Terrorism

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

It is certainly the most important story of the day for the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians. Yes, even bigger than the announcement -- with the lengthy fast (no meat, no dairy) of Great Lent approaching -- that Ben & Jerry's is poised to begin selling vegan ice cream.

I am referring to the announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Any meeting between the pope and the patriarch of all Russia would be historic, simply because the shepherds of Rome and Moscow have never met before. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

The big question, of course, is: Why are they meeting? What finally pushed the button to ease the tensions enough between these two churches for their leaders to meet?

In terms of the early news coverage, the answer depends on whether you are one of the few news consumers who will have a chance to read the Reuters report, being circulated by Religion News Service, or one of the many who see the Associated Press story that is, I believe, deeply flawed. Alas, the majority of news consumers will probably see a shortened version of the AP report and will be totally in the dark about the primary purpose of this historic meeting.

So here is the top of the Reuters report:

MOSCOW -- The patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church will take part in an historic first meeting with the Roman Catholic pontiff on Feb. 12 because of the need for a joint response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Orthodox Church said.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said that long-standing differences between the two churches remain, most notably a row over the status of the Uniate Church, in Ukraine. But he said these differences were being put aside so that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis could come together over persecution of Christians.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Digital warfare: RNS and PBS report anti-jihadi campaigns on social media

Digital warfare: RNS and PBS report anti-jihadi campaigns on social media

The real battlefront against ISIS and other terrorists isn’t the Middle East. It's on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media -- where jihadis are made and recruited. And two articles this week tell of a corps of new warriors familiar with the terrain.

The Religion News Service yesterday told how a West Point team won second place in a contest for most effective online presence against radical Islamist influences. The so-called Peer to Peer (P2P) competition, sponsored by Homeland Security, involved teams from several nations -- including one from a Pakistani college, which took first place.

Each team got $2,000 to spend on their entries, and they used the cash shrewdly, according to RNS:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Boko Haram strikes again, in attack that burns generic children alive in their huts

Boko Haram strikes again, in attack that burns generic children alive in their huts

 It's a logical question: At this point, does it really matter whether the children burned alive in the latest Boko Haram attack were Muslims or Christians?

On one level, the answer is clearly, "no." It's clear that the forces of Boko Haram -- now loyal to the Islamic State caliphate -- kill anyone who stands in the way of their movement. Perhaps it doesn't matter whether those dying are crying out to Jesus or to Allah.

Yet I would like to argue that this detail does matter. At the very least, I think it is significant that editors at the Associated Press -- who prepare the copy read by most consumers outside of elite news markets -- think that readers do not want to know that detail.

Stop and think about that. America contains a significant number of Christians. If those who died were Christians, are we to assume that many readers would not want to know about these new martyrs and confessors, some of them children?

However, if you look at the images, it certainly appears that the village burned in this attack was a majority Muslim community. I would argue that it is just as important for American news consumers to be reminded -- again and again -- that Boko Haram is slaughtering just as many Muslims, if not more, than Christians. Why? We will come back to that.

I read the following AP report all the way through before it hit me that the identity of the victims was left completely and utterly vague, as if this fact didn't matter. Here is how the report opens:

A survivor hidden in a tree says he watched Boko Haram extremists firebomb huts and heard the screams of children burning to death, among 86 people officials say died in the latest attack by Nigeria's homegrown Islamic extremists.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Separation of mosque and state: In covering anti-Shariah bill, media muddy issues

Separation of mosque and state: In covering anti-Shariah bill, media muddy issues

Those intolerant South Carolinians have gotten a lot of people upset -- in a lot of lands -- starting with their home state press. A bill in the state house would ban use of the Islamic legal code known as Shariah, an issue that has been thrashed out in at least 16 other states. In this edition, though, most media have produced biased, fragmentary coverage. They’ve also given the most space to the protesters.

The apparent start was a story in the Columbia Post and Courier on Friday:

COLUMBIA — A national group that lobbies for Muslim civil liberties asked the S.C. Legislature on Friday to drop a bill that would ban Sharia law from being used as a defense in state courts, saying it is unconstitutional.
Council on American-Islamic Relations attorney William Burgess said the bill violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause on religion because it is designed to attack Muslim religious principles.
Sharia law is the legal framework where the public and some private aspects of life are regulated under legal systems based on Islam.
“This legislation is very similar to the Oklahoma anti-Sharia constitutional amendment that was struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause in a federal court challenge brought by CAIR,” Burgess wrote.

At least they took a stab at defining Shariah. But it doesn't clarify why anyone would find Shariah objectionable.

The Post and Courier quotes the CAIR letter that cites the Oklahoma case, in which a federal judge ruled the anti-Shariah law breached the separation of church and state.  Finally -- at the end of the article -- the newspaper allows Rep. Chip Limehouse, the bill sponsor, to give an example of what the bill might prevent: “(With this law) an attorney can’t go into state court and say that the defendant that beat up his daughter for going on a date with a non-Muslim was within his rights according to (Sharia law)." But Limehouse doesn't get to answer Burgess' assertion that the bill is unconstitutional.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Young anti-terrorist Muslims: NPR says why they do what they do (But what do they do?)

Young anti-terrorist Muslims: NPR says why they do what they do (But what do they do?)

In a kind of techno-jiujitsu, younger American Muslims have started using the same social media as ISIS terrorists -- in their case, as a counter-weapon.

This is the kind of enterprise reporting at which NPR often excels. Alas, that is not the case with the shallow, incomplete report that ran this week on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Nearly all the trendy elements are there. You’ve got a little-reported interface of two socially hot topics, religion and terrorism. You have the coveted demographic of American millennials. And you’ve got Facebook and other forms of new media -- more familiar each year, but still radiating a cachet.

All the story lacks is what these young anti-terrorism Muslims are actually doing, when they do what they do. Isn't that rather basic information to include in a story of this kind?

The starting point -- the old saw that all Muslims get blamed for the actions of a tiny few -- threatens at first to sink the story into mediocrity:

Tired of being called a terrorist, Ranny Badreddine, a youth from Evansville, Ind., joined other young teens to create World Changers, an initiative that uses the cyberspace to combat misconceptions about Islam.
"Kids have to be worried about...going outside and being scared that someone is going to beat them up because they're Muslim," Badreddine says. "As a 13-year-old kid, I don't want to live my life being scared of Americans trying to hurt me because of what I am and my religion."
Many younger American Muslims say their parents and grandparents have long been reluctant to speak out and risk drawing attention to themselves. But Badreddine and his peers want to take a different approach. They want to use technology to push back against what they see as false portrayals of Islam.

The scapegoating complaint is hardly news anymore.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Charleston paper covers first sermon by Mother Emanuel's new pastor, except for what she said

Charleston paper covers first sermon by Mother Emanuel's new pastor, except for what she said

Mother Emanuel AME Church has been through more than you know, even if you’ve seen many of the news reports about the horrendous shootings of nine members there in June. But yesterday, the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier wisely concentrated on the first sermon of its new pastor.

It's a heartfelt, moody news feature that gets inside the thoughts and feelings of the pastor. But while reminding us of the terrible events that brought the church there, the newspaper somehow leaves out most of what her sermon said.

And that wasn't so wise. From reading the overture to this report, the sermon was supposed to be the main topic of the story. For starters, it has the Rev. Betty Deas Clark "trembling and scared" her first time in the pulpit at Emanuel:

She’d had less than 24 hours to prepare the first sermon she would deliver to her new congregation. She wrote from the heart but agonized over every word -- praying she would be able to minister to the needs of people she had yet to get to know.
It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, addressing a congregation, but there was something different about this time. Maybe it was because members of Mother Emanuel were still healing after the June 17 slaying of nine worshippers during a Bible study by a self-proclaimed white supremacist. Maybe it was because the church had been in a type of “limbo” for more than half a year in the aftermath.
Either way, Clark knew there was one message everyone could relate to: hope.
"In my heart I felt that it was the right word," she said after the church service. "I did not want to dwell too heavily on the past, but I wanted to embrace the reality of the present and the future."

As one nitpick, we'll note that it doesn't say why Clark had less than 24 hours to prepare. The reason is that she was appointed just the previous day; that was explained on Saturday but not in this story. The main question here is: How did she develop the theme of hope? What did she offer to help the congregants move forward? One would assume that this sermon had something to do with a passage of two from the Bible?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

On coverage of evangelical refugee conference: Applause for RNS, with reservations

On coverage of evangelical refugee conference: Applause for RNS, with reservations

We at GetReligion have had occasional differences with the Religion News Service. But in its coverage of the GC2 Summit, a caucus of evangelical leaders on how to help Middle Eastern refugees, RNS does itself proud.

Not that the coverage is spotless, but more on that later.

U.S. Christians have shared the anxieties of other Americans over resettling 10,000 people fleeing the Syrian civil war. While not ducking that issue, RNS also reports the conference of 500 leaders to ease those fears and muster aid.

For that job, RNS chose Timothy C. Morgan, a Godbeat veteran who knows the evangelical community. This is important in a day when many reporters are clearly out of their depth in religion stories. Morgan shows his savvy high in the article:

"We are having the wrong conversation about refugees," Richard Stearns, head of the aid group World Vision, told a meeting of evangelicals. "We have managed to make the suffering of millions all about us. God wants us to share their pain."
Around 500 people attended the GC2 Summit at the Community Christian Church, a Chicago-area megachurch. GC2 is a reference to the Great Commandment and Great Commission in the New Testament, which require Christians to love God and their neighbors, and to evangelize.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, an evangelical polling organization, called it "the largest gathering of evangelicals on refugees ever." He said his latest survey of Protestant pastors indicates that 45 percent sense fear in their churches over refugees and immigration, yet 85 percent believe Christians should "care sacrificially" for this group.

That, my friends, is known as a seasoned eye. Morgan also perceptively compares the initiative with the evangelical outreach to people with HIV and AIDS 15 years ago. And there's a couple of touching quotes by a Pastor Raed Awabdeh of Sacramento, himself an immigrant from Syria:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

The stories have become tragically familiar. A band of jihadists enters a school or some other public facility somewhere in the Muslim world and massacres a large number of people. Mainstream media offer readers a few numbers and a heart-tugging human detail or two.

The latest nightmare unfolded this week in northwester Pakistan. As I read several news reports, a familiar detail was repeated time after time. This led to a question in my mind, one that I think some journalists need to ponder: "Why would radical Muslims shout 'Allahu akbar!' as they massacre other Muslims?"

In other words, if the basic goal in these stories is to provide the "who, what, when, where, why and how" facts, why not pursue the "why" issue? Some of the stories I read took at shot at this ultimate question and others did not.

The first story I saw was in USA Today. This is as close as it came to talking about this "why" issue:

Basit Khan, a computer science student, said he heard the terrorists through the fog and saw them in classroom buildings.
“They were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great) when they started firing,” Khan said. “There were attackers in the stairwell and we had no arms to counter them. In the Pashto Department and Computer Science blocks, I saw at least three attackers.” ...

And later there was this:

A Taliban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, the Associated Press reported. Mansoor was the mastermind behind the deadly December 2014 attack on the Peshawar school.
A spokesman for the main Taliban faction in Pakistan, however, disowned the group behind the attack. The spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, said Wednesday’s attack was “un-Islamic” and insisted the Pakistani Taliban were not behind it. Such statements among the Taliban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions, tje AP reported.
Khurasani said the Taliban “consider the students in the non-military institutions the future of our jihad movement” and would not kill potential future followers.

That was that.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fighting Boko Haram: 'Ghosts' haunt otherwise fine New York Times report

Fighting Boko Haram: 'Ghosts' haunt otherwise fine New York Times report

Applause for the New York Times for keeping an eye on Nigeria, which has been struggling for years with Boko Haram terrorists. But the clapping is a bit muted because of the religious "ghosts" in the latest story.

As the most populous nation in Africa -- the Times puts it at 190 million -- Nigeria can be seen as a bellwether for the rest of the continent. And rather than a dry recital of official stats and statements, the 1,370-word Times story captures the dread under which many Nigerians live:

DAKAR, Senegal — A sense of fear nags at Hauwa Bulama every time she leaves home.
She worries that suicide bombers might be lurking at the vegetable stand where she shops for her six children. They could turn up at the hospital where she takes her relatives. Any woman in a hijab could have a suicide belt under her clothes, she fears. The frequent public announcements to avoid crowded areas in her northern Nigerian city only heighten her anxiety.
"You are always afraid," said Ms. Bulama, who lives in Maiduguri, a frequent target of the ruthless Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram. "When you take your child to be immunized, you don’t know who is seated next to you. You don’t know who is hiding what."
For Ms. Bulama and countless others in northern Nigeria and across the Lake Chad region, the victories scored by President Muhammadu Buhari’s multinational campaign against Boko Haram since taking office in May have mattered little to their daily lives.

The article acknowledges that the government of President Buhari has killed many Boko Haram fighters and shrunk their areas of control. An international fighting force, which includes Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon -- with armored vehicles from the United States -- has pushed back and scattered the terrorists. Buhari has even boasted that "technically we have won the war."

Yet the conflict has created more than 2.4 million refugees, the Times reports. The 200-plus schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014 are still missing, a clear sign of poor intelligence gathering. And the suicide bombings have continued -- two more in the last two weeks.

The newspaper praises Buhari for replacing ineffective army commanders and moving headquarters into the battle zone of northeastern Nigeria. But rebuilding the military will take money, something in short supply in the wake of the slump in oil prices.

Please respect our Commenting Policy