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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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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

I would have thought that, in the wake of the recent media storm about the Synod on the Family, almost anything that Pope Francis said in public on that topic would be big news in the mainstream press.

Turns out, that is not the case. But I will plunge on. 

What if Pope Francis -- media superstar, par excellence -- even said something blunt and controversial about the meaning of a word like "family"? What if, in said quote, he even used a typically earthy Francis term like "bastardized"? Surely that would draw coverage?

With all of that in mind, consider the top of this Vatican City report from the Catholic News Agency (as opposed to The New York Times, NPR, Comedy Central or something mainstream):
 

In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world.

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience. He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed. He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

OK, that was blunt. Did he get into any specifics?

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After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

Let's walk into this minefield very slowly and carefully.

This week, "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I talked about the recent Synod on the Family at the Vatican and some of the themes that emerged out of it. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Truth be told, that primarily meant discussing the tsunami of news coverage about a draft report earlier in the week that was hailed by a major gay-rights group, and thus the elite media, as a "seismic shift" in Catholic attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, the divorced, cohabiting couples, etc. By the end of the week, following blasts of input from cardinals and bishops from around the world, the synod's more modest official report placed a heavier emphasis on affirming Catholic doctrine and, thus, drew far less coverage.

Once again, many Catholics were asking a familiar question: Is there some way for the Catholic church to let the public, especially the world's Catholics, hear the full sweep of what the pope is actually saying? The pope keeps talking about sin, penitence, mercy and salvation, with a strong emphasis on the symbols and language of mercy, and elite news headlines usually report him as saying something like, "Who knows what sin is, anymore, let's show mercy -- period."

After that, criticism of what the press reported the pope as saying -- including attempts to note the content and context of whatever Pope Francis actually said -- is hailed in the same news outlets as criticism of the pope or a rejection of his alleged new direction for the church.

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.

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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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The protest beat at The New York Times? Silence from Paris

The protest beat at The New York Times? Silence from Paris

News reports on political demonstrations and protest marches have kept the New York Times busy this past week.

In the print and on the web it has run a least three dozen articles on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, while also covering civil rights protests in Ferguson, Mo., student protests in Egypt, pro-Kurdish protests in Ankara, and Shia protests in Yemen.

Perhaps this surfeit of protests was what led the Times to ignore demonstrations in that far off place called France. 

Paris police reported that over 78,000 “pro-family” demonstrators (organizers claim several hundred thousand) marched through Paris on Oct. 5, 2014, with tens of thousands marching in support in Bordeaux, denouncing the Socialist government’s support for same-sex marriage and IVF and surrogacy rights for same-sex couples.
 
The marches have dominated the headlines of the French newspapers and animated political discourse. The Friday before the rally organized by the Manif Pour Tous coalition, Prime Minister Manuel Valls caved into one of the groups key demands.

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As the Vatican turns: Dramatic talks about faith and family get soapy

As the Vatican turns: Dramatic talks about faith and family get soapy

Trust me, I am well aware that there are plenty of Catholic GetReligion readers who do not understand my consistent appreciation for the work of reporter and columnist John L. Allen, Jr., formerly of the liberal National Catholic Reporter and now the ringmaster at the new Crux site at The Boston Globe. It's really quite simple: He constantly reports tons of on-the-record information, even when he is writing prose that is clearly labeled "analysis."

Now, let me end this crazy day in Catholic news land -- click here for Dawn's earlier piece -- by pointing readers toward the sources and URLs contained in two rather dispassionate pieces of Allen analysis. It's hard to get more blunt than this:

ROME -- Every day, the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, a summit of 260 bishops and other participants convened by Pope Francis, seems more and more like a daytime soap opera. Today brought more surprising turns on multiple fronts.
For one thing, the bishops made the unprecedented decision to release internal reports of small group discussions about a working document released Monday that became a sensation due to its positive language about same-sex unions, couples who live together outside of marriage, and others in “irregular” situations.
The reports photograph a vigorous debate within a divided synod, with one camp seemingly embracing a more positive vision of situations that fall outside the boundaries of official Catholic doctrine, and another clearly alarmed about going soft.

And the perfect, killer quote for a synod on family issues?

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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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Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

I have said this many times, but I have nothing but admiration for the reporters who work in war zones and in lands ravaged by disasters of all kinds.

It's hard enough for reporters, when covering complex issues, to do adequate background research and keep their facts straight -- even under the best of circumstances. My church-state issue file folder (yes, materials on dead tree pulp) is almost 40 years old. I have hundreds of similar files and I need them.

So imagine that you are in Liberia and trying to cover the Ebola outbreak, with all of its scientific, political, medical, ethical and legal implications. Yes, and issues of racial equality and economic justice. Yes, and there are religion ghosts, as well. Oh, and let's not forget the risk of face-to-face reporting at scenes in the heart of the crisis?

Thus, the first thing I want to say about a recent Washington Post report (headline: "Liberia already had only a few dozen of its own doctors. Then came Ebola") is that it is stunning and a must-read look at the lives of those with the courage to walk the halls of hospitals and treat the sick and dying in Monrovia, Liberia. How, exactly, does one take careful interview notes when wearing a full-protection hazmat suit?

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