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Election day thoughts: New York Times visits Utah, includes crucial faith details in a tragic war story

Election day thoughts: New York Times visits Utah, includes crucial faith details in a tragic war story

The mayor of North Odgen, Utah, was a soldier on yet another deployment — returning to Afghanistan.

Brent Taylor was married and had a large family, although it was not unusually large by Utah standards. He was a Republican who was popular with many Democrats in his town.

No, this is not going to be a post about whether professionals in the mainstream media — The New York Times, in this case — did or did not replace the term “Mormon” with the full name of that religious institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a major story.

No, I want to say that the journalists behind this Times story made a sincere attempt to grasp the ties that bind in the piece that ran with this headline: “Brent Taylor, Utah Mayor Killed in Afghanistan, Was on 4th Deployment.”

I had some doubts, at first, when the faith element did not show up in the overture:

NORTH OGDEN, Utah — The call had come again. Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden and a major in the Utah National Guard, would be going to Afghanistan for his fourth deployment.

He told his constituents about it on Facebook in January, leaning into the camera to explain that he had been called to serve his country “whenever and however I can” and that he would be gone for a year, as part of a team helping to train an Afghan Army commando battalion. “Service is really what leadership is all about,” he told them.

He said goodbye to his wife, Jennie, and their seven children, and turned over his municipal duties to his friend Brent Chugg. “You need to keep safe,” Mr. Chugg told him. “I will,” Major Taylor replied.

He did not make it home.

However, the faith details emerged — I think this was the right call — when the story shifted into details about family and community. I also think it was appropriate, as a radically divided nation heads into midterm elections, for the Times team to include some of this painful political atmosphere (without mentioning You Know Who). In my experience (including two recent invitations to speak at religious-liberty events at Brigham Young University), many LDS leaders and laypeople are very unsettled by current trends in America’s political life.

But back to the head of the story — the mayor and his family, and its community.

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Why Muslim news media have shied away from covering the Uighur persecution story

Why Muslim news media have shied away from covering the Uighur persecution story

As with other religions, Islam embodies the concept of like-minded believers sharing a global destiny no matter which nation they live in.

In Arabic, this idea is known as the Ummah. Militant Islamists invoke it repeatedly to convince Muslims they are obligated to aid Muslims persecuted by non-Muslims.

How does this work in practice? As with Christians (the extensive history of Christian nations fighting other Christian nations is hardly unknown), the idealized notion that co-religionists can count on fellow believers in stressful times is highly limited.

Witness the lack of global Muslim efforts to assist their Chinese Uighur co-religionists currently being brutalized by the Chinese government. Or the relative dearth of Uighur-related news coverage emanating from Muslim-majority nations.

Western media, on the other hand, have covered the Uighur story like a blanket — despite the geographic, logistical and political hurdles making it difficult to do so. Here at GetReligion, we’ve posted repeatedly on the Uighur situation the past few years.

One Western publication I think has done an excellent job with the story is Foreign Policy. The magazine has published, online, two strong pieces on the Uighurs in just the past couple of weeks.

Here’s one from late October that tells how China is planting strangers who absurdly identify themselves as “relatives” in Uighur homes to monitor them. Here’s the second, published last week, detailing that Uighurs are so desperate to escape Chinese persecution that some are actually fleeing to Afghanistan for safety.

Consider that for a moment. True, Afghanistan is a Muslim nation. But it’s also a land of continual warfare where even the innocent can become collateral damage at any time. So fleeing to Afghanistan hardly ensures peaceful sanctuary. And yet they do.

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When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has torn up communities all over northern Nigeria, not to mention Cameroon, Niger and Chad, has been making more headlines recently.

This coming week includes the Oct. 15 deadline they have given for the Nigerian government to meet certain demands before they execute Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old girl who was one of dozens of female students captured in February by Boko Haram. All the girls were released except her, mainly because she refused to give up her Christian beliefs as a condition for her release. She’s since become an international cause celebré, the subject of a book and potential Christian martyr.

At the same time, BBC has released a gorgeously produced piece on what life is like for the girls who are forced to become suicide bombers after being captured by Boko Haram. What we learn from the narrative is that poorly educated girls are imprisoned for months while being inundated with teachings from the Quran, then talked into getting a fast track to heaven by becoming a martyr to the cause.

I’ll begin first with the BBC piece, then cut back to Leah’s case. The former is headlined: “Made up to be beautiful: Sent out to die.”

Falmata is getting a full beauty treatment – a thick paste of henna, with its delicate pointed swirls, adorning her feet.

While it dries, a woman is batting with her hair. Comb in hard, she is stretching and straightening Falmata’s tight curls.

“We were allowed to choose any style for the hair and the henna,” remembers Falmata … (who) knows she’s going to look beautiful. But there’s a deadly consequence.

Once she’s made up, a suicide bomb will be attached to her waist.

So, these girls are being brainwashed into thinking they’re “marrying” martyrdom. She was told that if she killed non-believers, she’d go straight to paradise.

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In U.S. political campaigns, 2018 will also be the year of the Muslim candidates

In U.S. political campaigns, 2018 will also be the year of the Muslim candidates

While the media hail 2018’s historic total of female and LGBTQ political candidates, religion writers should be covering the unprecedented 90 or more Muslims, virtually all Democrats, running for national, state, or local office. That’s the count from the Justice Education Technology Political Advocacy Center, founded in 2015 to promote Muslim candidacies. 

President Donald Trump’s words and deeds toward Muslims doubtless energize this electoral activism. Not to mention Virginia’s faltering Republican U.S. Senate nominee, Corey Stewart, who smeared Michigan governor candidate Abdul El-Sayed as an “ISIS commie.” 

Pioneering Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and very likely Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, are guaranteed media stardom, in line to be  the first Muslim women in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Tlaib, who succeeds disgraced Congressman John Conyers, just edged Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones in a six-candidate Democratic primary scramble. She’ll run unopposed in November for the 13thdistrict seat.  The oldest of  Palestianian immigrants’ 14 children and a mother of two, Tlaib earned a law degree through weekend classes and was elected to the Michigan House, reportedly only the second U.S. Muslim woman to be  a state legislator.

Two other Muslim hopefuls fell short in Michigan. El-Sayed, director of Detroit’s health department, lost the governor nomination to former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer. In U.S. House district 11, Fayrouz  Saad, who directs Detroit’s immigrant affairs office, took only fourth place.    

The first Muslim in the U.S. House, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is the most politically powerful U.S. Muslim to date, nearly winning the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee and is currently its deputy chairman.

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Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

For the foreseeable future, journalists will be covering Muslim zealots who terrorize innocent civilians in God’s name, fellow Muslims included, hoping that violence will force the creation of  a truly Islamic society. Their revolutionary  bloodshed spans the globe -- and spurns centuries of moderate teaching by Islamic authorities.

Journalists remain uncertain on how best to name these groups, which is among matters explored in “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” by Robert Manne, an Australian media personality and emeritus professor at La Trobe University. Though publisher Prometheus Books is known for partisan and sometimes supercilious attacks on religious faiths, The Religion Guy finds this title even-tempered, as well as brisk and valuable (though Prometheus deserves brickbats for providing no index).

This readable background will help guide journalism about a complex scourge that mainstream Islam is unable to eliminate. The book covers only Sunni extremists, not the rival radicals in the faith’s minority Shi’a branch centered on  Iran. Here’s Manne’s advice on common terms and labels seen in the news.

Islamo-Fascism. This label is “quite misleading” due to fascism’s historical fusion with nationalism (Muslim radicals spurn existing nation-states and  simply divide humanity into believers vs. “infidels”), and with racism (the movement’s hatreds lie elsewhere).

Islamic Fundamentalism. Also a misnomer, this borrows a term for strict textual literalism among Protestant Christians (see the Associated Press Stylebook). Problem: Such Protestants are non-violent, and so are many of the Muslims who favor that approach to holy writ. Rather, we need to label a terroristic political faction.

Islamists. This term designates believers who seek to reshape politics in accordance with religious law (sharia). Here again, such Muslim activists do not necessarily embrace terror.

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Re-Up on #MuslimBan post: What did religious liberty have to do with SCOTUS decision?

Re-Up on #MuslimBan post: What did religious liberty have to do with SCOTUS decision?

What a train wreck.

Please be patient with me here, because I'm trying to do something with a post that I have not done before.

I thought the online slang for this act was "re-up," but the urban dictionaries say that has turned into a drug-culture term. I was looking for the term online writers use when they put one of their old posts back up again, since they really don't want to add anything to an earlier comment that they made about a controversial topic.

It's kind of like #WhatHeSaid, only you're doing it for yourself (if that makes any sense). It's something like this "re-up" definition at Merriam-Webster:

2 : to officially agree or persuade someone to officially agree that an existing arrangement will continue for an additional period of time

In this case, the main thing that I am trying to say is (a) I am depressed about public discourse in the Donald Trump age, (b) I am depressed about news coverage of events in the Trump era and (c) I am depressed about the impact of Trump and news coverage of Trump on American culture.

The end result is sort of like this, care of a tweet by bipartisan political activist Bruce Mehlman:

AMAZING. Dems assume 44% of Republicans earn $250k or more (it's really only 2%). Republicans assume 38% of Dems are LGBTQ (it's really 6%).

Why are these (and other stats in this chart) so skewed? It hard to avoid the conclusion that it's linked to the advocacy media that Republicans and Democrats are consuming. And that's what depresses me the most, when we are talking about issues like the so-called #MuslimBan.

This brings me to my re-up of a January 30, 2017, post that I wrote with this headline: "A weekend of #MuslimBan: Did it help for press to ignore key contents of executive order?"

I offer this as a sad response to the post earlier today by colleague Bobby Ross about the mainstream coverage of the Supreme Court's rather reluctant decision that Trump's "Muslim Ban" executive order. Click here to see Bobby's post.

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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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