Iraq

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

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? 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Your weekend think piece: It's time for our politicians (and journalists) to get religion

Your weekend think piece: It's time for our politicians (and journalists) to get religion

Yes, this post is about an op-ed piece from an advocacy publication.

However, every now and then your GetReligionistas share material of this kind when it has obvious relevance to debates about the quality of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press, here in America and abroad. This Damian Thompson piece from The Spectator (hat tip to Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher) is precisely that kind of think piece.

The context, of course, is the wave of persecution and violence in Syria and Iraq, with the Islamic State leading the charge. The U.S. government experts watched and watched and watched (thank you, Kristen Powers) as this tsunami of blood rolled over the land, affecting all kinds of religious minorities, including Christian communities with roots all the way back to the early church fathers.

Why the delay? Partially, it was a matter of politics. The right wants to blame President Barack Obama for literally everything that is going on. The left still wants (with just cause, in my opinion) to keep bashing the culture-building dreams of President George W. Bush, who was absolutely convinced that Western democracy works for everywhere, for everyone, even without that whole Bill of Rights thing going on.

Thompson's thesis is quite simple: Our elites just don't get religion.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Overwhelmed: Trying to see the big, historic picture in Iraq and Syria

Overwhelmed: Trying to see the big, historic picture in Iraq and Syria

Several times a year, a major national or international story simply takes over the news. The bigger the story, the more likely -- in my experience at least -- it is to have a religion-angle linked to it, often an angle of historic proportions.

However, since the primary religion of journalism is politics, in the here and now, religion angles often slide into the background in the coverage until, finally, the role of religion in a major story is so obvious that it cannot be denied.

This is what is happening right now with the story of Iraq, ISIS (or ISIL) and the persecution of religious minorities, especially in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain region.

The truly historic story that looms in the background is -- literally -- the death of Christian communities that have existed in this region since the early church. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

An ISIS tax on Christians? The accurate word is 'dhimmitude'

An ISIS tax on Christians? The accurate word is 'dhimmitude'

A month ago, I wrote a post about the events unfolding in Mosul and argued that journalists who covered this story -- those brave enough to venture into the Nineveh Plain region -- needed to grasp the meaning of the word "dhimmitude."

Yes, this is a controversial term.

Yes, it is the right word to use when covering the unfolding strategies of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, when dealing with the ancient Christian communities in this region. As I wrote in that post:

The key is that people of other faiths living in lands ruled by Islam are given “dhimmi” status in which they receive some protection under sharia law, in exchange for paying a Jizyah tax as a sign of submission. The big debates are about other conditions of submission which are, or are not, required under dhimmitude. Dhimmis are not allowed to protect themselves (some claim it is impossible to rape a dhimmi), to display symbols of their faith, to build (or even repair) their religious sanctuaries, to win converts, etc. Historically, dhimmis have been asked to wear some form of distinctive apparel as a sign of their inferior status. The key is that this is an protected, but inferior, status under strict forms of sharia law.

This term should have been used in the courageous New York Times piece -- "Life in a Jihadist Capital: Order With a Darker Side" -- that is getting quite a bit of online attention right now, and justifiably so.

Yes, I know that this article violates the Associated Press Stylebook's rule on use of the historic term "fundamentalist." What else is new? This appears to be a consistent policy at the Times, making sure that readers link this term from conservative Protestantism with the worst of what is happening under Islam. Thus, concerning ISIS, the world's most powerful newspaper stresses that the group has "begun imposing its vision of a state that blends its fundamentalist interpretation of Islam with the practicalities of governance."

However, this story is crucial because it includes on-site reporting in the region.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The purge of Christians from Mosul in northern Iraq -- home to thriving Christian communities almost since biblical times -- is a historic human rights abuse. Yet mainstream media have done comparatively little coverage on it, probably because they're stretched thin with the twin stories of the airline shoot-down in Ukraine and Israel's invasion of Gaza. Also, of course, the Islamic State is in no mood to allow access to the "kafir" media.

Still, some reports have emerged, and some are brave, sensitive and frank on what the Christians are suffering.

The New York Times is often tone-deaf on religion in the U.S., but the newspaper has distinguished itself in stories like this one. Tim Arango's newsfeature opens with an anecdote on the loss shared by Iraqi Christians and many Muslims:

BAGHDAD — A day after Christians fled Mosul, the northern city controlled by Islamist extremists, under the threat of death, Muslims and Christians gathered under the same roof — a church roof — here on Sunday afternoon. By the time the piano player had finished the Iraqi national anthem, and before the prayers, Manhal Younis was crying.

“I can’t feel my identity as an Iraqi Christian,” she said, her three little daughters hanging at her side.

A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, “You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.”

The warm scene here was an unusual counterpoint to the wider story of Iraq’s unraveling, as Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gain territory and persecute anyone who does not adhere to their harsh version of Islamic law. On Saturday, to meet a deadline by the ISIS militants, most Christians in Mosul, a community almost as old as Christianity itself, left with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

The article logs the outrage over the Islamic State's brutality, from leaders as diverse as Pope Francis and Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations. Arango plays up the angle that the militants are enemies of most Iraqis, not just Christians:

Please respect our Commenting Policy