Ghosts in the fires of Paris

newsflash is paris burningAs my colleagues here at GetReligion would tell you, about once a week or so I sent around a frustrated note on top of a news story or two linked to the conflict between the extremists that many now call Islamists and other religious believers, from Jews to Christians, from secular Muslims to Western Muslims. These stories are drenched in religion, yet it is religion that is woven into ancient and modern conflicts that now involve politics, ethnic clashes, economics, blood fueds and many other factors. How can reporters separate the threads?

The religion ghosts are clashing, on both sides, but journalists hesitate to name or explain them. Has anyone out there seen an MSM story that really explains, for the average reader, the Sunni vs. Shiite vs. Kurd divisions in Iraq? Were reporters supposed to have explained that in each and every 700-word wire service report about the new Iraqi constitution?

Do we have too name the ghosts over and over? So a Palestinian bomber blows himself up at a sandwich stand in Israel and people are killed and injured. Was it just any old sandwich stand? Does the story have to tell us that it was a sandwich stand popular among Jews? Do we need to know the religious makeup of every victim list? Or have we reached the point where we are supposed to simply assume that we know?

There are too many questions.

Right now, I am frustrated with much of the coverage of the riots in the Paris suburbs. At the very least, this is a story that represents a violent new stage in debates about the future of the European Union.

It is a story linked to the fading of one faith and the rise of another on the continent. It is a story about high birth rates and low birth rates. It is a story about religious liberty and threats to religious liberty -- on both sides. It is a haunted story. But is it truly a story about a clash between religious groups, between different visions of culture and civilization? When are thugs merely thugs? When are police just police?

Here is how Molly Moore of The Washington Post started a typical story about the rioting. There are dozens of stories like this in print today. You can watch them on the news broadcasts tonight. Can you hear the eggshells underfoot?

PARIS, Nov. 3 -- The street rampage of angry youths continued to expand across immigrant-dominated suburbs of Paris Thursday, with gangs attacking commuter trains, elementary schools and businesses in an eighth night of violence, according to local police officials.

French government leaders met in emergency sessions for a second day but again failed to agree on how to stem the violence.

Angry youths. Immigrant-dominated.

Rock-throwing gangs attacked two trains linking Paris to Charles de Gaulle Airport, dragging out a conductor and smashing windows. Other attackers torched a car dealership, supermarket and gymnasium in violence in at least nine impoverished towns and communities populated primarily by immigrants and first-generation French citizens. A large percentage of the area's population is Muslim.

So you are the editor: Is that last sentence too early or too late? Should journalists name the ghost? Should journalists strive to minimize the religious elements of the story? If so, what is the journalistic motivation for doing that?

I am frustrated and I openly admit that, in this case, I do not know what reporters should be doing.

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