Discrimination

Cultural or doctrinal conflicts: What's the difference and does it matter to journalists?

Cultural or doctrinal conflicts: What's the difference and does it matter to journalists?

Here’s my question for the week. Which is the stronger glue -- tribal, meaning culturally reactive, religious expectations or religion rooted in deeply and thought-out transpersonal conviction?

I ask because it seems to me that these days, and maybe this has alway been the case, tribal religious affiliation is at the root of many, if not most, of the religiously-colored conflicts in the world today.

For journalists, the question becomes, how do you tell the difference between the two, and does it really matter if you're only trying to report body counts and similar traditional journalistic metrics for measuring conflict severity?

My take? I think it does matter because it can mean the difference between labeling the institution of religion itself as the cause of human conflict. Or, as I believe, recognizing that humanity's myriad shortcomings as a specie is the better explanation so many of our institutions, including religious one, become fatally corrupted over time.

Walt Kelly nailed it when his cartoon character Pogo famously exclaimed, slightly abbreviated here, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I can’t reword it any more succinctly.

I started considering these questions — again — while sloshing my way through yet another week of international, religion-linked, depressing news.

This is the initial story I hold responsible for my current state of mind.


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Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

The world is inundated with sad examples of persecuted religious, ethnic and racial minorities. Journalistically speaking, however, each case may be reduced to a “story,” each competing for press attention at a time when shrinking industry resources and an ominous uptick in American political chaos make grabbing international media coverage increasingly difficult.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is one such religious minority. The Kremlin has come down on Russian members of the faith like a ton of bricks.

The situation, from time to time, gains some coverage from western media elites. That attention soon fades, however, which prompts the following question: Why do some persecuted minorities trigger persistent journalistic attention while others do not?

I’ll try to answer that question below. First, though, let’s get current on the plight of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses.

This Los Angeles Times piece about their seeking refuge in neighboring Finland is a good place to start. Here’s a snippet from it:

In the 16 months since Russia’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group on par with Islamic State, raids and arrests of the religion’s estimated 175,000 members in the country have increased rapidly. The ruling criminalized practicing the religion and ordered its 395 branches closed. Members face prosecution for doing missionary work, a fundamental part of the faith.

There are now an estimated 250 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum in Finland. They wait out their asylum applications in several refugee centers across the country, including the Joutseno refugee center outside Lappeenranta in southeastern Finland.

How has this impacted individual Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Read on.

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China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

The title of the article seemed to be a joke: “A Summer Vacation in China’s Muslim Gulag.”

Appearing in ForeignPolicy.com, the piece was about a Uighur student, called Iman, who was studying in the United States. He knew his homeland was a dangerous place to visit, but he had a mother he’d not seen in years.

So, he had no sooner stepped off the plane in eastern China than he was thrown into jail for nine days, then -– still shackled -– put on a 50-hour train ride to Xinjiang, his homeland in western China. He got to the city of Turpan.

The stress intensified as he was taken to the detention center, or kanshousuo. “I was terrified as we approached.” (As we talked, for the first time Iman directed his gaze at the ground, avoiding eye contact.) “The compound was surrounded by towering walls. Military guards patrolled the metal gate. Inside, there was little light. It was so dark,” he continued.

He was immediately processed. An officer took his photograph, measured his height and weight, and told him to strip down to his underwear. They also shaved his head. Less than two weeks before, Iman was an aspiring graduate at one of the top research universities in the United States. Now, he was a prisoner in an extrajudicial detention center.

Still in his underwear, Iman was assigned to a room with 19 other Uighur men. Upon entering the quarters, lit by a single light bulb, a guard issued Iman a bright yellow vest. An inmate then offered the young man a pair of shorts. Iman began scanning the cell. The tiled room was equipped with one toilet, a faucet, and one large kang-style platform bed -- supa in Uighur -- where all of the inmates slept. He was provided with simple eating utensils: a thin metal bowl and a spoon.

He endured 17 days of imprisonment for crimes he did not commit and then, unexpectedly, was released and allowed to go home and eventually to return to the United States to finish his studies. Not surprisingly, he’s not planning to return to China any time soon, plus his mother herself is imprisoned in the same kind of “re-education center.”

China’s barbaric treatment of its Muslim minority (represented by the blue flag with a crescent and star with this piece) doesn’t get any protests from the worldwide Muslim community, unlike the anger that’s released toward Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Foreign Policy makes that point in a piece published last week. A sample:

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Swimming while Muslim: A Delaware newspaper dives in and tries to explain it all

Swimming while Muslim: A Delaware newspaper dives in and tries to explain it all

Explaining the intricacies of Islamic law and custom when intermixed with American mores and practice is not an easy thing, especially when the two clash in a place like a public swimming pool.

Yet, I must say the Delaware News Journal does a pretty good job in two articles (which have gotten lots of national play) on what happens when Muslim school kids hop into a local pool wearing street clothes -- that are Muslim garb.

This is not a totally new issue, as we can see from this newscast of a similar incident that happened back in 2014 in a Denver pool. But this Delaware incident has gotten more play.

In this drama, you have nervous pool personnel who jump the gun on whether or not to order the kids out; a principal who sweeps about in a full black abaya and niqab covering all but her eyes; and critical Muslims from elsewhere in the state who note how badly Muslims are often treated when they simply want to swim. Here is a sample from the first piece

It's the fourth year Tahsiyn A. Ismaa’eel has taken children, participants in her summer Arabic enrichment program, to the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington. 

But this year marked the first time some of her elementary schoolers were asked to leave the pool, Ismaa’eel said -- supposedly because they were wearing cotton shirts; shorts; and hijabs, or headscarves. 

The pool manager said it's against city policy to wear cotton in public pools, according to Ismaa’eel. If it's a rule, Ismaa’eel said, "it's never been enforced."

To pick on her group is discrimination, she said. 

"There’s nothing posted that says you can’t swim in cotton," said Ismaa’eel, owner and principal of the Darul-Amaanah Academy and director of its summer program. "At the same time, there are other kids with cotton on. … I asked, 'Why are my kids being treated differently?'"

The problem is that kids are jumping into the pool with their street clothes on, which causes a nightmare in terms of keeping the pool clean. 


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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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How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

GetReligion readers: Allow me to offer my own mea culpa. It’s not for something as juicy -- or as damaging to our  national conversation -- as anything said by Roseanne Barr or Samantha Bee. But given what I do here at GetReligion, it's worth noting.

Before you start reading all my past "Global Wire" posts -- go ahead; I dare you -- it’s not for anything I've posted on this website. Though I’m sure more than a few of you think I should be apologizing for just about everything I’ve posted here over the past three-plus years.

Rather, it's for a story on anti-Semitism in Western Europe produced by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service that I reposted on my personal Facebook page. It violated whatever advice I repeat here ad infinitum.

Some respected Facebook friends called me out on the post, and rightly so. Hence, my mea culpa. (More on this below.)

What advice do I refer to: Approach the journalism you consume from a place of media literacy.

Consider what’s missing from a story. Is it meant to play to your fears and biases? Was important context left out? How about alternative viewpoints? Do not let emotions overwhelm your intellect.

Above all, perhaps, don’t further circulate a story that fails the smell test by impulsively reposting it on social media, where the echo chamber is sure to run with it as if it was unquestionable gospel.

I’m a presumed expert on all this -- or so I've convinced my GR bosses. So if only for the sake of this post, please accept that I actually am I, despite this mea culpa.

So just what am I apologizing for?


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Why has anti-Semitism persisted throughout history?

Why has anti-Semitism persisted throughout history?

THE QUESTION:

How did anti-Semitism originate and why has this prejudice been so persistent throughout history?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

It’s often said that history’s longest-running prejudice is anti-Semitism, hostility toward Jews as individuals or as a group. (The term was coined in 1879 by an anti-Semitic German journalist!)  This is no bygone social affliction but an ever-present problem made pertinent by numerous recent events.

Though the U.S. champions religious freedom, not so long ago its prestige universities limited Jewish enrollment while realtors and elite country cluhs drew lines against Jews. More recently, in a 2014 Trinity College survey, 54 percent of U.S. Jewish college students nationwide said they’d personally “experienced” or “witnessed” anti-Semitism. Since only 23 percent identified as religious, this was largely socio-ethnic prejudice. In a similar 2011 survey in Britain, 51 percent of collegians said they observed anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League reported 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. during 2017, a 57 percent increase over 2016. There’ve been verbal attacks from figures in the Women’s March and the Nation of Islam, and President Trump’s odd response to an infamous neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va. Bizarrely, a Washington, D.C., Council member even blamed a legendary Jewish clan, the Rothschilds, for “controlling the climate.”

Overseas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated in April that modern Israel was a colonial plot that “has nothing to do with Jews,” as though they lacked any presence in the Holy Land the past 4,000 years. He blamed the Holocaust not on Nazi anti-Semitism but the Jews’ own “social behavior, [charging of] interest, and financial matters.”

At a March “global forum for combating antisemitism” in Jerusalem, speakers cited growing concern over developments among right-wing parties and Muslim immigrants in Europe, within Britain’s Labour Party, and Iran, ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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For Amazon HQ: 'No gay, no way' cuts out those troublesome Bible Belt cities

For Amazon HQ: 'No gay, no way' cuts out those troublesome Bible Belt cities

Living east of Seattle as I do, I don’t ordinarily hang out near the Amazon headquarters 17 miles away. Then I was recently deputized to do a freelance story on Amazon’s new cashless grocery store.

The story, which ran 11 days ago in the Washington Post, brought me face-to-face with lines of Amazon employees, the new downtown botanical garden space in huge glass orbs known as the “Amazon spheres” (see my photo with this article) and the company’s search for another city in which to expand.

Many Seattleites are kind of glad that Amazon may have a footprint elsewhere, as its well-paid employees have helped send housing prices soaring 53 percent here in the past four years. At first we all thought Amazon was just looking at cities with lots of available real estate, lots of skilled workers, good tax deals, etc.

But then USA Today came out with a list of supposedly homophobic cities that Amazon should avoid.

Who knew that Amazon’s second headquarters had to be in a blue state?  USA Today tells us why:

SAN FRANCISCO — Gay-rights advocates plan a "No Gay? No Way!" campaign Thursday to pressure Amazon to avoid building its second headquarters in a state that does not protect its residents from discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Of the 20 cities on Amazon’s list of finalists, nine are in states with no anti-gay-discrimination laws, according to the campaign. They are Austin; Dallas; Nashville; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Miami; Raleigh, N.C.; and the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia.

Let’s see now, what do Austin, Dallas, Nashville, Atlanta and Raleigh have in common?

These are Bible Belt cities.

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One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

One side of Sweetcakes by Melissa case remains unreported. Who will cover this story?

I know we’ve been running a lot about bakers of wedding cakes, gay customers and court cases, but I wanted to draw your attention to a related case I've written about that’s been dragging through Oregon’s legal system for the past few years.

It’s the “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” case that began when a chance comment from a baker infuriated two lesbians to where they filed a lawsuit alleging all sorts of emotional harm. Oregon’s labor commissioner, who’s never hid his LGBTQ-friendly sentiments, slammed the bakers with a $135,000 fine that the defendants are still fighting to this day.

It’s become a running sore of a case to both sides of the argument. After the Oregonian ran the latest news on an appeals court verdict, there were 4,413 comments attached to it by the time I saw the piece several days later. Obviously there’s lots of strong feelings about this case on both sides.

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a decision by Oregon's labor commissioner that forced two Gresham bakers to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple for whom the bakers refused to make a wedding cake.
Melissa and Aaron Klein made national headlines in 2013 when they refused to bake a cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, citing their Christian beliefs. The Bowman-Cryers complained to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying they had been refused service because of their sexual orientation.
An administrative law judge ruled that the Kleins' bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, violated a law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in places that serve the public. Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner, affirmed heavy damages against the Kleins for the Bowman-Cryer's emotional and mental distress.

The Oregonian knew all about the latter, as it had run a nearly 4,300-word piece in August 2016 about the two women with the headline: “The hate keeps coming: The pain lingers for lesbian couple denied in Sweet Cakes case.” It went into great detail. 

But why wasn’t there similar treatment accorded the Kleins? 

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