BBC

Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

Now we're talking big news: ISIS attacks museums (plus Christians and other believers)

The story began with reports in "conservative" and religious media, which, tragically, is what happens way too often these days with issues linked to religious liberty and the persecution of religious minorities (especially if they are Christians).

Earlier in the week I saw this headline at the Catholic News Agency: "Patriarch urges prayer after at least 90 Christians kidnapped in Syria." The story began:

With reports circulating saying that ISIS forces have kidnapped at least 90 Christians from villages in northeast Syria, Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan said prayer is the only possible response.

“Let’s pray for those innocent people,” Patriarch Younan told CNA over the phone from Beirut Feb. 24. “It’s a very, let’s say, very ordinary thing to have those people with such hatred toward non-Muslims that they don’t respect any human life,” he said, noting that the only reaction to Tuesday’s kidnappings is “to pray.”

Alas, none of these believers were cartoonists. However, as the days went past the numbers in these distressing reports -- especially this soon after the 21 Coptic martyrs video --  began to rise.

I kept watching the major newspapers and, while I may have missed a crucial report or two, I did see this crucial story from Reuters -- always an important development in global news -- that represented a major escalation of the coverage, with several crucial dots connected. Do the math.

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The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

What can be said about the images that are coming out of Libya, in that hellish Islamic State video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians -- explicitly for their faith and their connection to "crusaders"? This is a story with so much religious imagery and language in it that there is no way for journalists to avoid the ghosts.

Religion News Service, and some other news outlets, are using a very important quote from Pope Francis:

“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland. The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said “Jesus help me.”
“Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn’t matter: They’re Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ,” Francis said. He said their deaths bore witness to “an ecumenism of blood” that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.

The radicals hailed Jesus as a prophet respected in their Muslim faith, then beheaded followers of Jesus.

Now, who -- precisely -- were the victims?

Let me stress that it's true that, in Egypt (and in Libya), Christians of all kinds are often simply known as "Copts," because of a similar ancient heritage. So there are, for example, small numbers of Protestant Copts and Catholic Copts. However, the vast majority of Coptic Christians are Orthodox Christians.

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Disparity in news coverage: As many as 2,000 dead in Nigeria, but France dominates front pages

Disparity in news coverage: As many as 2,000 dead in Nigeria, but France dominates front pages

Terror attacks in France carried out by militants claiming allegiance to al-Qaida and Islamic State extremists dominate the world's front pages.

On the other hand, the Muslim militant group Boko Haram's slaughter of as many as 2,000 Nigerians — its "deadliest act" yet, according to Amnesty International — generally settles for less-prime real estate inside newspapers.

But why?

As The Guardian put it:

What makes one massacre more newsworthy than another?

Among the extenuating circumstances cited by the British newspaper:

Reporting in northern Nigeria is notoriously difficult; journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram, and, unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications. Attacks by Boko Haram have disrupted connections further, meaning that there is an absence of an online community able to share news, photos and video reports of news as it unfolds.

Nonetheless, The Guardian noted:

But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.

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Le Figaro finds that pope Francis may have lost his touch

Le Figaro finds that pope Francis may have lost his touch

Only a very few journalists working in the field of religion reporting today consistently produce quality work distinguished by a pleasing and fluid skill with language, a deep knowledge of the field, discrimination, and a maturity of insight that enables the journalist to offer just the right remark or vignette that takes a story a level beyond reporting to journalism.

Jean-Marie Guénois, Le Figaro’s religion reporter, is just such a craftsman. His reports from Pope Francis’ trip last month to Strasbourg to address the European parliament have been the most well rounded, considered and intelligent of the reports I have read of this event.

A great deal has been written about what the pope said on November 25 when he addressed the European Parliament -- and most of what has been written is of high quality. The BBC, New York Times, the wire services, and major European newspapers have accurately conveyed the concerns Francis has for Europe.

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Memory eternal: Editing out P.D. James the believer and the mystery of the human heart (and soul)

Memory eternal: Editing out P.D. James the believer and the mystery of the human heart (and soul)

If asked to name the work of new fiction (in other words, as opposed to Jane Austen) that I have read in the past few decades that moved me the most, I would without hesitation say "The Children of Men" by P.D. James.

No, I have not seen the movie that is allegedly based on the book because friends who are fierce James fans warned me not to. Why? They said the team behind the movie ripped out the book's gripping Christian foundation, which I have heard referred to as a sci-fi take on the "Culture of Death"  theme in the work of Saint John Paul II.

Here is the last sentence of the book, in which an underground (and very fragile and flawed) circle of Christian believers fight to bring life back into a world that has mysteriously gone sterile: "It was with a thumb wet with his own tears and stained with her blood that he made on the child's forehead the sign of the cross."

Now, we are watching a similar editing process take place in some -- repeat some -- of the mainstream media obituaries for one of the most important English writers of the past half a century.

C.S. Lewis said the world didn't need more "Christian writers," it needed Christians who were willing to do the hard work of writing for everyone. That was P.D. James. The great Dorothy L. Sayers considered murder mysteries the perfect form of writing for Christians because they open with an act of undeniable evil (evil exists) and then someone goes into the world seeking concrete evidence of truth (truth exists) in order to produce justice (it is possible to do good in the real world). That's P.D. James, as well.

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Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

One of the most heinous in a long string of religious murders in Pakistan -- the torture and burning of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a Christian couple -- gets some well-deserved attention from several news outlets.

The coverage includes a satisfying amount of background and explanation. You need it after you read the mind-stopping facts.

From  CNN's report:

Fifty people have been arrested in connection with this week's killing of a Christian couple who were beaten and pushed into a burning kiln in eastern Pakistan, a police official said Thursday.
Investigators believe the 50 were part of a mob that killed the couple Tuesday after the pair were accused of desecrating the Quran, said Bin Yameen, a police official in the Kasur District in Punjab province.
Police said the attack in the village of Kot Radha Kishan came after a local mullah declared the couple were guilty of blasphemy.
The mob allegedly marched to the couple's home, broke down their door, dragged them outside, beat them and threw them into the brick kiln where they both worked.

The crime sounds even more heinous if it's true, as several reports say, that it was instigated by a religious leader -- and that the mosque announced the accusation through loudspeakers.

You can see the story evolving from a few days ago, when the BBC said only 43 were arrested. The BBC also says the couple were beaten to death before being thrown into a kiln. As we've read, CNN says the two were burned alive.

The New York Times adds the name of one of those arrested in its story on the killings -- and says that "the clerics of several mosques" were also among them.

The Wall Street Journal  adds further background,  identifying the Masihs as "bonded laborers in a brick factory" in Punjab. The Journal also reveals that the couple had a dispute with the factory owner over money they owed him. It was after then that the factory's staff accused Masih of burning pages of the Quran.

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A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

A BBC puzzler: Defense of a universal human right is now an 'evangelical' thing?

If there are readers out there in cyberspace who have been reading GetReligion for a decade-plus, the odds are good that they have heard of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 18. That's the one that proclaims, in the name of the United Nations:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Long ago, this statement was considered a cornerstone on the political and cultural left. However, that is no longer (alas) always the case today. Here at GetReligion I have been asking the following questions in recent years, while probing some of the shallow labels that journalists often use with little or no thought. They are:

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of speech?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of association?

* What should journalists call someone who is weak, when it comes to defending freedom of religion?

I'm not sure what the correct answer is, these days, but anyone familiar with the history of political thought in the West will know that the correct answer is not "liberal."

Why bring this up right now? Well, because of an absolutely bizarre statement at the end of a recent BBC report that ran under this strange (it's almost a fragment) headline: "Sudan apostasy woman Mariam Ibrahim 'to campaign'."

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Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

The BBC this week ran an article with the misleading headline "Israeli police bust 'messianic' prostitution ring." 

It's a misleading headline because normally when the word "Messianic" is used in relation to Jews, it refers to adherents of Messianic Judaism -- but that is not the case with the cult described in the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the story does not make this clear.

Some background: Messianic Judaism is a form of Protestant Christianity that strongly identifies with Jewish ritual, prayers, and cultural identity. In other words, Messianic Jews believe the Jewish Messiah has already come, and his name is Yeshua -- Hebrew for "Jesus." (My own faith journey included brief involvement with the Messianic Jewish community.)

The BBC's story, although not identifying the cult as Christian, reinforces the implication that Messianic Jews were behind the prostitution ring when it refers to women being forced by a "messianic sect" to have sex with "non-Jews":

Details have emerged from Israel about a prostitution ring in which Jewish women were allegedly forced into having sex with non-Jews by a messianic sect.

Two men and two women are being detained on suspicion of exploitation.

Police say the victims were brainwashed into believing that having sex with non-Jews would "save the Jewish people and bring about redemption".

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