Terrorism

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

#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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

War on terrorism: U.S. soft-pedals the religion angle; so does the New York Times

War on terrorism: U.S. soft-pedals the religion angle; so does the New York Times

The New York Times, as I noted in February, has been running ahead of the pack on the international effort to fight terrorism on the digital front. But the newspaper has yet to call out the religious ghosts in its own reporting.

"ISIS is Winning the Social Media War," says the latest Times headline on the matter. "The Islamic State’s violent narrative — promulgated through thousands of messages each day — has effectively 'trumped' the efforts of some of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations," the article reports.

Based largely on a U.S. State Department memo, the story presents an image of an efficient, united online jihad outgunning a disjointed international counterattack. Says the Times:

A “messaging working group” of officials from the United States, Britain and the United Arab Emirates, the memo says, “has not really come together.”
“The U.A.E. is reticent, the Brits are overeager, and the working group structure is confusing,” the memo says. “When we convened meetings with our counterparts, I am certain we all heard about various initiatives for the first time.”

As the article adds, the confusion has had real-world consequences, with the recent fall of Ramadi and ISIS' continuing occupation of Mosul and Falluja.

Apparently, only two new ideas have been floated since February, both by Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel, author of the memo. Stengel urges a conference of merchants to shun trafficking in the kind of antiques ISIS is selling from wrecking and looting historic sites in Iraq and Syria.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

Mercy vs. justice: What do religious leaders say about the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber?

It's complicated.

Asking where religious communities stand on capital punishment is not a simple question.

But in the wake of the death sentence handed down Friday for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, give the Boston Globe credit for recognizing the news value in that question.

The Globe's compelling lede captures the emotional nature of the faithful's reactions:

They are torn.
The congregation at St. Ann Church where the family of Martin Richard attends Mass is struggling with a federal jury’s decision Friday to sentence Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.
“You don’t want to see another life gone, but when you know the family, you’re sad,” said Kathy Costello, 54, a member of the Dorchester church and a teacher at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, where Martin went to school.
The video showed he placed the bomb very close to the Richard family, she noted. “We’re torn.”
A similar sentiment was expressed in Greater Boston’s churches, mosques, and temples Sunday as religious leaders and congregants largely condemned the sentence.

Keep reading, and the Globe quotes a half-dozen other sources, including more Catholics, Muslim leaders, a Jewish rabbi and Protestant pastors.

While I applaud the Boston newspaper pursuing this timely angle and reflecting a diversity of sources, the story itself presents a rather shallow view of this complicated subject. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

Movers and shakers from the realms of media and politics can’t get enough of those five Sunday morning TV news gabfests from Washington. Meanwhile, millions of churchgoers ignore the weekly action, unless they religiously remember to set their DVRs.

It’s an important season for these influential shows due to the upcoming  presidential campaign, tight competition for ratings, and three big changes in the cast of characters.

On behalf of his fellow geezers, the Religion Guy is tickled that spry Bob Schieffer, 78, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” regularly grabs more viewers than the younger hosts.  This summer he retires to be replaced by John Dickerson  (a former colleague at “Time” magazine). After last year’s tumult over David Gregory, NBC’s venerable “Meet the Press” is gaining ground with replacement Chuck Todd. In the third switch, CNN cable has tapped Jake Tapper as Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union” successor come June.

The other two personalities: Chris Wallace, Son Of Mike and a onetime “Meet the Press” anchor, has led “Fox NewsSunday” the past dozen years. It’s much the ratings also-ran on broadcast but nears audience parity due to Fox News cable reruns.  Onetime Friend Of Bill George Stephanopoulos continues on ABC’s “This Week.” (Religion beat veterans know his father Robert as the longtime dean of Greek Orthodoxy’s archdiocesan cathedral in New York, and his mother Nikki as the Greek-American church’s news director.)

Here’s what we got in the entirety of the five shows for May 10, chosen because there was no one commanding news story gobbling up air. That would have allowed for a timely little roundup on religion and the 2016 race.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Muslims in Texas: Stereotyping mars New York Times' otherwise excellent front-page story

Muslims in Texas: Stereotyping mars New York Times' otherwise excellent front-page story

In reporting on the Muslim experience in the Dallas area, a front-page story in today's New York Times seems a bit bipolar.

On the one hand, the report generalizes in a negative way about Texans who are not Muslims, characterizing the state as "accommodating of bigotry" but failing to provide any real evidence.

On the other hand, if you keep reading, the Times actually does a nice job of reflecting real Muslim voices — and their nuanced perspectives on a state and nation they love and neighbors they describe as tolerant and respectful.

Of course, the news peg for this timely story is Sunday night's shooting outside a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland.

After setting the scene, the Times moves to portray Texas — "and Dallas in particular," as the newspaper puts it — as bigoted: 

Muslims in the Dallas area have worked hard to find their footing in the conservative Christian culture of the Texas suburbs, and the shooting on Sunday in Garland set off another vigorous effort to defend their faith and their American ideals, while also condemning extremism of any kind.
Texas, and Dallas in particular, has been both welcoming to Muslims and accommodating of bigotry. Even as the numbers and economic clout of Muslims continue to grow — an estimated 200,000 now live in the Dallas area — they have faced a series of political and cultural challenges just in the past few months.
The shooting in Texas, showcasing that there are Islamic extremists in the United States encouraged by radicals overseas, comes just as Muslims here have been confronting suspicions about their faith and loyalty.
An imam who gave a nondenominational prayer at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in February, at the invitation of organizers seeking to be more inclusive, received so many hateful comments on social media afterward that he canceled a second scheduled appearance there.
In January, at an annual lobbying day in the State Capitol for Muslims, Molly White, a state representative, told her staff members that any Muslim who entered her office must be asked to pledge allegiance to America and its laws and to renounce Islamic terrorist groups.
The Texas Legislature is also considering a bill, similar to ones passed in other states, that would prohibit basing decisions in state courts on foreign legal codes. It was proposed by conservative activists who contend that the goal of Muslims in the United States is to gradually impose Islamic law, or Shariah — an assertion that Muslims say is false.

How has "Dallas in particular" been accommodating of bigotry? The Times provides no evidence and asks no non-Muslim leaders — political, religious or otherwise — to respond to that claim.

 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Good grief, Los Angeles Times: Site of Texas shooting linked to Muhammad cartoon contest is no 'small town'

Good grief, Los Angeles Times: Site of Texas shooting linked to Muhammad cartoon contest is no 'small town'

When you hear "small town," do you think of Mayberry, U.S.A.?

Or do you think of a sprawling Dallas suburb with a quarter-million residents?

The Los Angeles Times' answer might surprise you.

According to the Times, Garland, Texas — site of Sunday night's shooting outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest — is a "small town."

The Los Angeles newspaper uses that description in this lede:

GARLAND,  Texas — Pamela Geller is a 56-year-old Jewish arch-conservative from New York, a vehement critic of radical Islam who organized a provocative $10,000 cartoon contest in this placid Dallas suburb designed to caricature the prophet Muhammad.
Elton Simpson was a 30-year-old aspiring Islamic militant from Phoenix who fantasized to an FBI informant about “doing the martyrdom operations” in Somalia and was convicted in 2010 of lying to the FBI about his plans to travel to the volatile eastern African nation.
Their lives intersected Sunday in this small town in north-central Texas, an unlikely venue for a violent collision of cultures. After a Sunday evening shootout outside the contest site between police and Simpson and another man firing assault rifles, both gunmen lay dead in the street. And Geller quickly posted a defiant blog: “This is a war on free speech. ... Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”

Just how "small town" is Garland?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it's a little larger than Mayberry — with an estimated population of 234,566.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Basic facts crucial on shooting outside Texas contest for cartoons depicting Muhammad

Basic facts crucial on shooting outside Texas contest for cartoons depicting Muhammad

Violence tied to a contest for images depicting Islam's Prophet Muhammad is making headlines this morning.

The latest news from The Associated Press:

GARLAND, Texas (AP) — Two gunmen were killed Sunday after opening fire on a security officer outside a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad in Texas and a bomb squad was called in to search their vehicle as a precaution, authorities said.
The men drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center in the Dallas suburb of Garland as the contest was scheduled to end and began shooting at a security officer, the City of Garland said in a statement. Garland police officers returned fire, killing the men.
"Because of the situation of what was going on today and the history of what we've been told has happened at other events like this, we are considering their car (is) possibly containing a bomb," Officer Joe Harn, a spokesman for the Garland Police Department, said at a news conference.
Police are not aware of any ongoing threat and had not received any credible threats before the event, Harn said.
Harn said it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was connected to the event inside, a contest hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Such drawings are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have sparked violence around the world. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.

The Dallas Morning News reports:

Before the shooting, the scene was unremarkable outside the Culwell Center, except for the thick security that included Garland police, school district security and private guards.
“We were expecting protests outside the building,” (event attendee Stephen) Perkins said.
But Alia Salem, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Dallas-Fort Worth, said she and other Muslims had wanted nothing to do with the event.
“We were actively ignoring and encouraging the community to ignore it,” she said. “We did not want to be the bearers of any kind of incitement.”
Imam Zia Sheikh of the Irving Islamic Center wrote online that though he was waiting to see how the facts unfold, “as of now condemning any act of terror. No justification whatsoever.”
“Seems like a lone wolf type of attack. Just what we didn’t want,” he wrote.

As this story develops, presenting basic facts will be crucial for media coverage.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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."

Please respect our Commenting Policy