Terrorism

And now for something completely different: Let's pause to praise Rolling Stone on ISIS

And now for something completely different: Let's pause to praise Rolling Stone on ISIS

If you have followed the journalism wars over the Rolling Stone anti-story on the University of Virginia and the mystery rape, you know that this openly liberal advocacy publication has taken a few gazillion valid shots in recent weeks.

However, I'd like to point GetReligion readers toward a very different long read in RS -- "The Children of ISIS" -- that focuses on those three Chicago-area teens who tried to flee the United States to join forces with the Islamic State (lots of mainstream coverage in this file), but were caught at the airport. We are talking about Mohammed Hamzah Khan and his younger brother and sister.

Now, this Rolling Stone piece does have its quirks when it comes to hint, hint, hinting that much of the blame for this sad story can be pinned on the parents who, well, were maybe a bit too faithful to their faith and protective of their children, in the same way that you can imagine this magazine going after homeschooling parents in other cultures. We'll come back to that.

But praise for the story? Yes. It has lots of on-the-record voices and info and, to my shock, it probably takes the details of Islamic faith more seriously than similar mainstream-news stories I have seen -- including a solid thesis that notes that it's hard, in postmodern America, for the young to practice traditional forms of faith, period. Here's where things start:

On the day he planned to make his sacred journey, or hijra, to the Islamic State, 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan woke up before dawn at his house in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois, and walked to the nearby mosque to pray. It was Saturday, October 4th, 2014, an unusually cold morning, though Hamzah, a slender young man with a trimmed black beard, was dressed for warmer weather in jeans, boots and a gray sweatshirt. By sunset, he'd be gone for good: leaving his parents, his friends, his country and all he knew for an unknown future in the "blessed land of Shaam," as he called Syria. He would be taking his teenage brother and sister with him. Allahu Akbar, he prayed with the men in his family, and tried to banish his doubts: "God is great." ...
"An Islamic State has been established, and it is thus obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate," Hamzah had written in a letter he left for his parents, explaining why he was leaving the comforts of suburbia for the khilafah, or caliphate. "I cannot live under a law in which I am afraid to speak my beliefs."

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AP covers basics on ISIS killing Ethiopian Christians -- but that Baltimore Sun headline?

AP covers basics on ISIS killing Ethiopian Christians -- but that Baltimore Sun headline?

When major international stories break -- such as the 29-minute video claiming to show the Islamic State executions of Ethiopian Christian laborers -- it's normal for elite organizations to be able to respond relatively quickly with quality work. That is, if the editors have the desire to do so.

Journalists deserve praise when they get the job done. That was the purpose of my quick post noting the early New York Times story by veteran David Kirkpatrick, in particular for his clear presentation of the ISIS language that made it impossible to duck the religious content of this latest blood-soaked media op.

In the end, that led me to a strong analysis quote from John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux about the "silver lining," if there is one, in the rise of ISIS. I repeat the key language here because I think it was brave of him to be blunt about the blind spot that has affected the actions of many American elites -- think journalists and diplomats, primarily -- when it comes to denying the importance of stories about the persecution of Christian minorities around the world.

The point is not that Christians deserve special privileges, or that they’re the only ones at risk. It’s rather that for a long time, the threats they face couldn’t penetrate Western consciousness, where the typical American or European is more accustomed to thinking of Christians as the authors of religious persecution rather than its victims.

Now, most Americans in ordinary zip codes read newspapers and websites that depend on wire-service copy for this kind of report, information that may run a news cycle or even two behind the top global newsrooms (or international papers, in general). Thus, it is crucial to take a look at what moves on the Associated Press.

In this case, AP got the job done. But wait to see the headline that The Baltimore Sun editors went with on a story well inside the newspaper.

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ISIS silver lining: Can our elites (journalists included) still deny persecution of Christians?

ISIS silver lining: Can our elites (journalists included) still deny persecution of Christians?

If you follow issues of human rights and religious freedom abroad, you will surely recall the recent incident in which the Islamic State released that video showing the execution of 20 Egyptian Coptic believers and one Ghanian man whose identity is harder to pin down. All have been declared martyrs for the faith.

Readers may also recall that there was a bit of controversy when the public statement about this tragedy released by the White House, speaking for President Barack Obama, merely condemned the "despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens."

Citizens? The Islamic State executions had been very specific in saying that their victims were chosen because of their connection to "crusaders," the "hostile Egyptian church" and the "Nation of the Cross."

Citizens?

Now there is this new vision of martyrdom, as noted in quite a few mainstream reports today. This material comes from the veteran correspondent David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times foreign staff, who is known for "getting religion" in the world around him:

The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from affiliates in southern and eastern Libya executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.

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Baltimore Sun editors: All news is local and when covering Middle East think 'Orthodox'

Baltimore Sun editors: All news is local and when covering Middle East think 'Orthodox'

There is this old-school saying in journalism that I have, on occasion, been known to quote to the editors of The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that currently lands in my front yard: "All news is local."

In other words, when major news is happening somewhere in the world, it is perfectly normal for journalists to seek out ways in which this news is affecting people in the community and region covered by their newsroom. If a tsunami hits Southeast Asia, journalists in Baltimore need to find out if anyone from their city was killed or if anyone local is gearing up to take part in relief efforts for the survivors.

All news is local. Thus, I was not surprised when the Sun team produced a story focusing on local relief agencies that are active in the regions being affected by the brutal rise of the Islamic State.

Alas, I was also not surprised when the Sun newsroom -- as it has done in the past -- missed a major local angle in the story, and a very intense, emotional angle at that. Hold that thought.

The story starts off with the giant relief agency that simply must be covered:

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Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

When social media do nothing about terrorism, the critics complain. And when the social media do something, the critics complain.

"Some guys do nothing but complain," as Rod Stewart, well, complained.

But it's true with Twitter's fight against terrorism, according to a New York Times story. The microblog firm just announced it had suspended about 10,000 Islamic State accounts for "tweeting violent threats." It's just a tiny fraction of the estimated 90,000 such accounts linked to Islamic State -- which, the newspaper points out, is also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh -- but it sounds like a decent start.

Users who also oppose ISIS, though, accuse Twitter of a weak p.r. stunt that does nothing to halt the hate online.  The objections, and Twitter's answers, are part of this fairly short, 535-word story.

But the Times takes the risky route of using only unnamed sources for this piece. It also risks imbalance in focusing solely on what Twitter is doing and ignoring the kind of hatred Twitter is trying to stem.

Evidently, the social media giant is increasingly sensitive about its image. According to the Times, the firm has long fought efforts to misuse its system:

The suspensions came against a backdrop of rising criticism that Twitter has allowed the Islamic State to exploit the social network to spread propaganda, glorify violence and seek recruits.
Twitter previously acknowledged suspending as many as 2,000 ISIS-linked accounts per week in recent months.
The Twitter representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, attributed the surge of suspensions in part to a widely publicized effort by ISIS opponents, including some hacking groups and online vigilantes, to expose suspect accounts and report them as violators.

The Times acknowledges a dilemma faced by Twitter, which seeks to promote free speech yet snuff out talk that leads to murder. Curiously, the article doesn't use the term "hate speech," although ISIS' threats would certainly seem to qualify.

I liked the lore in this story, like an alliance of ISIS opponents -- "including some hacking groups and online vigilantes" -- that find and report the online terrorists.  Some of the users worry that the account deletions will make it harder to watch the terrorists, although others applaud Twitter for trying to "deny ISIS a social media platform."

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New York Times team attends one of the first funerals in Kenya, with eyes open

New York Times team attends one of the first funerals in Kenya, with eyes open

The massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya is now fading into media memory, which is not the case for those of us who continue to be haunted by photos and stories that circulate on Twitter and Facebook among human-rights activists who are growing increasingly concerned about the persecution of the church in Africa and the Middle East.

For the most part, journalists around the world spotted the religious themes in this hellish drama -- with stunning exceptions like the early coverage in The Washington Post.

I was left asking one question: Would this story have received more coverage in television news if someone, early on, had accurately called this the "Holy Week massacre"? There was, after all, evidence that the al-Shabaab gunmen specifically targeted a pre-Easter worship service that had been announced on campus. The bloodbath took place on Maundy Thursday, for Catholics and Protestants in the churches of the West.

Sometimes, all reporters have to do to cover the religion angles in this kind of story is open their eyes and ears and take notes.

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It's past time for New York Times to correct report that beheaded American converted to Islam

It's past time for New York Times to correct report that beheaded American converted to Islam

"Is it a fact?"

That was the simple question GetReligion asked back in October after The New York Times reported that Islamic State beheading victim James Foley — an avowed Catholic — made a "sincere" conversion to Islam before his death.

Four months later, we revisited the issue when the Times produced an in-depth piece seriously exploring Foley's faith and asking many of the questions that its first story failed to acknowledge. We noted that the second piece linked to GetReligion's post questioning the original report.

Now, the Times is facing more heat for its handling of Foley's faith — this time from the victim's brother. The newspaper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, addresses the issue in her Sunday column.

Sullivan writes:

I was drawn into this subject when I received a letter in February from Michael Foley, the younger brother of James Foley, an American journalist in Syria kidnapped in 2012. Last summer, he was the first of the Americans held hostage by ISIS to be murdered, his beheading recorded in a horrific video seen worldwide.
Michael Foley contends that Times articles portrayed his brother inaccurately — particularly when they depicted him as an enthusiastic convert to Islam and as someone who had been repeatedly waterboarded and routinely beaten. He also takes issue with the description of American and British hostages being singled out for extra abuse. Those things aren’t true, he says, and The Times should correct the record.

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Hey Washington Post editors: Did al-Shabaab say its goal was to kill Christians in Kenya?

Hey Washington Post editors: Did al-Shabaab say its goal was to kill Christians in Kenya?

Sad, but true. Mainstream European newspapers, as a rule, pay much more attention to foreign news than their American counterparts (unless, of course, a particular story involves Americans who are overseas). In recent years, it also seems that European newspapers are being much more candid about the role that religion plays in many international stories.

Want to see an example? Let's contrast two examples of coverage of the hellish Holy Week massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya, one from England and one from America. Let's start with The Telegraph, and then look at the main story in The Washington Post, which seems to have buried some key details.

At least 147 people have been killed after Islamist terrorists attacked a Kenyan university, singling out Christian students to murder.
A five-man cell of the Somali-based al-Shabaab group stormed into halls of residence at Garissa University College, 200 miles east of the capital Nairobi, Thursday morning, shooting at students before taking others hostage. ...
Many of those who had been killed had their throats cut, according to one source who had spoken to morgue workers. The report could not be immediately verified.
Security analysts feared that the gang intended to keep their remaining hostages overnight ahead of further violence on Friday, to maximise attention for their attack during the Easter holidays.

That is terribly blunt stuff. I thought it was crucial that -- consistent with the vast majority of reports in world media -- the Telegraph editors made the decision to put the word "Christian" in the lede and also, within a few paragraphs, to note the rather obvious Easter-holiday timing factor in the attack.

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Church bombings in Pakistan: Mainstream media provide powerful coverage

Church bombings in Pakistan: Mainstream media provide powerful coverage

Mainstream media have often been accused of caring more about the persecution of other religions than Christianity. But with the horrendous suicide bombings of two churches in Pakistan yesterday, they focused a welcome spotlight.

One of the punchiest ledes is in one of the earlier reports -- by the Wall Street Journal, filing just before 6 a.m. eastern time yesterday:

ISLAMABAD—Twin suicide bombings at two churches in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 13 people, including two policemen, and wounded more than 65 people on Sunday, police officials said.  
The back-to-back blasts shook the majority Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad as churches in the area held prayer services, police officials said. Emergency-services officials said several of the wounded are in critical condition and the death toll is expected to rise.

The Journal, unfortunately, was right: Most reports through the day placed the deaths at 14, with 70-80 injured.

Special kudos go to the Times of India for its detail-rich coverage. The newspaper did such street-level reporting as:

The first suicide bomber detonated his strapped-explosives outside the main gate of St John's Catholic Church after the security guard prevented him from entering the church where Christian families had gathered for Sunday service, a senior police officer. The second blast occurred minutes later in the compound of Christ Church.

The article then tells of the Christian protests who turned violent, including the attacks on two men suspected of taking part in the church attacks:

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