Yes, an Easter terror attack is symbolic: Some reports danced around facts on the ground

Yes, an Easter terror attack is symbolic: Some reports danced around facts on the ground

In the wake of the Brussels attacks, there were quite a few mainstream media reports noting that police were bracing for more terrorist attacks during the upcoming weekend.

Right, as if -- looking at the calendar -- this was just another weekend.

Why would police specifically need to worry about attacks on Easter, the most important holy day in the Christian faith? Of course, millions of Eastern Christians -- especially in the Middle East -- will face these fears again in the days leading up to Pascha (Easter) on the ancient Julian calendar, which is May 1 this year.

As it turned out, the other shoe dropped in Pakistan, not in Europe. Once again, some journalists -- especially in the early hours of coverage -- were not sure what to do with the very specific and very symbolic religious elements of this horror story. This morning's New York Times story still captures the tone-deaf approach of the early hours.

Check out this headline: "Blast at a Crowded Park in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens."

That seems to be missing a few crucial details, right? And here's the lede on that report:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A suicide bomber set off a powerful blast close to a children’s swing set in a public park on Sunday evening in the eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 69 people and wounding around 300, rescue workers and officials said.

The E-word finally showed up in the next paragraph:

The blast occurred in a parking lot at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, one of the largest parks in Lahore, said Haider Ashraf, a senior police official in the city. The bomb was detonated within several feet of the swings in a park crowded with families on Easter.

And the C-word appeared with an on-the-record quote from radicals claiming credit for the attack:

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Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

In the midst of humdrum life here and entranced as we were by Lady Gaga’s stirring rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the opening of the Super Bowl, we often forget how the other half lives many time zones away.

A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times reminded us of a place where schools are a death trap and the martyrs tend to be in their teens.

What Malala Yousafzai went through in 2012 is something other kids are still living through. Every now and then, this madness makes headlines.

On Jan. 20, the Taliban did a raid at a university in Charsadda, northwest Pakistan, that left 21 people, mostly students, dead. It’s hard to imagine the depth of insanity that propels grown men to mow down defenseless girls and boys, but that’s life today in that tense, often splintered, Islamic republic.

The Times reminded us that the security crisis in Pakistan is not going away and how schools and universities are “soft targets” for the Taliban, which strikes at will.

So, how do you keep reporting on a place where massacre follows massacre?

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Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

The stories have become tragically familiar. A band of jihadists enters a school or some other public facility somewhere in the Muslim world and massacres a large number of people. Mainstream media offer readers a few numbers and a heart-tugging human detail or two.

The latest nightmare unfolded this week in northwester Pakistan. As I read several news reports, a familiar detail was repeated time after time. This led to a question in my mind, one that I think some journalists need to ponder: "Why would radical Muslims shout 'Allahu akbar!' as they massacre other Muslims?"

In other words, if the basic goal in these stories is to provide the "who, what, when, where, why and how" facts, why not pursue the "why" issue? Some of the stories I read took at shot at this ultimate question and others did not.

The first story I saw was in USA Today. This is as close as it came to talking about this "why" issue:

Basit Khan, a computer science student, said he heard the terrorists through the fog and saw them in classroom buildings.
“They were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great) when they started firing,” Khan said. “There were attackers in the stairwell and we had no arms to counter them. In the Pashto Department and Computer Science blocks, I saw at least three attackers.” ...

And later there was this:

A Taliban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, the Associated Press reported. Mansoor was the mastermind behind the deadly December 2014 attack on the Peshawar school.
A spokesman for the main Taliban faction in Pakistan, however, disowned the group behind the attack. The spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, said Wednesday’s attack was “un-Islamic” and insisted the Pakistani Taliban were not behind it. Such statements among the Taliban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions, tje AP reported.
Khurasani said the Taliban “consider the students in the non-military institutions the future of our jihad movement” and would not kill potential future followers.

That was that.

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Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Every now and then, some major news organization does a story about the horrors of "bacha bazi (boy play)" while trying to cover the cultural minefield that is semi-modern Afghanistan. The New York Times is the latest, with a major A1 report with a shocking new angle, which ran under the headline "U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies."

Journalists covering this story face one major problem of logic and language, one that we have written about in the past here at GetReligion. Since Afghanistan is governed by sharia law, which forbids sodomy and sex before marriage, how do news organizations explain this Muslim culture's long history of men forcing boys into sexual slavery?

This question has been especially important in the recent history of this war-torn land because bacha bazi activity among Afghan leaders played a major role in the rise of the morally and doctrinally strict Taliban.

This Times piece had major news to report and it delivered the goods in unforgettable fashion. However, this piece also took a novel approach to the crucial question of the moral status of bacha bazi under Islamic law and traditions -- it ignored it completely. 

First, here is the heart of this stunning story:

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene -- in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.
The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban.

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Painfully familiar 'ghost' in the shooting of the U.S. general

Painfully familiar 'ghost' in the shooting of the U.S. general

What we have here is -- alas -- an example of a religion-new "ghost" that your GetReligionistas could write about day after day after day, world without end, amen.

For newcomers, a "ghost" (in the lingo of this weblog) is a religious issue or subject that journalists really should have included in a news report, that is if the goal was for readers to understand what is happening. For more information on this term read the very first post published at GetReligion.org, back on the original Day 1.

A classic example of a "ghost"? How long did it take for the mainstream press to explain the doctrinal elements at the heart of the bloody conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq? Way too long, quite frankly, and some newsrooms are still in the dark on that.

This brings me to the fatal shooting of that U.S. general in Afghanistan. Anyone who reads the main report in The New York Times learns, over and over, that he died because of "political" tensions. Period.

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Bowe Bergdahl: Calvinist, Buddhist, Muslim seeker?

While most of the DC Beltway journalists do that dance that they do (Will the vaguely legal Taliban prisoner swap hurt Democrats in 2014 elections?!), there are some interesting religion-beat questions hiding between the lines in the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. As a jumping-off point, consider the following rather bizarre passage in this New York Post report:

As a teen, the home-schooled son of Calvinists took up ballet — recruited to be a “lifter” by “a beautiful local girl,” Rolling Stone reported, “the guy who holds the girl aloft in a ballet sequence.” The strategy worked: Bergdahl — who also began dabbling in Budd­hism and tarot card reading — soon moved in with the woman.

A BBC explainer has some of that information, but with a few more specifics:

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Yes, it's crucial that Boko Haram kills and tortures Muslims

Yes, we need to focus on Nigeria and Boko (“books”) Haram (“forbidden“). Again. Why? Why keep coming back to the mainstream coverage of this story?

For starters, the scope of the story is only getting bigger with the planned — limited — intervention of the Obama White House in the efforts to find and rescue the 270-plus teen-aged girls who were abducted last month by this terrorist network. Reports about the precise number still being held as slaves and potential forced brides have varied, according to different sources that are trying to determine how many girls have or have not escaped. The vast majority of the girls are Christians, but some are Muslims.

This story has climbed out the obscure back pages dedicated to non-entertaining horrors on the other side of the world and up into the prime ink-and-video terrain noticed by the masses. I also believe that, as this has happened, mainstream journalists have been doing a somewhat better job of dealing with the religious elements of this story. We are past the stage where our most powerful newspaper can say that Boko Haram is doing mysterious things for mysterious reasons while seeking mysterious goals and that is that.

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Terrorists shred faithful at generic Pakistani church

Yesterday was Kenya and, of course, the killing there isn’t over yet.

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