ISIS

Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

This week's "Crossroads" podcast focuses on the Frankenstein question in American public life that has left journalists shaking their heads and muttering, "It's alive, it's alive!"

I am referring, of course, to the whole Gov. Scott Walker and the "Is President Barack Obama a Christian?" thing. Then that media storm -- click here for my previous post -- led into the silly "Does Scott Walker really think that he talks with God?" episode.

Then again, am I alone in thinking that some rather cynical political reporters are creating these monsters and trying to keep them alive? Whatever. I remain convinced that Obama is what he says he is: A liberal Christian who made a profession of faith and joined the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has long represented the left edge of free-church Protestantism.

Anyway, host Todd Wilken and I ended up spending most of our time talking about the subject that I am convinced is looming behind the whole "Is Obama a Christian" phenomenon, especially this latest flap with Walker. Click here to listen in on the discussion.

Believe it or not, this brings us to a discussion of a question that quietly rumbled through the Southern Baptist blogosphere the other day: Forget the question of whether the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State should be declared as Christian martyrs? Were they actually Christians in the first place?"

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New York Times opens door to coverage of what ISIS is saying about Islamic faith

New York Times opens door to coverage of what ISIS is saying about Islamic faith

Before I get to a New York Times piece on efforts to counter Islamic State recruiting programs, let me respond to the many people who have sent me emails asking for my reaction to the massive piece in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood entitled "What ISIS Really Wants."

Well that piece is very long and very serious and, to be honest, I have not read all of it yet. I have been in a series of long meetings in New York City -- linked to my future work at The King's College as Senior Fellow for Media and Religion -- and I have not been able to give Wood's piece the attention that it deserves. I plan to buy a copy today and read in on the train back to Baltimore.

However, the thesis of the piece is clear in the online discussions that have surrounded it: Whatever the Islamic State is, it is a movement that is rooted in its own understanding of Islamic faith, practice and tradition. Thus, it is engaged in a bloody critique of other forms of Islam, as well as the modern and postmodern West. (Click here for a massive Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher post on Wood's piece, and others linked to it.)

Meanwhile, this same subject -- the debate INSIDE Islam about ISIS and its approach to the faith -- shows up in the very interesting A1 piece in the Times that ran under the headline "U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS’ Recruiting Machine."

This piece operates on two levels, with most of the content focusing on the ISIS process of "grooming" potential recruits online with attention and, later, even gifts. In this context "grooming," the story notes, is a term "more often used in relation to sexual predators."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New York Times alertly reports the war against ISIS' cyber-jihadis

New York Times alertly reports the war against ISIS' cyber-jihadis

ISIS terrorists are outgunning us -- even in the cyberspace we created, spreading its hate with up to 90,000 online messages daily. The Obama administration's newest effort to fight this bombardment is the focus of an alert New York Times report:

At the heart of the plan is expanding a tiny State Department agency, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, to harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.
The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, and who may have more credibility with ISIS’ target audience of young men and women than the American government.

The Times is apparently way out ahead on this story. My searches here and here indicate that only a handful of other news agencies have even noticed, and most of those trailed the Times by six hours or more.

The Times notes the formidable potential of mustering "more than 350 State Department Twitter accounts, combining embassies, consulates, media hubs, bureaus and individuals, as well as similar accounts operated by the Pentagon, the Homeland Security Department and foreign allies." The newspaper also highlights difficulties in coordinating so many competing agencies, each claiming its own turf.

Make sure to click the accompanying video. I know, some videos we post here on GR are just surface treatments that last under two minutes. This one is different; it's an absorbing, five-minute report on the birth and growth of ISIS.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

At least 12 dead as terrorists strike French satirical newspaper 'that lampooned the Prophet Mohammad'

At least 12 dead as terrorists strike French satirical newspaper 'that lampooned the Prophet Mohammad'

Like the rest of America, your GetReligionistas are waking up to news of the terror in France.

As GetReligion contributor George Conger reminded our team, we have run a few posts related to the satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo, whose Paris office was attacked. In a 2012 commentary titled "Charlie Hebdo's Muhammad cartoon crassness," Conger described the publication as "a lowbrow political humor magazine akin to Private Eye."

The latest from The Associated Press:

PARIS (AP) — Masked gunmen shouting "Allahu akbar!" stormed the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper Wednesday, killing 12 people before escaping. It was France's deadliest terror attack in at least two decades.
With a manhunt on, French President Francois Hollande called the attack on the Charlie Hebdo weekly, whose caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed have frequently drawn condemnation from Muslims, "a terrorist attack without a doubt." He said several other attacks have been thwarted in France "in recent weeks."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which the Paris prosecutor's office confirmed killed 12 people, including cartoonists.
France raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced protective measures at houses of worship, stores, media offices and transportation. Top government officials were holding an emergency meeting and Hollande planned a nationally televised address in the evening. Schools closed their doors.
World leaders including President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack, but supporters of the militant Islamic State group celebrated the slayings as well-deserved revenge against France.

CBS News reports:

The last tweet on Charlie Hebdo's account came less than an hour before the shooting. It was a picture depicting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with a message sardonically wishing him, "Best wishes."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

If there has been one consistent theme over the past decade in GetReligion posts about Islam it has been a complaint that mainstream journalists rarely attempt to wrestle with the religious and even doctrinal content of the debates that are taking place inside the complex world of modern Islam.

Instead, the assumption in most newsrooms seems to be that so-called "moderate," or pro-Western Islam is the true Islam and that more fervent or even radical forms of the faith are "fundamentalist" and thus fake or twisted. Millions of Muslims, of course, are on opposite sides of that debate, which only goes to show that it is simplistic to view this complex and global faith as some kind of monolith.

But what do these debates look like at the human level, at the level of families, local mosques, schools and trips to the local shopping mall? Have you ever been waiting to board an airplane in an American airport and seen a Muslim family with the dad in a suit, the mother in modest clothing with a veil and the children standing behind them -- video games in their hands, hip headphones in place and decked out in clothing fresh off the fad racks at the local mall? What are the debates inside that family?

Journalists at The Washington Post tried to dig into that kind of story the other day with a Chicago-datelined piece about how some typical American Muslim teens ended up trying to flee this apostate land in order to support the goals of the Islamic State. It's clear that this was an attempt to wrestle with questions linked to what experts call "cocooning," the process of trying to keep children in the faith by, as the story says, "shielding" them from as "much American culture as possible by banning TV, the Internet and newspapers and sending them to Islamic schools."

Does this work? In this case, it didn't.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Concerning that powerful, but strange, Los Angeles report on rape in Syria

Concerning that powerful, but strange, Los Angeles report on rape in Syria

First thing first: There is no way to read the recent Los Angeles Times report about the rape and torture of women caught up in the fighting in Syria without being sickened. This is powerful material and this lengthy news feature contains lots of on-the-record material about a crime that many are simply too humiliated and terrified to report.

But as I read through it, I noticed something rather strange. You can see hints in the opening anecdote:

Soon after the young woman was released by the Syrian government in a prisoner exchange, activists began noticing the signs.
The woman's husband immediately divorced her. She rarely ventured outside her parents' house. Not long after, she left for Turkey.
Activist Kareem Saleh, who knew the woman from their work within Syria's peaceful opposition, called her at her new home, hoping to document the suspected sexual crimes. But the woman resisted, asking why her story was important and how it would benefit the antigovernment cause. Saleh spoke to her over the course of several days, but even when the woman relented, she would describe the conditions of her captivity only in general terms.
"She said, 'There was a lot, a lot of torture,' and I said, 'What kind of torture?' She kept repeating, 'A lot, a lot of torture,' and I kept pressing until I wore her down and she finally began telling me specifically about the rape."

What does religion have to do with this? 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

THE RELIGION GUY interrupts this blog’s usual answers to posted questions and feels impelled to highlight a development that ought to receive far more attention than it has.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly Sep. 24, President Obama said “it is time for the world -- especially Muslim communities -- to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIL” (the group also called ISIS or “Islamic State”).

As if in response, that same day 126 Muslim leaders issued a dramatic 15-page “Open Letter” to ISIL’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers that denounced them on religious grounds.

Implicitly, the letter targets as well the tactics of al-Qaeda, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and similar terrorist movements claiming Islamic inspiration. The technical argument relies on dozens of citations from the Quran, Hadith (accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s words and deeds), and Sharia (religious law).

The signers of this blunt challenge, all from the faith’s dominant Sunni branch, come from 37 nations including the U.S. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Those 'Arab' nations: I do not think that single word means what you think it means

Those 'Arab' nations: I do not think that single word means what you think it means

Once again, we have an "Arab" issue to discuss.

Pick up a newspaper right now, or turn on cable news, and you will almost certainly run into a story or two about the White House efforts to recruit "Arab" nations to join in the sort-of-fight against the Islamic State. This is slightly confusing, when you stop and think about it. As I wrote the other day:

What is the most important uniting characteristic in the governments being courted by the Obama White House? Is "Arab" the most accurate label to assign, when pondering the common structures and influences in cultures such as Turkey and Egypt (as well as Lebanon)? What unites them?
The bottom line: Journalists must be careful when using the term "Arab." Often that word does not mean what journalists seem to think that it means.

Now, a new story from the Tribune Washington Bureau, which has appeared in many newspapers from coast to coast, has quite precisely illustrated the tricky issues journalists are facing in this case.

The problem? A missing word -- "league."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Radical militants and religion: Obama says ISIL is not 'Islamic,' but not everyone agrees

Radical militants and religion: Obama says ISIL is not 'Islamic,' but not everyone agrees

In his prime-time address to the nation Wednesday night on fighting the Islamic State militant group — also called ISIS and ISIL — President Barack Obama declared:

Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not "Islamic." No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria's civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

Noting what Obama said, CNN suggested:

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama was trying to make a broader point when he uttered "ISIL is not Islamic," but the four-word phrase could still come back to haunt him.
Critics on Twitter quickly fired off on the President for making the assertion, with many noting that ISIL in fact stands for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." (CNN refers to the group by the acronym ISIS in its news reports. The group recently started calling itself the Islamic State).

Religion reporter G. Jeffrey MacDonald posed relevant questions that may be helpful for Godbeat pros and other journalists.

Please respect our Commenting Policy