Syria

'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians

'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians

If you are looking for the Washington Post story about the remarks on ISIS and "genocide" by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, don't look through the 50 or so stories promoted on the front page of the newspaper's website. This story wasn't that important.

You're going to need a search engine to find it. To save time, click here to get to this headline: "Kerry declares Islamic State has committed genocide."

But that headline doesn't capture the real news, since no one has been debating whether the Islamic State had committed "genocide" against the Yazidis. That was settled long ago. So the real news in this story was the declaration that that the word "genocide" also applied to members of the ancient Christian churches in this region, as well as other religious minorities.

Why did this step take so long? And why wasn't this an important story to the editorial masters of Beltway-land? Actually, you can see clues in a crucial passage way down in the Post story. Hold that thought, because we will come back to that.

First, here is some key material up top:

After months of pressure from Congress and religious groups, Kerry issued a finding that largely concurred with a House resolution declaring the Islamic State guilty of genocide. The resolution passed 393 to 0 on Monday night
Kerry said a review by the State Department and U.S. intelligence determined that Yazidis, Christians and Shiite groups have been victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by the radical al-Qaeda offshoot, a Sunni Muslim group also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, its Arabic acronym.
“The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yazidis because they are Yazidis; Shia because they are Shia,” Kerry said in a statement he read to reporters at the State Department. “Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”

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House says (393-0) that Christians are victims of ISIS genocide, but key voices are missing

House says (393-0) that Christians are victims of ISIS genocide, but key voices are missing

Clearly, "bipartisan" has to be the last adjective any journalist would use to describe the current political climate in the United States.

Thus, a 393-0 vote on a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives is an eyebrow-raising moment, no matter what issue is involved. In this case, it's crucial that the issue is linked to the Islamic State and its hellish massacres of religious minorities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere -- including Orthodox and Catholic flocks that have lived and worshiped in these lands since New Testament times.

ISIS has destroyed ancient monasteries and churches, has razed or looted irreplaceable ancient libraries and sacred art. It has become rational to consider that Christianity may be wiped out in the region in which it was born.

So here is my question: Yes, this is a political story. But, for most readers, is this JUST a political story? Here is the top of the Associated Press "Big Story" report:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ratcheting up the pressure on the Obama administration, the House has overwhelmingly approved a resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities committed by the Islamic State group against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.
The non-binding measure, passed Monday by a vote of 393-0, illustrated the heavy bipartisan support for action on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry is leaning toward making a genocide determination against the Islamic State and could do so as early as this week, when a congressional deadline for a decision has been set.
But the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday's deadline.

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The New York Times digs into 'Arab' sex problems (and all Arabs are alike, you know)

The New York Times digs into 'Arab' sex problems (and all Arabs are alike, you know)

At the time of 9/11, my family was part of an Eastern Orthodox parish in South Florida in which most of the members -- a strong majority -- were either Arab or Lebanese. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.

One strong memory: The anger of grandparents noting that their grandchildren were being harassed at local schools -- in one case, pushed around on a playground -- because they were "Arabs" and "Arabs" attacked the World Trade Center. This American-born child from a Christian Arab home was wearing his gold baptismal cross at the time the other kids jumped him.

Don't people realize, parishioners kept saying, that "Arab" is not a religious term, that "Arab" is not the same thing as "Muslim"? Don't they know that Christians have been part of Middle Eastern culture since the early church? Don't they know that the "Muslim world" is not the same thing as the "Arab world"?

I thought of this while reading a New York Times Sunday Review article that ran with this headline: "The Sexual Misery of the Arab World." Here is how it starts:

ORAN, Algeria -- After Tahrir came Cologne. After the square came sex. The Arab revolutions of 2011 aroused enthusiasm at first, but passions have since waned. Those movements have come to look imperfect, even ugly: For one thing, they have failed to touch ideas, culture, religion or social norms, especially the norms relating to sex. Revolution doesn’t mean modernity.

Note the reference to "ideas, culture, religion or social norms." Let's continue:

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Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Did you hear about the historic meeting that will occur today between the media superstar Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Moscow and All Russia? Is there up-front coverage of this in your newspaper this morning?

The meeting is taking place in Havana for the expressed purpose of voicing support for persecuted Christians facing genocide in parts of the Middle East, primarily -- at the moment -- in Syria and Iraq. There is very little that Rome and Moscow agree on at the moment, when it comes to ecumenical matters, but Francis and Kirill are both very concerned about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in that devastated region.

Have you heard about this in major media?

If you are interested, this was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in. I also wrote about the background of this meeting in a previous GetReligion post ("The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting") and in this week's "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate.

Now, call me naive, but I thought that this meeting would receive major coverage. This is, after all, the first ever meeting -- first as in it has never happened before in history -- between the leader of the pope of Rome and the patriarch of the world's largest branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Syria is also in the news, last time I checked. There is a possibility that Americans -- this is a nation that includes a few Christians who read newspapers -- might be interested in a statement by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill on the massacre of Christians in Syria and elsewhere.

I guess I am naive. It appears that the meeting in Cuba today is not very important at all. I mean, look at the front page of The New York Times website.

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Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

First things first: Click play on the above YouTube. Now begin reading.

As you would expect, I have received quite a bit of email during the past 24 hours linked to my GetReligion post -- "What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq" -- about the mainstream media coverage of the stunning announcement of a Feb. 12 meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church of All Russia.

As you would expect, much of the press coverage has stressed what this all means, from a Roman Catholic and Western perspective.

This is understandable, since there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and Francis is the brightest star in the religion-news firmament at the moment. People who know their history, however, know that this meeting is also rooted in the life and work of Saint Pope John Paul II, who grew up in a Polish Catholic culture that shares so much with the churches of the East, spiritually and culturally.

I updated my piece yesterday to point readers toward a fine Crux think piece by the omnipresent (yes, I'll keep using that word) John L. Allen, Jr. Let me do that once again. Read it all, please. Near the end, there is this interesting comment concerning Pope Francis:

... His foreign policy priorities since his election have been largely congenial to Russia’s perceived interests. In September 2013, he joined forces with Vladimir Putin in successfully heading off a proposed Western military offensive in Syria to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since then, Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations.

This morning, my email contained another essay by a Catholic scribe that I stress is essential reading for those starting a research folder to prepare to cover the meeting in Havana. This is from Inside the Vatican and it is another eLetter from commentator Robert Moynihan.

This piece is simply packed with amazing details about events -- some completely overlooked by the mainstream media -- that have almost certainly, one after another, contributed to the logic of the Cuba meeting between Francis and Kirill.

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What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

It is certainly the most important story of the day for the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians. Yes, even bigger than the announcement -- with the lengthy fast (no meat, no dairy) of Great Lent approaching -- that Ben & Jerry's is poised to begin selling vegan ice cream.

I am referring to the announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Any meeting between the pope and the patriarch of all Russia would be historic, simply because the shepherds of Rome and Moscow have never met before. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

The big question, of course, is: Why are they meeting? What finally pushed the button to ease the tensions enough between these two churches for their leaders to meet?

In terms of the early news coverage, the answer depends on whether you are one of the few news consumers who will have a chance to read the Reuters report, being circulated by Religion News Service, or one of the many who see the Associated Press story that is, I believe, deeply flawed. Alas, the majority of news consumers will probably see a shortened version of the AP report and will be totally in the dark about the primary purpose of this historic meeting.

So here is the top of the Reuters report:

MOSCOW -- The patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church will take part in an historic first meeting with the Roman Catholic pontiff on Feb. 12 because of the need for a joint response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Orthodox Church said.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said that long-standing differences between the two churches remain, most notably a row over the status of the Uniate Church, in Ukraine. But he said these differences were being put aside so that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis could come together over persecution of Christians.

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Top 10 religion stories for 2015: How would Pope Francis have voted?

Top 10 religion stories for 2015: How would Pope Francis have voted?

No doubt about it, journalists really love Pope Francis. In many cases, they love the version of this pope that they have created through misquotes, partial quotes and by ignoring much of what he has to say. Hey, but who am I to judge?

Pope Francis had a lot to say during 2015 and, frankly, I thought that most of it was somewhat predictable, in terms of what we already knew about him. His sermons and addresses during the visit to Acela land in the media-rich American Northeast had lots of substance, but very few surprises.

So here is my question: Would Pope Francis think that he was the world's most important news story in 2015? I think not.

If you were looking for remarks by Francis that received little coverage, consider his steady stream of remarks about the persecution of religious minorities worldwide -- especially Christians in the Middle East. In the following quotes, drawn from a July sermon in a Mass with Eastern Catholics, he even comments on how the powerful have been ignoring this truly historic massacre:

“Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: go on the same path of Jesus.”
The Holy Father also remembered the broader persecution of Christians in the present day. “We now, in the newspapers, hear the horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast, host Todd Wilken and I -- as is our end-of-the-year norm -- worked out way through the Religion Newswriters Association poll to pick the Top 10 religion-beat stories. Click here to tune that in.

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Their blood still cries out: Crux opens series investigating global presecution of Christians

Their blood still cries out: Crux opens series investigating global presecution of Christians

If you follow religion news carefully, and you have been on Twitter over the weekend, you are probably aware that John L. Allen, Jr., and the team at Crux -- a Catholic-oriented news site operated by The Boston Globe -- have published the first in what will be a series of occasional stories about the persecution of Christians around the world.

This is not surprising, in light of the fact that Allen (surely one of the most productive reporters working on the religion-beat these days) has produced a book entitled "The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution."

It is also significant that a recent Pew Research Center study found, as Allen noted in his opening report in this series, that Christians were harassed either by the government or social groups (think militias or mobs) in 102 of 198 countries -- more than any other religious group. Under normal circumstances, Pew surveys on this kind of news topic tend to lead to bumps in mainstream coverage.

However, talking about the persecution of Christians is not your normal subject, for a variety of reasons. There are people on the cultural left who simply cannot see Christians as anything other than oppressors. For two decades, powerful forces in Washington, D.C., have fought attempts to promote religious liberty at the global level.

Meanwhile, there are also people on the cultural right who -- when looking at the Middle East in particular -- struggle to identify with the groups being persecuted and slaughtered because these ancient flocks are not the right kinds of Christians. (For more information on that topic, see this "On Religion" column that I wrote nearly two decades ago.) Focusing on human rights can also be bad for business, you know.

In light of this deep and diverse skepticism, it's crucial that Allen's main story -- The New Christian Martyrs: Globally, religious persecution is Christian persecution -- includes the following:

Christians are, of course, hardly the only community facing savagery and oppression.

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Here's what's missing in that Associated Press story on America's Little Syria

Here's what's missing in that Associated Press story on America's Little Syria

Talk about false advertising.

In the title, I made it sound like I'd tell you what's missing in that recent Associated Press story on America's Little Syria.

But here's the deal: I'm not entirely sure I know what's missing. Or if something really is. How's that for wishy-washiness?

I've read the AP report three times — going on four — and each time at the end, I find myself going, "Hmmmmm."

Maybe you can help me figure this out? 

Let's start at the top:

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A few days ago, a pastor asked Syrian-born restaurant owner Marie Jarrah to donate food to a welcoming event for recently arrived Syrian refugees. Jarrah, who said she regularly helps people in need, declined.
Like many of Allentown's establishment Syrians, she doesn't think it's a good idea to bring refugees to the city. She clung to that view even before last week's terrorist attacks in Paris. "Problems are going to happen," said Jarrah, co-owner of Damascus Restaurant in a heavily Syrian enclave.
As debate intensifies nationally over the federal government's plan to accept an additional 10,000 refugees from war-ravaged Syria, a similar argument is taking place in Allentown — one with a sectarian twist.
Pennsylvania's third-largest city is home to one of the nation's largest populations of Syrians. They are mostly Christian and, in no small number, support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a dynamic that's prompting some of them to oppose the resettlement of refugees, who are Muslim and say they fled violence perpetrated by the Assad regime.

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