Religion explosion in the L.A. Times

The Los Angeles Times dropped a splurge of religious stories yesterday. The articles are not directly connected to one another, but all have ties to one another. It’s one of those things that the editor probably didn't realize until looking over the paper the next day. Leading of was this story on a terrorism investigation, relying primarily on anonymous sources, of potential terrorists who seemed to live normal lives.

As the midday call to prayer was sung out, members of an Inglewood mosque said Wednesday that they were shocked to hear that three of their fellow worshipers were under investigation for a possible plot to shoot up National Guard recruitment centers and synagogues.

Members of the mostly South Asian mosque described the trio -- two African American Muslims and a Pakistani national -- as "friendly, devout" adherents and said that they had been unaware of any dangers the men might have posed.

"They said their prayers on time and were known to myself on a first-name basis," said Imam Junaid Kharsany, the clerical leader of Jamat-E-Masijidul Islam mosque. "We had no reason to believe that these men were criminals with bad intentions."

Yes, Imam Junaid, I'm sure these guys were nice people to your community, but so were the London bombers.

The key issue that journalists covering these situations must remember is the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." The reporters and editors must be especially careful in a case like this when indictments have yet to be issued. Remember, these people are just under investigation.

Exactly what standards did the Times use in deciding to publish this report? Its lawyers must not have been able to sleep, because if this investigation fails to pan out, the anonymous sources used in this report could find themselves hit with some hefty lawsuits.

On a side note, the shooting spree that investigators believe these men were planning is exactly the type of terrorist attack Americans should dread the most. Put two pairs of heavily armed gunners at the ends of four typical American malls and say Go. Hundreds would be dead in communities across the country and many more wounded. American commercialism, at least in malls, would grind to a halt for fear of repeated attacks. And stock soars.

In a related story, the Times focuses on the education of young Muslims in Pakistan, and the news is not encouraging.

Since joining the U.S. as an ally in its "war on terror" four years ago, Musharraf has urged Pakistanis to shun radical Islam and pursue "enlightened moderation."

Musharraf and U.S. officials say education reforms are crucial to defeating extremism in Pakistan, the only Islamic nation armed with nuclear weapons. Yet reformers who study the country's education system say public school lessons still promote hatred against non-Muslims and urge jihad, or holy war.

The story delves into a debate over the meaning of jihad. Some believe that the concept, taught to children throughout Pakistan, can mean peaceful struggle or refer to an inner struggle in a person's soul. Reminds me of objections I heard in college to the name of the Christian group "Campus Crusade." But the Crusades ended centuries ago. Extremist Muslims are carrying out their violent jihad in Iraq today.

And in an unrelated story, the Times explores a Jewish shopping mall that people say is dying.

Hemmed in on one side by glitz and on the other by glamour, Los Angeles' best-known Jewish business district is feeling the squeeze.

Longtime merchants say investors are buying up modest Fairfax Avenue storefronts that for half a century have housed kosher bakeries, butcher shops and bookstores and are imposing rent increases that are forcing mom-and-pop ventures out of business.

The shops that have formed the heart of the city's Jewish commercial core are being replaced by flashy boutiques more likely to be stocked with designer tees and jeans than lox and bagels.

Two things stand out in this story. First is the clear connection the reader makes with the Gaza evacuation, but the reporter fails to touch. Second is the clear sadness the writer expresses in the decline of the district. The reason the author makes no mention of the Gaza situation is likely because there is no direct connection in the events -- one is a political situation, the other, economic. But the image is there nonetheless. The author does drop an optimistic note in the story, at the very end:

"The sadness is you lose the culture when neighborhoods change," Charet said. "The upside is America is open enough to embrace this culture and others as well."

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