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American Muslims and guns: The New York Times bursts some stereotypes

American Muslims and guns: The New York Times bursts some stereotypes

Rarely do photographers put together religion stories, but the New York Times just came out with a piece on gun-owning American Muslims that truly stands out.

Egyptian documentary photographer Amr Alfiky, together with Adeel Hassan, who writes for a Times newsletter on race, assembled vignettes on nine such Muslims in Ohio, Florida, Oklahoma and northern Virginia.

It’s the kind of piece that definitely stands stereotypes on their heads. The familiar surroundings (the local gym, the tree-lined neighborhood streets, a university library) in which these folks are photographed convey the idea they could be us.

What these Muslims want to say in this story is they are us. As for the Second Amendment,  they own it.

American Muslims ... say they own guns for the same reasons as anyone else: for protection, for hunting and sport shooting, for gun and rifle collections or for their work.

They also cite another factor: fear of persecution, at a time when hate crimes against Muslims have soared to their highest levels since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But owning a gun is no assurance of security. Muslim gun owners are viewed with suspicion by gun stores, ranges and clubs, and occasionally met with harassment. ... Gun ranges and gun shops in several states have declared themselves “Muslim-free zones.”

Guess I had no idea such thing existed. Then again, I googled "Muslims and guns" and saw non-stop images of ISIS, jihad, you-name-it.

What the Times is offering is a whole different side of God and guns.

One gun range owner in Arkansas, Jan Morgan, gained national attention in 2014 when her business was one of the first to declare a ban on Muslims. (She used her newfound prominence to run for governor, losing in the Republican primary last month.)

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That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

If you asked typical American citizens to name the world's largest Muslim nation, in terms of population, most would probably pick a land somewhere in the Middle East -- not Indonesia.

However, if there is one fact that many Americans do know about Islam in Indonesia, it is that most Muslims in this sprawling and complex nation practice a "moderate" form of the faith (whatever that "moderate" label means). This has allowed believers in various faith groups to live in peace, for the most part.

Thus, terrorist attacks in Indonesia linked ISIS are big news -- at least in the American news outlets that continue to offer adequate coverage of international news. Sadly, an ominous cluster of attacks this past weekend in Indonesia probably received little if any attention in most American newspapers.

The New York Times, of course, was a notable exception. Here is the lede in its report:

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A wave of deadly bombings on Sunday and Monday and evidence of more planned have shaken Indonesia just ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, with entire families -- including children -- carrying out suicide attacks against Christian worshipers and the police.

The troubling discovery Monday of completed bombs in a housing complex outside Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, came a day after members of a single family carried out three attacks against separate churches in the city around Mass time, killing seven people.

The use of the word "Mass" implies that the attacks focused on Catholic congregations, when the reality was more complex than that -- since Pentecostal and traditional Protestant churches were targeted, along with Catholic sanctuaries. In other words, the attacks were aimed at all Christians (and police), not just Catholics.

But that was not the main issue here. The Times report quickly reminded readers:

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, practices one of the most moderate forms of Islam in the world, but still has a homegrown terrorism problem

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Stay tuned: Mosul is being set up by media as a world Islamic capital

Stay tuned: Mosul is being set up by media as a world Islamic capital

For anyone interested in seeing how a devastated city with a history stretching back several thousand years can rebuild itself, look no further than some of the stories coming out about Mosul, the newly liberated north central Iraqi city.

Even before ISIS took over the place in 2014, Mosul had always been very dangerous and considered quite suspect. Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, had lived there for years and even after they died in a gun battle in 2003, the place was rife with suicide bombers who killed whatever American military they found there plus many hapless Iraqis.

I was in the area in 2004, visiting the Kurdish areas north and east of Mosul and my guides only dared take me to a place within 30 miles of the city. They didn’t want me to risk getting any closer. Which is why I’ve been interested in international efforts to rebuild Mosul after two years of war have made it a ghost town in many places. This recent New York Times piece sets the stage:

BAGHDAD — The scars of battle remain deeply etched into the geography of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, with thousands of homes, buildings and places of worship destroyed during the nine-month fight to oust the Islamic State.

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Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

If you have read GetReligion over the years, you may have seen previous posts in which your GetReligionistas asked this question: In terms of journalism, what exactly is The Huffington Post, exactly?

It's a news and commentary website, obviously.

Ah, but there's the issue: Where does the commentary stop and the news begin? Is it possible to separate the opinion and advocacy from the hard-news reporting in some of the features at HuffPost? This is a question writers at this blog have had to ask about a number of different newsrooms in our foggy digital age.

Yes, that buzzworthy HuffPost piece about the trial of Noor Salman -- the widow of gunman Omar Mateen -- does contain elements of commentary. Yes, it is first-person, magazine-style journalism. It is also a blockbuster that raises all kinds of questions about any role that religious faith -- specifically, a radicalized, ISIS-style Islam -- played in this deadly attack.

Salman was found not guilty of helping her husband plan the attack. That's big news. But what's the larger story here? Here is a crucial passage near the top of the piece, which ran with this main headline: "Everyone Got The Pulse Massacre Story Completely Wrong."

Almost overnight, a narrative emerged that until now has been impossible to dislodge: Mateen planned and executed an attack on Pulse because he hated gay people.
“Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people,” Tim Teeman wrote in The Daily Beast. The massacre was “undeniably a homophobic hate crime,” Jeet Heer wrote in The New Republic. Some speculated that Mateen was a closeted gay man. He was likely “trying to reconcile his inner feelings with his strongly homophobic Muslim culture,” James S. Robbins wrote in USA Today.  
There was compelling evidence of other motivations.

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Secular France mourns loss of Arnaud Beltrame, while press remains silent on his faith (updated)

Secular France mourns loss of Arnaud Beltrame, while press remains silent on his faith (updated)

If you know anything about the history of France, you know why it is common for journalists and scholars to add the word "secular" in front of the country's name.

For millions of people, part of what it means to be truly "French" is to view public life through a lens in which religious faith is kept out of view -- a matter a private feelings and beliefs. This has affected debates about many issues linked to Islam, from the legal status of veils and Burkinis to efforts to grasp the motives of radicalized Muslims.

What about the nation's deep Catholic roots and the violence unleashed against that faith during the French Revolution?

These tensions are currently on display in news coverage of French efforts to honor the late Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, who died after offering to take the place of a female hostage being used as a human shield by an ISIS gunman.

The goal as been to hail Beltrame as a uniquely French hero, while avoiding testimonies of those close to him about the role his Catholic faith -- he was an adult convert -- played in his life and work. Then there was the fact that Beltrame and his wife Marielle were only weeks away from a Catholic wedding rite, two years after their secular marriage.

All of this was described, in great detail, in vivid, detailed, testimonies published by Famille Chretienne (Christian Family), a major religious publication. Hold that thought.

I wrote about the Beltrame story earlier this week -- "Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... ' " -- and have continued to follow the story while researching a Universal syndicate column for this week.

I can be pretty cynical about the "tone deaf" nature of lots of mainstream news coverage of stories of this kind. Still, I have been surprised that mainstream editors, especially here in America (ironically), continue to avoid the "religion ghost" in this highly symbolic event. Time element? Hours before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week (in Western Christianity).

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New York Times covers efforts to counter Islamic terrorism in Dagestan; skips key Muslim differences

New York Times covers efforts to counter Islamic terrorism in Dagestan; skips key Muslim differences

As parents, we try to steer our children toward activities we think will help them become better adults. Those activities are generally meant to instill in them beliefs and values similar, if not identical, to our own.

So, for example, we enroll our kids in church, synagogue, mosque or other religion-sponsored social, educational or physical activities that seek to mold their minds and bodies in accordance with our hopes and their gifts.

This happens across the board, including in the Caucasus region Russian republic -- akin to an American state, not an independent nation -- of Dagestan, about which I'll say much more in a bit.

As a Religion News Service national correspondent, in the early 1990s I stayed a few days at a pioneering atheist summer summer camp north of Cincinnati. The Camp Quest network has since grown considerable; it’s now international.

Its purpose, of course, is to imbue the children of atheists with atheist values -- though Camp Quest prefers to call its supporters non-theists, humanists or free-thinkers rather than atheists, the latter having a more negative connotation in Christian (certainly culturally and politically) America.

My point here is that atheists -- the Camp Quest marketing pitch was “beyond belief” -- seek to turn their offspring into like-minded adults just like Christians and others.

In Dagestan, a mostly Muslim region once labeled by the BBC “the most dangerous place in Europe” because of its rampant Islamic-inspired violence, parents also strive to keep their young from straying ideologically.

For Dagestani parents, the preferred activity for achieving this (at least for boys) is wrestling.

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Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

What did you learn, over the weekend, in the global coverage of the sacrificial death of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame?

Let's say that you saw the main CNN.com report, which led with the fact that the 45-year-old Beltrame died up wounds he suffered after volunteering to swap places with a female hostage during a self-proclaimed ISIS supporter's attack on a supermarket in southern France.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that by "giving his life to end the murderous escapade of a jihadist terrorist, he died a hero."

What other crucial information did CNN producers include to help news consumers understand Beltrame and the nature of his sacrifice? We are, of course, looking for a faith angle.

Married with no children, Beltrame had served in the French military police and received a number of awards for bravery. He served in Iraq in 2005, and was given an award for bravery in 2007, Macron said. For four years, he was a commander in the Republican Guard, which provides security at the Élysée Palace, home of the French president.
In 2012, he was knighted in France's prestigious Legion of Honor. ... Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the anti-terror police in the Aude region.
According to the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, Beltrame led a simulated terror attack in December on a supermarket for training purposes. ...

Now, some publications -- religious publications, for the most part -- included material from another voice of authority on the life and work of Beltrame. That would be Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain of the gendarmerie (hat tip to Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher).

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When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. Boko Haram has struck again.

It was bad enough in 2014 when 276 girls were kidnapped from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Half the world, it seemed, demonstrated and hashtagged #BringBackOurGirls in favor of these children.

Not that it did a whole lot of good. Four years later, more than 100 of those girls are still missing. And now it’s happened again and, as always, there are many religion questions that journalists need to be asking. From BBC

The grounds of the boarding school in Dapchi town are eerily quiet. Instead of the high-pitched chatter of 900 schoolgirls, there's only the bleating of goats as they wander through empty classrooms.
Thirteen-year-old Fatima Awaal is walking down the dusty path. She walks past a littering of rubber sandals, lost by girls as they ran away on Monday 19 February.
When the militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group attacked, she was in her boarding house with her best friend Zara. They were just about to have dinner when they heard the gunshots.
"One of our teachers told us to come out," she said "And that's when we saw the gunfire shooting through the sky."

Zara, 14, was one of 110 girls kidnapped that night. What’s almost worse than the kidnappings is the government’s utter inability to do anything about it.

Since the kidnappings, there have been many conflicting lines from the authorities on what exactly happened in Dapchi that Monday night. It wasn't until three days after the assault that they finally acknowledged some girls had been taken. It was another three days before they gave a number of how many were missing.

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Children of ISIS returned to Chechnya: Fine New York Times story haunted by faith questions

Children of ISIS returned to Chechnya: Fine New York Times story haunted by faith questions

In a New York Times photo, 4-year-old Bilal looks like any other kid sitting in bed, lost in a video game on a smartphone.

But there is a back-story. Bilal grew up in Mosul, Iraq, living on the run with his father, who was a fighter for the Islamic State. And right there is the question facing officials in Russia -- Chechnya, to be specific -- and in several European states: What should leaders in these nations do with children, especially boys, who grew up witnessing people beheaded, stoned and gunned down?

What about boys who were actually forced to take part in some of these rituals, as part of ISIS efforts to turn them into ultimate warriors? Are they, as one German official puts it, "living time bombs?"

That's the question at the heart of this fine Times story, which ran with the headline: "Raised by ISIS, Returned to Chechnya: ‘These Children Saw Terrible Things’." Here is a crucial summary passage near the top of this international-desk story:

As the American-led coalition and Syrian government forces captured cities that had been held by the Islamic State, they found among the ruins a grim human wreckage of the organization’s once successful recruitment drive: hundreds and perhaps thousands of children born to or brought with the men and women who had flocked to Syria in support of the Islamic State.
While Russia, which has so far returned 71 children and 26 women since August, may seem surprisingly lenient in its policy, its actions reflect a hardheaded security calculus: better to bring children back to their grandparents now than have them grow up in camps and possibly return as radicalized adults.
“What should we do, leave them there so somebody will recruit them?” said Ziyad Sabsabi, the Russian senator who runs the government-backed program. “Yes, these children saw terrible things, but when we put them in a different environment, with their grandparents, they change quickly.”

Now, as you would expect, I do have questions about the role of religious faith in all of this. I would have liked to have seen a bit more information about the role of Islam in this process.

After all, these children witnessed horrors that are hard to imagine. At the same time, they were raised to think of these acts as an essential part of a twisted, radicalized version of Islam.

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