Terrorism

Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

After James Foley's beheading by the Islamic State militant group two months ago, the American's Catholic background made headlines.

But in a massive, 5,000-word story Sunday, The New York Times reported that Foley converted to Islam soon after he was taken hostage.

The Times quoted 19-year-old Jejoen Bontinck of Belgium — identified as "a teenage convert to Islam who spent three weeks in the summer of 2013 in the same cell as Mr. Foley":

Mr. Foley converted to Islam soon after his capture and adopted the name Abu Hamza, Mr. Bontinck said. (His conversion was confirmed by three other recently released hostages, as well as by his former employer.)
“I recited the Quran with him,” Mr. Bontinck said. “Most people would say, ‘Let’s convert so that we can get better treatment.’ But in his case, I think it was sincere.”
Former hostages said that a majority of the Western prisoners had converted during their difficult captivity. Among them was Mr. (Peter) Kassig, who adopted the name Abdul-Rahman, according to his family, who learned of his conversion in a letter smuggled out of the prison.
Only a handful of the hostages stayed true to their own faiths, including Mr. (Steven J.) Sotloff, then 30, a practicing Jew. On Yom Kippur, he told his guards he was not feeling well and refused his food so he could secretly observe the traditional fast, a witness said.
Those recently released said that most of the foreigners had converted under duress, but that Mr. Foley had been captivated by Islam. When the guards brought an English version of the Quran, those who were just pretending to be Muslims paged through it, one former hostage said. Mr. Foley spent hours engrossed in the text.
His first set of guards, from the Nusra Front, viewed his professed Islamic faith with suspicion. But the second group holding him seemed moved by it. For an extended period, the abuse stopped. Unlike the Syrian prisoners, who were chained to radiators, Mr. Foley and Mr. (John) Cantlie were able to move freely inside their cell.

Given the circumstances, however, should Foley's "conversion" really be presented as a fact? That was my question as I read the story.

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Attacking graveyards: Washington Post probes unusual form of oppression in Pakistan

Attacking graveyards: Washington Post probes unusual form of oppression in Pakistan

This is how bad persecution gets in Pakistan: You can't escape it even if you're dead.

Denying a final resting place to a despised group is the topic of an enterprising newsfeature by the Washington Post. For Christians and other minorities there, enduring contempt even in death is a way of life.

"Bleak" seems hardly adequate to describe the picture painted by the article. Here's a painfully eloquent passage:

Christians say they earn less than $2 a day working in the sugarcane fields. They must shop at the sparsely stocked Christian-run rice and vegetable store. They are not allowed to draw water from wells tapped for Muslim neighbors. Now, in what many consider to be a final indignity, they and other Pakistani Christians are struggling to bury their dead.
Pakistan, whose population is overwhelmingly Muslim, is nearly twice the size of California. But leaders of the tiny Christian minority say their burial sites are being illegally seized by developers at an alarming rate, while efforts to secure new land are rejected because of religious tenets barring Muslims from being buried near people of other faiths. Increasingly, the remaining Christian cemeteries are packed with bodies atop bodies.

The WaPo story is a textbook example of reporting both in breadth and depth. It reports from three towns, from a remote hamlet to Lahore, the nation's second-largest city. It quotes 12 sources, Muslim as well as Christian. And it armors itself against a possible complaint of pro-Christian myopia:

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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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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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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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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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A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

If there are readers out there in cyberspace who have been reading GetReligion for a decade-plus, the odds are good that they have heard of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 18. That's the one that proclaims, in the name of the United Nations:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Long ago, this statement was considered a cornerstone on the political and cultural left. However, that is no longer (alas) always the case today. Here at GetReligion I have been asking the following questions in recent years, while probing some of the shallow labels that journalists often use with little or no thought. They are:

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of speech?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of association?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of religion?

I'm not sure what the correct answer is, these days, but anyone familiar with the history of political thought in the West will know that the correct answer is not "liberal."

Why bring this up right now? Well, because of an absolutely bizarre statement at the end of a recent BBC report that ran under this strange (it's almost a fragment) headline: "Sudan apostasy woman Mariam Ibrahim 'to campaign'."

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So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

THE RELIGION GUY interrupts this blog’s usual answers to posted questions and feels impelled to highlight a development that ought to receive far more attention than it has.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly Sep. 24, President Obama said “it is time for the world -- especially Muslim communities -- to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIL” (the group also called ISIS or “Islamic State”).

As if in response, that same day 126 Muslim leaders issued a dramatic 15-page “Open Letter” to ISIL’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers that denounced them on religious grounds.

Implicitly, the letter targets as well the tactics of al-Qaeda, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and similar terrorist movements claiming Islamic inspiration. The technical argument relies on dozens of citations from the Quran, Hadith (accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s words and deeds), and Sharia (religious law).

The signers of this blunt challenge, all from the faith’s dominant Sunni branch, come from 37 nations including the U.S. 

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