Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Every now and then, some major news organization does a story about the horrors of "bacha bazi (boy play)" while trying to cover the cultural minefield that is semi-modern Afghanistan. The New York Times is the latest, with a major A1 report with a shocking new angle, which ran under the headline "U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies."

Journalists covering this story face one major problem of logic and language, one that we have written about in the past here at GetReligion. Since Afghanistan is governed by sharia law, which forbids sodomy and sex before marriage, how do news organizations explain this Muslim culture's long history of men forcing boys into sexual slavery?

This question has been especially important in the recent history of this war-torn land because bacha bazi activity among Afghan leaders played a major role in the rise of the morally and doctrinally strict Taliban.

This Times piece had major news to report and it delivered the goods in unforgettable fashion. However, this piece also took a novel approach to the crucial question of the moral status of bacha bazi under Islamic law and traditions -- it ignored it completely. 

First, here is the heart of this stunning story:

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene -- in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.
The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban.

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Painfully familiar 'ghost' in the shooting of the U.S. general

Painfully familiar 'ghost' in the shooting of the U.S. general

What we have here is -- alas -- an example of a religion-new "ghost" that your GetReligionistas could write about day after day after day, world without end, amen.

For newcomers, a "ghost" (in the lingo of this weblog) is a religious issue or subject that journalists really should have included in a news report, that is if the goal was for readers to understand what is happening. For more information on this term read the very first post published at, back on the original Day 1.

A classic example of a "ghost"? How long did it take for the mainstream press to explain the doctrinal elements at the heart of the bloody conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq? Way too long, quite frankly, and some newsrooms are still in the dark on that.

This brings me to the fatal shooting of that U.S. general in Afghanistan. Anyone who reads the main report in The New York Times learns, over and over, that he died because of "political" tensions. Period.

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NYTimes' riveting portrait of a Christian in Afghanistan

I have no words to describe this story – A Christian Convert, on the Run in Afghanistan A Christian Convert on the Run from Murderous Islam. Cherish Your Religious Liberty. This is from the @NYTimes.

Striking story by NYT's Azam Ahmed: A Christian Convert, on the Run in Afghanistan (h/t @rcallimachi)

A Christian Convert, on the Run in Afghanistan: “My body is in prison, but my soul is free.”

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Bowe Bergdahl: Calvinist, Buddhist, Muslim seeker?

While most of the DC Beltway journalists do that dance that they do (Will the vaguely legal Taliban prisoner swap hurt Democrats in 2014 elections?!), there are some interesting religion-beat questions hiding between the lines in the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. As a jumping-off point, consider the following rather bizarre passage in this New York Post report:

As a teen, the home-schooled son of Calvinists took up ballet — recruited to be a “lifter” by “a beautiful local girl,” Rolling Stone reported, “the guy who holds the girl aloft in a ballet sequence.” The strategy worked: Bergdahl — who also began dabbling in Budd­hism and tarot card reading — soon moved in with the woman.

A BBC explainer has some of that information, but with a few more specifics:

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Was Kabul shooting over religion? Shouldn't someone ask?

Q: What question has no answer? A: The one you don’t ask. In Thursday’s shooting of several people at a Christian hospital in Kabul, the question would be: Could it have anything to do with their religion?

True, the answer doesn’t rest neatly on the surface. The shooter — horrifically, a policeman assigned to guard the hospital — didn’t shout the usual “Alahu Akbar” before gunning down Dr. Jerry Umanos and two visitors at CURE International Hospital. Nor have any organizations like the Taliban claimed responsibility.

So reporters need to look for clues. And there are a few scattered throughout news stories on the atrocity — clues that, thus far, don’t seem to have drawn journalistic curiosity.

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To use or not to use: Journalists and the word 'Islam'

Do you ever get the impression, when reading mainstream news stories, that some editors have created formal policies describing when reporters who cover terrorism stories can or cannot mention the words “Islam” or “Muslim”?

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Major Nidal Hasan talks about faith, like it or not

Some may disagree, but I think we have reached the point where we can say that journalists in the mainstream press are going to have trouble keeping the religion angle out of the coverage of the Fort Hood trial of U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan.

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