Al-Arabiya

Quran manuscripts found! Divine message thrills mainstream media!

Quran manuscripts found! Divine message thrills mainstream media!

If you ever needed a reminder to use more than one news source, this week's announcement about two old pages of the Quran furnish ample reason. The news reports vary widely in scope and caution -- or lack of it.

The basics: The University of Birmingham in England announced that two pages from the Muslim scripture have been dated by radiocarbon to somewhere 568 and 645 A.D. Since the Prophet Muhammad -- who said he got the text as message from Allah -- is generally thought to have lived between 570 and 632 A.D., the parchment pages date back to the earliest years of Islam, the university says.

The release adds that the pages, from surahs (chapters) 18-20, read much like modern editions of the Quran. If so, it supports Muslims who insist the version they have is pretty much the one their forebears recited.

Pretty startling claims, and they deserve a good, hard look. But unless we get follow-up reports, we may not get a lot of that. Most mainstream media thus far are simply echoing what the university and its supporters said. No, worse than that. More like cheerleading.

They freely cite the release, including quotes by David Thomas, Susan Worrall and Alba Fedeli of the university -- plus an approving remark from a Persian scholar at the British Library. CNN even uses footage released by the university, including views of the quranic pages.

The reports also repeat and amplify the university's hype. BBC gives free rein to gushing reactions by Muslim scholars. It's "news to rejoice Muslim hearts," one says. "When I saw these pages I was very moved," says another. "There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes."

And BBC isn't alone.

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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.

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In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

The monstrous, history-making events in northern Iraq can overwhelm reporters and audiences alike, as our own tmatt noted a few days ago. But rather surprisingly, coverage has broadened in breadth and depth and enterprise.

A huge variety of outlets -- from Time to Vox  to Fox to the BBC to The Guardian to Al-Arabiya  to the New York Daily News -- have weighed in with coverage, analysis and background. They're not all equally good, of course.

An outstanding example of perspective is in the Washington Post, where veteran reporter Terrence McCoy examines the reasons for the brutal, merciless warfare waged by the Islamic State. He cites several sources who say that the crucifixions, beheadings and mass killings are no mere battlefield excesses -- they were planned as tools to paralyze some people, polarize others.

One of the more fearsome excerpts:

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