Terrorism

Memory eternal: Human-rights activist and, yes, Christian journalist Kenji Goto is gone

Memory eternal: Human-rights activist and, yes, Christian journalist Kenji Goto is gone

First there was the beheading of Haruna Yukawa, a military consultant who had -- by all accounts -- lived a unique, if not troubled, life leading him the Middle East as a military consultant. Now, it certainly appears that veteran journalist Kenji Goto has also been beheaded, on video.

Who is Goto? What is the media reporting about his life? As I noted in my first post on this topic, the force at the heart of Goto's life and work depends on the publication that you read. If you look in conservative and Christian media, you will see language similar to the following from the Christian Broadcast Network:

The slaying of Goto, a devout Christian and  freelance reporter whose work focused on refugees, children and other victims of war, shocked this country, which until now had not become directly embroiled in the fight against the militants.
 
"I feel indignation over this immoral and heinous act of terrorism," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters after convening an emergency Cabinet meeting. "When I think of the grief of his family, I am left speechless," he said. "We are filled with deep regret."

Was this simply an issue of Christians mourning the loss of a fellow Christian, who just happened to be a veteran and respected journalist? Well, maybe not.

Consider the following material -- a lengthy passage from the English-language website of The Japan Times:

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Passing the 'Shrek' test: USA Today peels back the Catholic layers on Boston bombing trial jury

Passing the 'Shrek' test: USA Today peels back the Catholic layers on Boston bombing trial jury

It's been a while since I quoted "Shrek." 

But every now and then, I like to recount one of my favorite scenes in the original movie. It's the one in which the title character explains that "there's a lot more to ogres than people think."

"Example?" Donkey responds.

“Example … uh … ogres are like onions,” Shrek says, holding up an onion that Donkey sniffs.

More of the dialogue:

Donkey: “They stink?”
Shrek: “Yes. ... No!”
Donkey: “Oh, they make you cry?”
Shrek: “No!”
Donkey: “Oh, you leave ‘em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.”
Shrek (peeling an onion): “No! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.”

I've used this analogy before, but too many news stories lack layers.

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Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

I am in the middle or writing a pair of "On Religion" columns about the recent "Getting Religion" conference in Westminster, England, led by the Open University and the Lapido Media network that promotes religious literacy in the press and in diplomatic circles. Click here to read the first of those Universal syndicate columns, if you wish:

However, the main thing that I wanted to share with GetReligion readers -- especially working journalists -- is this video that was shown as part of the conference. No, I wasn't there (my final semester here at the Washington Journalism Center was starting right about that time), but I certainly wish that I could have gone.

What was the general thrust of this event? Here are some crucial background quotes, the first drawn from published remarks (.pdf here) by Richard Porritt, a former top editor at The London Evening Standard and the British Press Association wire service.

Let this soak in, as a statement about UK media (and elsewhere):

A journalist who is not confident about the facts is dangerous. And with a specialism like religion mis-reporting can lead to widespread misunderstanding. For too long religious affairs -- as editors deem fit to call the specialism -- has been a job palmed off on reporters. It is a role that has traditionally been dodged by the cream of the newsroom for specialisms thought to be more glamorous or hard-hitting. But there is no more vital role in a modern society cluttered with half-truths and myth surrounding religion.

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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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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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