In a recent post about an error in a story about a new saint, readers talked about the notable lack of media coverage of another set of new saints -- Christians martyred by Islamic invaders. One reader commented:
The mainstream media didn't seem particularly interested in a group of Catholics martyred by Islamic invaders. Every brief account I saw gave only the information that those who did the killing were "Ottomans" or "Turks." But how many Americans are historically savvy enough to know the Turks--or Ottomans- were Moslem--and that the killings were because the Italians wouldn't convert to Islam?
Musn't disturb the fiction that the only bad guys in the religious conflict between Islam and Christianity were the Christian Crusaders. In fact, repeatedly one reads in the media and some popular history books the false claim that Islam always respected the religion of those they conquered.
I think it's fair to move from the general to the specific and wonder how many American reporters are that historically savvy. While I'm certainly in the camp that is willing to have concerns about the fictions our media seems determined to maintain to protect what certainly appears to be a common "narrative," the failure of the writer to connect the dots may simply reflect ignorance that there are connections. Given how things Catholic--and this Pope's election, in particular--have been so routinely (and dare I say, predictably) covered lately, the focus of this article and its deficiencies is hardly surprising.
So I wanted to be sure to highlight an Associated Press story I came across in the Washington Post. It's about the martyrs. What do you think of the headline?
Hundreds who refused to embrace Islam are new saints in pope’s 1st canonization ceremony
At first I thought it odd that their refusal to deny Jesus Christ was put in terms of a refusal to "embrace" Islam, but I think the headline writer was merely trying to make sure that Islam's role in their martyrdom was highlighted. From the top of the story:
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday gave the Catholic Church new saints, including hundreds of 15th-century martyrs who were beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam, as he led his first canonization ceremony Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square...
Shortly after his election in March, Francis called for more dialogue with Muslims, and it was unclear how the granting of sainthood to the martyrs would be received. Islam is a sensitive subject for the church, and Benedict stumbled significantly in his relations with the Muslim community.
Wait, what? Benedict "stumbled significantly" in his relations with the Muslim community? From where exactly does the AP reporter's opinion come? Why is it being included in the story? We have no idea because the reporter doesn't substantiate his opinion in any way. What does it mean for this relationship to "stumble?" I honestly have no idea.
You might think that it would be good to mention that Christians are being beaten, ostracized, imprisoned and killed across the world and that their churches are routinely blown up or banned. Heck, even if those stories are routinely ignored or downplayed by major media, this might be the perfect hook for a healthy discussion on this relationship. Instead we're told later in the story:
Christian churches have been attacked in Nigeria and Iraq, and Catholics in China loyal to the Vatican have been subject to harassment and sometimes jail over the last decades.
Christians in Saudi Arabia must worship out of the public eye because the ultraconservative kingdom does not officially permit churches and non-Muslim religious sites.
What a boring way to describe the persecution of Christians in today's world. But even so, did Benedict "stumble" by condemning these atrocities? Is that what the AP reporter was trying to say? Because when I think back to, say, Regensburg, and the protests it brought -- the firebombing of churches, killing of nuns, attacks on Christians, etc., I'm not sure it's fair to say that Benedict stumbled. I mean, I know that some people think that, but others think that various Muslim groups stumbled in response.
Do these martyrs canonized by the Vatican have relevance today in Asia, Africa and the Middle East? Isn't that a more important part of the story than an opinion about stumbling? The Inside Vatican scoops are one thing, but I'm more interested in how this canonization inspires or comforts the millions of Christians living with persecution worldwide.
Just some interesting overall framing for this story on what could have been presented in different, less hostile ways. Roman Catholic readers might pick up on a few more barbs in the piece if they read the whole thing.
Also, if you want to read actual, narrative details about these martyrs, here's a good start. It's a pretty amazing story, including:
Mehmed II was one of the most powerful and successful emperors in Ottoman Turkish history. He had taken the impregnable city of Constantinople in 1453, and had pacified the Balkan regions. By the 1470s Mehmed 'The Conqueror' was preparing a death blow to Europe. His fleet sailed the Mediterranean without challenge. Having taken 'New Rome' he set his sights on 'Old Rome.' In order to test the resolve of Christian Europe he sent an exploratory raiding party in 1480. Its target was the small maritime town of Otranto in far south Italy. During this expedition thousands of people were massacred, in what was really an attempt to instill terror into the inhabitants of the peninsula. After the city fell, its civil and religious leaders were either beheaded or sawn into pieces. Eight hundred men of the town were offered the choice between conversion to Islam or death. Led by the tailor Antonio Primaldi, acting as spokesman for the group, they were beheaded, one by one, on a hill outside town while their families watched.
The significance of their sacrifice was clear. Antonio and his townsmen had, in reality, saved Europe – their bravery gave Christendom time both to regroup, and to realize the gravity of the threat.
Nope, no modern relevance at all.