted the post-9/11 tensions faced by journalists covering the Oklahoma beheading case. Tmatt noted certain national news organizations' tendency to focus on a particular news template, be it "workplace violence" or "global terrorism."

But he pointed out the importance of reporters digging into the case — and the suspect's background — without prejudice.

The goal: producing the crucial basic facts.

In following national media reports, tmatt has found most news organizations relying almost exclusively on police, prosecutors and prison officials for their portrayals of the beheading suspect. See this Washington Post story, for example.

Here in Oklahoma, though, The Oklahoman has focused on peeling back every possible layer of the onion. In ongoing, front-page coverage, the Oklahoma City newspaper has approached the story from a variety of perspectives, including Muslim leaders as well as the suspect's relatives, friends and neighbors.

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