ISIS

60 Minutes shows the faces and the tears of Iraqi Christians beseiged by ISIS

60 Minutes shows the faces and the tears of Iraqi Christians beseiged by ISIS

Every so often there’s a piece on TV that surprises you with its grace and pathos. Last Sunday’s 60 Minutes program on the persecution of Iraqi Christians by ISIS was one such program.

To do the show, Lara Logan -- the same correspondent who got so badly attacked in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 -- goes to the Nineveh plains, a vast area east of Mosul including villages that have been there some 2,000 years. I was in the area in 2004 and it truly does feel like ancient Mesopotamia there. One almost expects to hear the boots of Sennacherib’s troops.

The filming is done in Erbil (a regional Kurdish city) and in some of the Christian towns only a few miles from ISIS lines.  One was Al Qosh, the burial place of the Old Testament prophet Nahum and one of the more pristine examples of two millennia of Christian habitation.  If ISIS ever got up there, it’d be a catastrophe, as there’s an orphanage there within a new, elegant monastery. The show commences thus:

There are few places on earth where Christianity is as old as it is in Iraq. Christians there trace their history to the first century apostles. But today, their existence has been threatened by the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State. More than 125,000 Christians -- men, women and children -- have been forced from their homes over the last 10 months.
The Islamic State -- or ISIS -- stormed into Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, last summer and took control. From there, it pushed into the neighboring villages and towns across this region, known as the Nineveh Plains, a vast area that's been home to Christians since the first century after Christ. Much of what took almost 2,000 years to build has been lost in a matter of months.
On the side of a mountain, overlooking the Nineveh Plains of ancient Mesopotamia, is the Monastery of St. Matthew. It's one of the oldest on earth.

The type of Christians in this place are Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Catholics; species of Christian whom those in the West rarely get to meet. We get video of real people with names and faces and sorrows even if they belong to Christian denominations we’ve never heard of. And then there is an American Christian -- Brett Felton, an Iraq war veteran from Detroit -- who gets a segment to himself as to why some western Christians are coming back to Iraq to help Christians there.

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Why is the mainstream press (and Congress and churches) silent as Christians are literally being crucified?

Why is the mainstream press (and Congress and churches) silent as Christians are literally being crucified?

Last fall, I took out an online subscription to ForeignPolicy.com, because I love international news. Although it’s chiefly for foreign policy wonks, I’ve been pleased at the occasional religion piece they’ve posted such as why certain Buddhists detest the Dalai Lama by FP’s Asian editor. Or this story about a former Rocky Mountain News reporter who’s become an “Islamic Lenin.”

So I was intrigued to see this article that asks why Congress and churches alike are silent as Christians are getting literally crucified in Syria and their churches are demolished all over the Middle East: 

Last August, President Barack Obama signed off on legislation creating a special envoy charged with aiding the ancient Christian communities and other beleaguered religious minorities being targeted by the Islamic State.
The bill was a modest one — the new position was given a budget of just $1 million — and the White House quietly announced the signing in a late-afternoon press release that lumped it in with an array of other low-profile legislation. Neither Obama nor any prominent lawmakers made any explicit public reference to the bill.
Seven months later, the position remains unfilled — a small but concrete example of Washington’s passivity in the face of an ongoing wave of atrocities against the Assyrian, Chaldean, and other Christian communities of Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has razed centuries-old churches and monasteries, beheaded and crucified Christians, and mounted a concerted campaign to drive Christians out of cities and towns they’ve lived in for thousands of years. The Iraqi city of Mosul had a Christian population of 35,000 when U.S. forces invaded the country in 2003; today, with the city in the hands of the Islamic State, the vast majority of them have fled.
Every holiday season, politicians in America take to the airwaves to rail against a so-called “war on Christmas” or “war on Easter,” pointing to things like major retailers wishing shoppers generic “happy holidays.” But on the subject of the Middle East, where an actual war on Christians is in full swing, those same voices are silent. 

The article goes on to tell how various people — most of them in Washington – are trying to change this indifference by pressuring Congress, 2016 presidential candidates, the State Department. I found remarks by John Eibner, the CEO of Christian Solidarity International-USA, closest to the mark as to why the White House – and hence the media – has been silent about this genocide. 

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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?"

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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? 

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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. 

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