ISIS

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.

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Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Patience, boss. The mainstream press got to the story on day two.

GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, questioned Wednesday why major media outlets seemed to be ignoring the Jewish faith of Steven Sotloff, the latest journalist executed by Islamic State militants.

While tmatt said he could understand withholding that incendiary detail while radical Islamists held Sotloff, he asked:

However, why — now — is the faith element of this tragedy not relevant to editors at CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.? Why isn't this part of the basic factual material at the foundation of this tragic story?

But it didn't take long for that basic factual material to start making its way into mainstream news accounts. Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein was among those who jumped on the story.

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ISIS is the 'in thing' for German jihadis? Please explain, Reuters

ISIS is the 'in thing' for German jihadis? Please explain, Reuters

ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State, whatever it's called this week, is supposed to be the "in" thing, a "more authentic" organization, according to a recent piece from Reuters.

Like how? That's where it gets murky.

There is a link between the successes IS has had so far in Iraq and the activities here in Germany and the propaganda and canvassing activities aimed at young jihadists," said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency.

"The Islamic State is, so to speak, the 'in' thing - much more attractive than the Nusra Front, the al Qaeda spin-off in Syria," the BfV chief told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

"What attracts people is the intense brutality, the radicalism and rigor. That suggests to them that it is a more authentic organization even than al Qaeda," he said. "Al Qaeda fades besides the Islamic State when it comes to brutality."

OK, we get it. ISIS is brutal and radical. All of us who have read stories of their rhetoric, or seen videos of their murders -- including that of Steven Sotloff just yesterday -- have noticed. But ... a "more authentic organization"?

More authentic in terms of loudness or effectiveness? Just maybe. Al-Qaida, the estranged parent of ISIS, has favored big targets like the World Trade Center and the U.S. embassies in eastern Africa. Al-Qaida also hasn't targeted other Muslims and blown up their mosques, as ISIS has.

More authentically religious? Reuters doesn't say. And it's important for Germany to know given the numbers in this story:

 

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Intentional omission? The ghost in MSM coverage of reporters held by ISIS

Intentional omission? The ghost in MSM coverage of reporters held by ISIS

The New York Times reports that Shirley Sotloff, whose son Steven Joel Sotloff is a freelance journalist being held by ISIS, says in a video message to her son's captors: 

“As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over,” Ms. Sotloff, a teacher from Miami, says in the video. She explains that she has been studying Islam since his capture, and then urges ISIS’ leader to follow the path of his religion’s founder: “I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected People of the Book” — a reference to Christians and Jews.
She adds that in her study she has learned that Islam teaches that “no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others.”
“Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government,” she continues. “He is an innocent journalist.”

Note that the story does add that "People of the Book" is ”a reference to Christians and Jews." This is good. In some other media reports online, "Book" has a lower-case "b." What, precisely, is this "Book"?

However, look for mention of Steven Sotloff's specific religion in the Times article -- or in coverage of Shirley Sotloff's video in the Miami Herald, the UK Mirror and other mainstream news outlets -- and you won't find it.

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WPost ponders mysterious secular surge in support for U.S. action against ISIS

WPost ponders mysterious secular surge in support for U.S. action against ISIS

Faithful readers of this blog over the past decade or so will know that your GetReligionistas rarely write about the contents of mainstream news blogs or op-ed page columns, even as the line between news coverage and commentary continues to blur.

However, every now and then someone writes a piece that is highly relevant to work on the religion-news beat or offers a fresh insight into how mainstream journalists are covering an important religion event or trend. This brings me to a new piece in "The Fix," the self-proclaimed "top political blog" at The Washington Post.

In this case, the headline states the issue facing political writer Aaron Blake:

Americans strongly opposed airstrikes in Syria last time. Why would it be different now?

So what has happened in, oh, the past year or so in this region -- Iraq and Syria -- that may have changed the minds of many Americans? 

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Baltimore Sun covers prayer rite for Iraq, without noticing absence of Eastern churches?

Baltimore Sun covers prayer rite for Iraq, without noticing absence of Eastern churches?

If you have been looking at the big picture in Iraq and Syria, you know that one of the key elements of the Islamic State's rise to power has been its horrific persecution -- slaughter, even -- of the religious minorities caught in its path, as well as Muslims who disagree with the ISIS view of the faith and the need for a new caliphate. 

All of that is horrible and needs continuing coverage. However, the crushing of the ancient churches located in the Nineveh Plain region is a truly historic development, a fact that has begun to bleed into the mainstream-news coverage.

Many religious leaders are concerned and are crying out (click here for New York Times op-ed by major Jewish leader) for someone to do something to help the churches of the East, who have worshipped at now-crushed altars in their homelands since the earliest days of the Christian faith.

Needless to say, I was not surprised to pick up The Baltimore Sun and see a front-page feature on a major interfaith prayer service addressing this crisis. Alas, I was also not surprised to see a huge, glaring hole in this report.

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With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

The Mirror  interviews an ISIS jihadi -- believed to be connected to those who killed photographer James Foley -- and reminds us all of the appeal of Fleet Street newpapers. The article also shows the risks of ignoring religious statements.

First, the achievement. The Mirror  took an audacious step in publishing the interview -- apparently a text-based conversation via an "obscure messaging app" -- with an avowed jihadi inside Syria. If true -- and it would be tough for others to verify -- the story is a 1,000-plus-word look into the mind of a man who would chop off another's head.

The man is named as Abu Abduallah al-Britani, one of the so-called "Beatles," a trio of British men who left the U.K. to join the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria. And The Mirror gets max mileage out of it -- right from the headline, " 'I’m ready to behead next enemy': Chilling message from Briton willing to kill for jihad."

In true Fleet Street style, the article is peppered with sensational adjectives like "fanatic," "warped," "horrific" and ...

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Does an Islamic state run on 'ideology,' 'theology' or both?

Does an Islamic state run on 'ideology,' 'theology' or both?

Long, long ago -- 1982, to be precise -- I had a chance to talk with CBS commentator Bill Moyers soon after he returned from a lengthy stay in the Middle East. Americans were, of course, still reeling from the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Iran.

Moyers was fascinated with the role of the mosque in a typical Muslim community in the region. The local mosque was the center for religious life, but it was also where people went for help in every other aspect of their daily lives -- including many contacts with government aid and programs. The key thing journalists and other outsiders needed to grasp, he told me, was that "there was no such thing as the separation of mosque and state." 

With that in mind, hear the words spoken by the man that the British are calling "Jihadi John" as he prepared to end the life of one of his Western captives:

This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen of your country. As a government, you have been at the forefront of aggression towards the Islamic State. You have plotted against us and gone out of you way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties against Muslims. 

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God and journalism: American reportedly beheaded by ISIS wrote about his faith

God and journalism: American reportedly beheaded by ISIS wrote about his faith

What absolutely crushing news.

Amid all the brutal headlines involving the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria (important background here) came a YouTube video Tuesday purportedly showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

Most of the initial news stories I've read — including those by the Washington Post and the New York Times — ignore Foley's own faith background.

But in the city where Foley graduated from Marquette University — a Catholic and Jesuit institution — the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel nails the faith angle. 

The Journal Sentinel notes that Foley previously was among "four journalists kidnapped by Moammar Gadhafi loyalists in Libya in April 2011." The Milwaukee story describes a letter Foley wrote to his alma mater after 44 days in captivity.

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