Welcome to the Godbeat, Tom Gjelten!
Gjelten made his debut this week as NPR's new religion correspondent.
The veteran journalist previously served as national security and international affairs correspondent there.
He joined NPR as labor and education reporter in 1982 and later did international reporting stints as the Latin American correspondent based in Mexico City and the Central Europe correspondent based in Berlin.
Gjelten's first piece as religion correspondent concerns the case of three young Muslims who were gunned down in Chapel Hill, N.C., last week. (See previous GetReligion posts related to that case here and here.)
Gjelten's NPR report explores "extreme anti-theism" as a possible motive in the slayings:
On his Facebook page, Craig Hicks, the alleged gunman, criticized all religions. His wife said he had nothing against Muslims in particular, but Hicks described himself as a gun-toting atheist.
Religion scholar Reza Aslan says ordinary atheists just don't believe in God. Hicks, Aslan says, was an anti-theist.
"An anti-theist is a relatively new identity, and it's more than just sort of a refusal to believe in gods or spirituality; it's a sometimes virulent opposition to the very concept of belief," Aslan says. ...
Reza Aslan says the anti-theists are few in number. But just as mainstream Muslims must confront the extremists in their communities, Aslan says, it's time for mainstream atheists to do the same.
"To recognize that there is a small fringe element that has a belief system predicated on the inherent nature of religion as insidious, as needing to be removed from society," he says.
But the report also provides a different Muslim perspective:
Writer Asra Nomani, herself a Muslim woman, says the North Carolina case doesn't yet answer the question of whether anti-religion extremists can be motivated to kill, just as religious extremists sometimes are. She thinks concern about anti-theism — or Islamophobia generally — is going too far when Muslim leaders start feeding a culture of fear.
"A safety campaign has been started to escort Muslim women in headscarves around college campuses, making it seem as if their lives are in danger, that Muslims are just sitting ducks [and] that we have targets on our backs," Nomani says.
When Muslim Americans see themselves as victims, Nomani argues, they're less likely to take charge of their own lives and communities.
Kudos to Gjelten and NPR for a generally balanced, nuanced report.
But after welcoming Gjelten to the beat, we'll welcome him to GetReligion with a constructive criticism (hey, that's what we do): The piece appears to be missing an important voice.
That would be the voice of a mainstream atheist.
If Aslan is going to be quoted saying it's time for mainstream atheists to confront the extremists in their communities, then fair journalism demands that someone from that group receive an opportunity to respond.