Terrorism

From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

At the time of 9/11, I was living in South Florida and attending an Eastern Orthodox parish in which the majority of the members were, by heritage, either Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time hearing the details of their family stories -- about life in the old country and the forces that pushed them to America.

The key detail: It was never easy living in the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire era, even when times were relatively peaceful. While it was easy to focus on the horrible details of the times of intense persecution, it was important to realize that Christians and those in other religious minorities had learned to accept a second-class status in which they were safe, most of the time, but not truly free.

In other words, the Good Old Days were difficult, but not as difficult as the times of fierce persecution, suffering and death.

Clearly, the rise of the Islamic State has created a new crisis, one that is truly historic in scope -- especially in the Nineveh Plain. The drive to eliminate Christian populations in a region that has been their home since the apostolic era raises all kinds of questions about religious freedom, as well as questions for the USA and other Western states to which these new martyrs will appeal for help.

In recent years, human-rights activists have asked when this phenomenon would receive major attention in elite American newsrooms. The coverage has, in recent years, been on the rise. That said, a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine feature on this topic must be seen as a landmark.
The epic double-decker headline proclaimed:

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?
ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.

There is much that I want to praise in this piece. It's a must-read piece for everyone who cares about religion news in the mainstream press.

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So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

Earlier this week, I pled with readers to pay attention to Washington Post feature about the problems -- that seems like such a weak word in this case -- the Islamic State is causing for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other companies in the freewheeling world of social media.

What's at stake? Well, obviously, there are thousands and thousands of lives at stake. The future of ancient Christian communions are at stake, along with other minority religious groups in the Nineveh Plain and elsewhere in the region.

Oh, right, and the First Amendment is at risk, too. That's all.

I'm happy to report that readers responded and, apparently, passed the URL for that post (here it is again) around online, because it was one of our most highly read articles so far this month. Thank you. It will not surprise you that this topic also served as the hook for this week's "Crossroads" podcast, as well. Click here to tune in on that discussion.

Now, several times during the discussion, host Todd Wilken asked me what I think social-media professionals should do in this situation. What should First Amendment supporters do, as ISIS keeps managing to stay one or two steps ahead of attempts to control their use of technology to spread both their images of violence and, in some ways even worse, their emotionally manipulative and even poetic messages that target the emotions and faith of potential recruits to their cause?

The bottom line: I have no idea. This is one of those times when free speech liberals, such as myself, face the negative side of the global freedoms that digital networks have unleashed in the marketplace of ideas. How do you ban twisted forms if Islam, when other forms of this world faith use the same terms and images in different ways? How can a search engine detect motives and metaphors?

And what about the ability of individual ISIS members to use social media, while acting as individuals? I mean, look at this amazing, horrifying case as reported in The Daily Mail!

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Washington Post's stunning look at ISIS, social media and the First Amendment

Washington Post's stunning look at ISIS, social media and the First Amendment

As a rule, GetReligion readers do not respond well to posts that praise articles in the mainstream press. Readers do not leave comments or rush to share these links with their friends on Facebook or Twitter.

Over the past 11 years, I've spotted similar patterns when I have written posts about articles that are quite long. That's pretty easy to understand, since we are all busy and in this digital age we are bombarded with information from many sources, each competing for our attention.

The folks who do journalism research also know that American readers, as a rule, are not very interested in international news. We are more driven to read stories about conflicts, controversies and culture wars in our own back yard.

I know all of that. However, what you are reading right now is a positive post about a very long article in The Washington Post focusing on the tensions that the Islamic State's campaigns in social media are causing for digital entrepreneurs who are, as a rule, fierce defenders of the First Amendment. Please read this Post article and do that mouse-click thing you can do, passing this URL along to others. This is a very important topic if you care about journalism, free speech and freedom of religion.

Why does it matter so much to me? As faithful readers know, I am -- as a professor -- fascinated with how technology shapes the content of the information in our lives. With that in mind, let me ask this: How many of you have used the online Wayback Machine that allows you to flash back in time and look at archived webpages? Now, how many of you have pondered the impact of the nonprofit Internet Archive in San Francisco on ISIS communications efforts?

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In Chattanooga, journalists ask the obvious question: What role did gunman's religion play?

In Chattanooga, journalists ask the obvious question: What role did gunman's religion play?

The banner headline in today's Chattanooga Times Free Press tells the story:

'Nightmare For Our City'

Here we go again: One more mass shooting. One more devastated community. One more dead gunman who leaves a plethora of unanswered questions in his wake.

Right beside its main story on the four U.S. Marines killed in Thursday's rampage, a Times Free Press sidebar asks the obvious question:

Who was Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez?

But at this point, even the exact spelling of Abdulazeez's first name is unclear: Federal authorities and records gave at least four variations, as The Associated Press reported. While the Times Free Press goes with "Mohammad," and AP uses "Muhammad," The New York Times identifies him as "Mohammod."

The spelling issue aside, however, the suspect's Muslim background and potential ties to Islamic extremists is drawing major media attention, and rightfully so. Much of that coverage relies on a blog tied to Abdulazeez.

This is the headline on a Washington Post report:

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ISIS, Palmyra and glass houses amidst the antiquities of Israel and Sicily

ISIS, Palmyra and glass houses amidst the antiquities of Israel and Sicily

I've been fortunate to spend the past couple of weeks traveling in Israel and, now, Sicily.

Religious and cultural ruins are virtually everywhere I turn, and in Israel, at least, ISIS is never far below the surface of any meaningful discussion. After all, Israel does have the Islamic State lapping at its northeast and southern borders, from where it threatens death and destruction.

Not to mention the fanatical Sunni Muslim group's attempts to become established in Israel itself. Then there's the horrific situation in Sicily involving the many thousands of North African and Middle Eastern refugees desperate to escape ISIS and a variety of other deprivations, and dying by the boatload in the process.

Which brings me to the handwringing in the Western press over what ISIS is doing in the Syrian city of Palmyra. There, ISIS is destroying priceless and, of course, irreplaceable antiquities connected to the region's pre-Islamic past.

This is despicable, the work of barbarians seeking to control minds by rewriting history to their liking. 

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More deaths from Boko Haram: AP and other media step up reporting

More deaths from Boko Haram: AP and other media step up reporting

The new round of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria has gotten fast-reacting coverage from the Associated Press, a testament to the new attention mainstream media have been paying to Muslim extremists.

AP's story is taut and sweeping. In classic wire service style, it packs the horrific summary into the lede:

JOS, Nigeria — A day of extremist violence against both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria killed more than 60 people, including worshippers in a mosque who came to hear a cleric known for preaching about peaceful coexistence of all faiths.
Militants from Boko Haram were blamed for the bombings Sunday night at a crowded mosque and a posh Muslim restaurant in the central city of Jos; a suicide bombing earlier at an evangelical Christian church in the northeastern city of Potiskum, and attacks in several northeastern villages where dozens of churches and about 300 homes were torched.

The article also recaps the violence of the past week -- a week that saw 300-plus deaths at the hands of Boko Haram. It notes that the group has become an affiliate of the Islamic State in Syria. It even names two targeted houses of worship: Yantaya Mosque in Jos and the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Potiskum.

The well-sourced story quotes eight people, including a police official, an emergency coordinator, a community militia leader, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, and witnesses on the street. The latter have some of the most gripping detail, like a man who had just gotten takeout from a restaurant that was bombed: "The restaurant was destroyed, and we saw many people covered in blood. We can't believe that we escaped."

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Tablet explores the ethics of using hungry freelancers in risky war zones

Tablet explores the ethics of using hungry freelancers in risky war zones

As a young J-school student, my goal was to eventually land a job as a staff foreign correspondent for a prestigious newspaper. What could be more fun, more interesting, more exciting, more glamorous? 

I've had many great experiences as a journalist but that fantasy never happened, though I've worked overseas multiple times on an assignment basis or at a foreign publication.

Life takes its own course.

Given today's field tech advances and ease of travel, its arguably easier than ever today to call yourself a foreign correspondent. I don't mean as a full-time staffer, of course. That job is harder than ever to snag as news outlets have dramatically slashed their overseas bureaus and travel budgets to save their dwindling cash. Not to mention that every poll on the subject that I can remember makes clear that Americans, as a whole, prefer domestic to foreign news.

What is easier than ever, however, is to get as much high-tech equipment as you can carry and afford, buy an airline ticket to a news hotspot, call yourself a freelance foreign correspondent -- a stringer, by any other name -- and hustle to sell copy, audio, stills or video to anyone who will have them. 

Problem is, those news hotspots are generally the world's most dangerous locales in which to operate. Chief among them these days, is the chaotic, hyper-dangerous Muslim Middle East -- Yemen, Libya, Egypt, and above all, Iraq and Syria.

That's where Steven Sotloff headed, and he paid for it with his life.

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How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

The 4,600-word story that ran this weekend in the New York Times about how ISIS is -- or was -- recruiting a confused 20-something woman in rural Washington state was so gripping, I read it several times. So much was disturbing: The cluelessness of this young woman; the vapid response by her pastor and the details describing the 24/7 worldwide network of online ISIS recruiters working to get people like this woman to join up.

The article starts off with an eight-minute video that shows “Alex,” her face shaded to remain anonymous.

“The first thing they told me,” she begins, “was I was not allowed to listen to music.” Then her online friends love-bombed her with Tweets, Skype conversations and CARE packages of Islamic literature, head scarves, money and chocolate. These folks don’t want her involved in a local mosque. They want her involved with them. In Syria. Start here:

Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.
For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online -- the most attentive she had ever had -- who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.
One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.
But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

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#CharlestonShooting: Five key angles on the massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina

#CharlestonShooting: Five key angles on the massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina

As we follow ongoing developments in Charleston, S.C., here are five key angles that caught our attention in the last 24 hours:

1. The tip

"I LOVE this story," said GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway. In an email, she told me that it "gets religion." Hey, that's what we're all about!

Kudos to the Shelby Star in Cleveland County, N.C., for reflecting the religion angle in its scoop:

Debbie Dills was running behind Thursday on her way into work at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain.
It was God’s way of putting her in the right place at the right time, the Gastonia woman said.
Dills and her boss, Todd Frady, made the initial calls around 10:35 a.m. that led to the arrest of suspected Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof in Shelby. 

Later in the story, Dills talks more about her faith:

Dills, the minister of music at West Cramerton Baptist Church, said she had been praying for the victims in Charleston since the news broke last night.
“I was in church last night myself. I had seen the news coverage before I went to bed and started praying for those families down there," she said. "Those people were in their church just trying to learn the word of God and trying to serve. When I saw a picture of that pastor this morning, my heart just sank."

The Shelby Star deserves credit for allowing Dills to tell the story in her own words — including the religious angle.

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