Middle East

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's time for an update on the inseparably braided political and religious goings-on in two key Muslim nations; Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and site of the recently concluded hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

As you may expect, it’s not good news.

Moreover, it’s news that’s in danger of going under-appreciated because of the undeniably more alluring headlines -- for American news junkies, at least -- related to the Catholic Church’s sexual corruption cover up, and the Trump administration’s equally crumbling cover up of sexual, financial and all-around political corruption.

Let’s start with Indonesia, which once enjoyed, and capitalized on, a reputation for being one of the most politically moderate and religiously open-minded of Muslim nations.

These two pieces provide a refresher, should you require it. The first is a news report from Reuterswhile the second is a previous GetReligion analysis by editor Terry Mattingly ("That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?"

Now, it seems, the situation in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation has gone from bad to worse, and perhaps to the absurd.

Here’s what The Washington Post reported last week.

A Buddhist woman’s conviction this week on blasphemy charges has alarmed many in Indonesia who were already worried about the erosion of religious pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.


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Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

The cable television and online streaming explosion has produced a golden age of visual, fictionalized, but ripped-from-the-headlines story telling. Some religious and political conservatives may disdain the liberal-leaning views that many of the shows unabashedly embrace, but for those who create the programming it's an unprecedented era of opportunities.

It's also an era of unprecedented, and often confusing, crossover between news and entertainment. From shows dramatizing or spoofing Washington politics, to those cherry-picking storylines from current international intrigues, it’s often hard to tell the two apart, where fact takes leave and artful fiction enters.

As traditional news platforms continue to implode -- and loose their ability to devote adequate resources to in-depth, reporting-based investigative journalism -- it’s a trend that, for the foreseeable future, is likely to continue, for better or worse, but more likely the worse for informed civic debate.

Personally, I find great artistic merit in many of these shows. I also appreciate their willingness to highlight some of the social ills that plague our -- and virtually every other -- nation. That and because I relish a well-written and well-acted product. It helps to remember that I'm an ex-Los Angeles reporter who spent time on the Hollywood TV and film beats, and who also briefly worked in the feature film industry.

Still, I limit my watching because, well, because the shows are binge-watching addictive and I don't want to spend too much time watching TV, no matter how good and entertaining it may be. I’m old-fashioned. I’d rather waste time reading non-fiction, which my reactive mind argues is somehow healthier for me. But that may just be my generational snob appeal.

In a sense, all the fictional dramas I’m drawn to are some writer’s fantasy, but I tend to be drawn to the show's based on the possible, meaning that while I have little interest in a “Game of Thrones,” a series such as “Big Love,” the departed HBO show about polygamy-practicing, fringe Mormons, quickly sucked me in because of my interest in religious groups and the show’s artistic mastery (and a fantastic cast).

Likewise, my deep interest in Israel’s fate and that of the Middle East in general, has drawn me to the Netflix (in the U.S., anyway) show “Fauda,” which I have allowed myself to devour in binge-size bites.


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Anti-Semitism: Journalistically parsing its current upsurge both here and abroad

Anti-Semitism: Journalistically parsing its current upsurge both here and abroad

I recently spent time in Costa Rica where I was able to visit the nation’s central Jewish “compound” in San Jose, the capital city. My guide was a member of one of the country’s leading Jewish families.

I called it a compound — as opposed to a campus — because that’s how it felt. High concrete walls that seemed more appropriate for a military facility than what I actually encountered — a broad, grassy, central plaza surrounded by a small kosher restaurant, a community history and Holocaust museum, a private Jewish school, a large synagogue I was told is filled on important Jewish holidays and for rites of passage, a senior citizens center, and assorted other community offices.

Had I not been escorted by a member of a leading Costa Rican Jewish family, my wife and I would have had to submit, for security reasons, our identifying information eight days in advance of a visit. As it turned out, thanks to our friend, we just show up and were whisked past the armed guards waiting outside the compound’s thick metal doors.

All this in a nation with only about 3,000 Jews — most able to trace their ancestry to World War II-era Poland — and who our guide insisted face relatively little overt anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment. And yet they're fearful. Why?

Because Jews across the world — particularly so in Europe but also in tiny Costa Rica and even the United States —  increasingly feel insecure because of a rising tide of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel actions — the two are often wrongly conflated, by both sides — being reported in the international press, as they should be.

The majority of GetReligion readers, I’m sure, are familiar with this turn of events. But let’s probe a  bit deeper. What’s causing this upsurge today?

Is it an ugly resurfacing of the historical anti-Semitism that Jews have faced since the earliest decades of Christianity's split from Judaism, the first of the big three Abrahamic faiths?

Or is it a product of the further globalization of Islam, sparked in part by Muslim immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in their native lands, and the impact this and their general attitudes toward Israel has had on the societies in which they've resettled?

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God, man and FIFA: The ongoing struggle to keep soccer as 'secular' as possible

God, man and FIFA: The ongoing struggle to keep soccer as 'secular' as possible

Before we dive into this week's "Crossroads" podcast -- which is about faith and football (soccer here in America) -- please click here and take a look at the map that ran atop a Washington Post feature story in 2015. (To tune in the new podcast, just click here.)

Basically, if you are looking for lots and lots of unbelievers, your best bet is to head to China, Europe and other highly industrialized and educated nations.

Where things get really complex is in Europe -- a continent in which belief and unbelief bump into one another on a regular basis. North America is quickly moving in that direction as well (you may have seen a few headlines about that). 

Now, look at the same map and think about the teams that made it into this year's FIFA World Cup (click here for a list).

Quite a mix of faith-intensive and rather faith-free nations, right? And what about the championship game, with powerful France taking on the cinderella squad from Croatia?

The Catholic News Agency offered this interesting feature about Croatia and its coach, under this striking headline: "Croatia's World Cup soccer coach clings to the rosary as he finds success."

How would this kind of symbolism play in modern France? Here is a key chunk of this story:

Here’s one reason Catholics in the US might be rooting for the small Central European country: Croatia is a deeply Catholic country, and the coach of its national team, Zlatko Dalic, is a man of sincere faith.

Dalic said recently that his current success is due to his faith in God, and that he always carries a rosary to hold onto in difficult times. Dalic spoke about his faith on Croatian Catholic radio when the World Cup began.

“Everything I have done in my life and in my professional career I owe to my faith, and I am grateful to my Lord,” Dalic said. ... "When a man loses any hope, then he must depend on our merciful God and on our faith," he said.

In that sense, Dalic explained that "I always carry a rosary with me" and "when I feel that I am going through a difficult time I put my hand in my pocket, I cling to it and then everything is easier.”

Now, why is the rosary hidden in his pocket? Why not just wear it around his wrist?

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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 and Israeli religious infighting: Could it destroy the world's lone Jewish state?

American and Israeli religious infighting: Could it destroy the world's lone Jewish state?

Surveys contrasting the political and religious views of American and Israeli Jews are produced with such frequency as to make them a polling industry staple. In recent years -- meaning the past decade or so -- the surveys have generally shared the same  oy vey iz mir (Yiddish for “woe is me”) attitude toward their findings, which consistently show widening differences between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.

Well, sure, you may be thinking.

Compare, for example, the vast differences on moral and cultural issues between the institutionally liberal American Episcopal Church and the traditionalist Nigerian Anglican church leadership. That, despite both national churches belonging (at this moment in time) to the same worldwide Anglican Communion.

Why should the Jewish world be any different? It's like the old real estate cliche, location -- meaning local history and circumstances -- is everything.

Religion is just not the broad intra-faith connector some would like it to be. Often, if fact, it serves to fuel intra-faith rivalries rooted in strongly held theological differences.

Judaism even has a term for it; sinat chinam, Hebrew for, translating loosely, a “senseless hatred” that divides Jews and can even lead to their self-destruction.

Intra-faith Jewish differences, however, take on an added layer of global importance because of the possible geopolitical consequences they hold for the always percolating Middle East.

The bottom line: Minus American Jewry’s significant political backing, Israel -- a small  nation with no lack of enemies, despite its military prowess -- could conceivably face eventual destruction.

Despite that, Israel’s staunchly traditional Jewish religious and political hierarchy -- believing it alone represents legitimate Judaism -- continues to hold its ground against the sort of liberal policies embraced by the vast majority of American Jews.

Journalists seeking to make sense of the political split between American Orthodox Jews’ general support for President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s domestic policies, and American non-Orthodox Jews’ significant rejection of both men, would do well to keep this intra-faith religious struggle in mind.


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The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The other day, I pointed readers toward a piece of student journalism from the famed Columbia University School of Journalism -- a kind of a "Religion Beat: The Next Generation" nod. Click here to see that post: "Meet the Muslim Man Who Rents Crosses in Jerusalem."

Several readers asked if this was new territory for GetReligion, since we are not critiquing these pieces. In a way, it is new ground. However, readers should consider this part of our years of work trying to show newsroom managers that there are young journalists in the pipeline who want to cover this important beat.

The faculty member behind this project is the great religion-beat pro Ari L. Goldman, formerly of The New York Times, who serves as director of the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life. With his cooperation, The Media Project website is running some student stories reported and written in Goldman's "Covering Religion" seminars -- with hands-on reporting work overseas.

This story by reporter/photographer Augusta Anthony is about one of the most famous and sacred sites in global Christianity. The headline: "Unity in the Divided Church of the Holy Sepulchre." The symbolic-detail lede:

JERUSALEM -- There’s a ladder in the Old City of Jerusalem. It perches on a stone ledge beneath the second floor window at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. According to local lore, the ladder has been there since at least 1852 and it is not to be moved.

The “immovable ladder,” as its known, symbolizes the complications that arise when six different Christian denominations occupy one of the holiest sites in their theology. Someone -- no one knows who -- left it there in the mid-19th century and to this day none of the churches has agreed who the ladder belongs to. So it sits there, on a ledge above the sturdy wooden doors, a reminder of the contested ground beneath it.

“They are always asking about the ladder,” said Archbishop Hierapolis Isidoros with a sigh.

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Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

The word that keeps coming to mind as I attempt to wrap my head around last week’s deadly violence on the Israeli-Gaza border and the formal opening of the American embassy building in Jerusalem is, “played.”

That’s played as in “being played.”

Palestinians were played by Hamas, the radical Sunni Muslim group that runs Gaza with minimal concern for those it rules. Israelis were played by their prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, whose political staying power is rooted in Israeli Jewish fears that their Arab and Iranian enemies are circling for a kill.

Then there’s President Donald Trump, who played his right-wing evangelical Christian base — allowing two of its prominent leaders to play Judaism and Jews at the embassy opening by reducing them to props — and disposable ones at that — in their eschatological vision. (I’ll say considerably more on this below.)

In short, it was a devilish display of the worst kind of cynicism imaginable, the sort that gets people killed in support of someone else’s political or religious agendas.

By now, GetReligion readers are surely familiar with the details of what happened -- the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, the presence of the Revs. Robert Jeffress and John C. Hagee at the embassy opening, the opprobrium directed at Israel by its global critics, the arguments by its supporters that Israel acted only in self-defense.

None of it was surprising, and most of it mirroring the usual reactions coming from the usual suspects -- all of it amplified by the Internet echo chamber.

Minds are pretty much made up on who’s at fault for the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict; among members of the news media, among members of the public, among the various NGO’s who view the conflict as their concern, and among the myriad political and religious organizations who claim skin in the game.

Why repeat all those arguments and positions here? Instead, let’s keep to a minimum the usual barrage of links to news and analysis pieces I provide to bolster my points. There’s too many to cite, anyway, and -- the truth is -- picking journalistic winners and losers is largely a function of which side in the conflict you identify with.

I've been scouring the web for pieces that reflect as many viewpoints as I can find, but my conclusions about the coverage merely reflect my own bias.

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Beware: Middle East freelancing isn't just dangerous -- it may also leave you broke

Beware: Middle East freelancing isn't just dangerous -- it may also leave you broke

Many GetReligion readers are undoubtedly familiar with the name Terry A. Anderson, the Associated Press Middle East correspondent taken hostage in Lebanon in 1985 by Hezbollah, and who remained a captive until 1991.

If not, click here for a refresher. Or here for a column by our own tmatt about Anderson’s Catholic faith -- written days after 9/11.

What you may not know is that Anderson has a daughter, Sulome Anderson, who personifies the chip-off-the-old-block cliche -- the block being journalism of the most difficult and dangerous sort. I’m referring to richly reported, long-form pieces about Middle East (some say militant, I say terrorist) groups who take delight in convulsing the always explosive region.

Still in her early 30s, Sulome’s an award-winning freelance veteran who’s been published by a bevy of top-quality outlets. Her grit is obvious, as are her courage and journalism chops. She’s also an acclaimed author; her book, “The Hostage’s Daughter,” was greeted with acclaim when it was released in 2016.

But despite her success -- brace yourself for the sad truth of her situation -- she found herself unable to make a decent living by pursuing her passion for Middle East reporting. Forced to find another way to pay the rent, she left the region no returned stateside.

The saddest aspect of this, journalistically speaking, is that she’s by no means unique.

Now to what others here at GetReligion refer to as their “guilt files” -- which for me means my online file where I stash links and notes on individual stories or broader issues that I hope to post on, someday.

In that file dwells this story from earlier this year. It’s a piece on the younger Anderson’s professional plight published by the Columbia Journalism Review.

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