At first blush, an Oklahoma murder making national headlines this week seems to be a case of anti-Muslim hate. That would mean that it's another story about "Islamophobia," as the news media like to call it.
Except that Khalid Jabara, the 37-year-old man shot dead in Tulsa, was not a Muslim. The victim, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon, was an Orthodox Christian. That simple fact should have raised all kinds of questions for journalists working on this story.
The basic details of the crime, via CNN:
Tulsa, Oklahoma (CNN) For years, the Jabara family says, their Tulsa neighbor terrorized them.
He called them names -- "dirty Arabs," "filthy Lebanese," they said.He hurled racial epithets at those who came to work on their lawns, they alleged. He ran Haifa Jabara over with his car and went to court for it.
And it all came to a head last week when the man, Stanley Vernon Majors, walked up to the front steps of the family home and shot and killed Khalid Jabara, police said.
"The frustration that we continue to see anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, xenophobic rhetoric and hate speech has unfortunately led up to a tragedy like this," it said.
To what or whom does the "it said' refer after that last quote? What person or group produced this statement?
I'm not entirely certain. My guess is that an editing error led to that awkward attribution. But the quote sets up the "anti-Muslim" angle:
These are tense times for Muslim-Americans -- and those perceived to be Muslims. (The Jabaras are Christians of Lebanese descent.)
Ever since the Paris attacks, carried out by extremists hiding behind religion, xenophobic bile has poured out. Then came San Bernardino, and after it anti-Muslim rhetoric from the Trump campaign, and a steady stream of hateful incidents came rolling in.
Is it me or does that background material include a fair amount of editorializing by the members of the CNN team? Specific examples rather than broad generalizations (such as the "xenophobic bile has poured out" phrasing) might be more appropriate for an impartial news story aiming for an impartial reporting of the facts and relevant background. Am I right?
Later, CNN includes a full statement from a family spokesperson that includes this revealing quote:
This suspect had a history of bigotry against our family. He repeatedly attacked our ethnicity and perceived religion, making racist comments. He often called us “dirty Arabs,” “filthy Lebanese,” “Aye-rabs,” and “Mooslems” -- a fact highlighted by the Tulsa Police Department who also heard these comments from the suspect. The suspect’s bigotry was not isolated to us alone. He made xenophobic comments about many in our community -- “filthy Mexican” and the “n” word were all part of his hateful approach to anyone from a different background.
As often happens (drawing commentary from your GetReligionistas), lots of people -- including journalists -- tend to forget that the words "Muslim" and "Arab" do not always describe the same people, in real life. As our own tmatt once noted:
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?
That appears to have been what happened in this Tulsa tragedy.
But what about the victim's actual Christian faith? Most news reports provide parenthetical references to it. However, they don't go into any detail at all.
That's why I was pleased to see a Tulsa World interview -- by Godbeat pro Bill Sherman -- with Jabara's pastor:
Dozens of people are murdered in Tulsa every year, but something about this killing touched a nerve. It was covered by ABC, BBC, Good Morning America, CNN, Al Jazeera and scores of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.
I talked about it Wednesday in a downtown coffee shop with Jabara’s pastor, the Rev. George Eber, of St. Antony Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church.
Eber said he thinks the shooting drew global attention because “at the core, we’re alienated from a peaceful and loving God, and in a world without God, chaos reigns. ... There is a lot of blaming going on.”
Most of the media coverage has been focused on the killing as a hate crime against people of Arab descent, or against Muslims, though Jabara was Christian, and on the failure of police to protect the family despite numerous signs that the shooter was a threat to them.
The World writer also provides interesting on the planned funeral:
He said the service will be a traditional Orthodox funeral service. It will be long and will consist largely of prayer, chanting of readings and Scripture, and some responsive readings by worshippers.
He said he will speak briefly about the deceased, but unlike a typical Protestant funeral, there will be no time for others to talk about Jabara.
That will take place later at a “meal of mercy” for family and close friends. ...
He said the service will be a time to reflect on biblical realities of Orthodoxy, that “It is a fallen world, and there have always been tragedies, but God is not the author of evil and never wanted that to happen.
“God is weeping with us, weeping for us.
“We commit these crimes, yet God, in his mercy and love, comes to bail us out, so he became as one of us. ... God has turned the grave into a new being.”
Certainly, the killer's motivation is a key part of this story, as is the family's "perceived religion." But key facts and details concerning the victim's own faith certainly seem appropriate for news coverage, too, particularly as this case keeps making headlines.
Kudos to the World for shedding a little religious light on this sad news.