Church bombings in Pakistan: Mainstream media provide powerful coverage

Mainstream media have often been accused of caring more about the persecution of other religions than Christianity. But with the horrendous suicide bombings of two churches in Pakistan yesterday, they focused a welcome spotlight.

One of the punchiest ledes is in one of the earlier reports -- by the Wall Street Journal, filing just before 6 a.m. eastern time yesterday:

ISLAMABAD—Twin suicide bombings at two churches in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 13 people, including two policemen, and wounded more than 65 people on Sunday, police officials said.  
The back-to-back blasts shook the majority Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad as churches in the area held prayer services, police officials said. Emergency-services officials said several of the wounded are in critical condition and the death toll is expected to rise.

The Journal, unfortunately, was right: Most reports through the day placed the deaths at 14, with 70-80 injured.

Special kudos go to the Times of India for its detail-rich coverage. The newspaper did such street-level reporting as:

The first suicide bomber detonated his strapped-explosives outside the main gate of St John's Catholic Church after the security guard prevented him from entering the church where Christian families had gathered for Sunday service, a senior police officer. The second blast occurred minutes later in the compound of Christ Church.

The article then tells of the Christian protests who turned violent, including the attacks on two men suspected of taking part in the church attacks:

Local television footage showed an angry crowd beating a person they thought was connected to the attack, while others attacked buses in the city. The crowds burned to death one person they believed was involved in the attack and tried to lynch another, said Haider Ashraf, deputy inspector general for Lahore.

Reuters, too, goes street level with eyewitness testimony:

"I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed towards the spot and saw the security guard scuffle with a man who was trying to enter the church. After failing, he blew himself up," witness Amir Masih said.
Another witness, Akram Bhatti, said: "I was present outside Christ Church when I saw a young man in his early 20s wearing black clothes. He was stopped by the guard. The attacker exploded the suicide vest."

The New York Times, too, mentions local TV stations carrying "images of wailing and distraught relatives in hospital corridors. One woman wept hysterically as relatives tried to calm her."

And the Associated Press tells this vivid anecdote:

Shaheen Bibi's 10-year-old son Abhishak was among those killed.
"My son had gone to the church to pray for a good result in his examinations," Bibi said as she cried and struck her head against the chest of a relative. "He wanted me to sew him some new clothes if he passed his examinations."

Another detail: Police and church members alike tried to stop the bombers, who then blew themselves up. The Wall Street Journal quotes a spokeswoman for the Punjab police saying the officers were "martyred," having given their lives in the line of duty.

Most of the newspapers accurately name the churches: St. John's Catholic and Christ Church. The Washington Post further identifies the latter as part of the Church of Pakistan. In stories out of Asia, as tmatt has complained, mainstream media often lump Catholics, Assyrians and others under the generic "Christian" label.

Some of the articles give background on the range and depth of persecution in Pakistan. Oft-cited are the 2013 church bombings in Peshawar that killed 85 people.  The Wall Street Journal says also that rioters burned more than 150 homes in Lahore the same year.

Oddly, the Journal says that Pakistani Christians suffer from less persecution than those of other religions. That claim is in the last paragraph and isn't backed up.

The Washington Post seems at first to vilify the Christians with its headline, "Christians riot in Pakistan after attacks targeting churches kill 14. But it's an afternoon rewrite, the seventh update of the story, with the first version at 5:09 a.m. eastern time. The original headline was "Suicide bombers attack Catholic church in Pakistan."

The Post has actually done diligent coverage on the persecution of Christians in Pakistan; I noted in October how the newspaper took a penetrating look at the situation through the effort to find decent burial sites. And in its story yesterday, the paper builds on that solid work with this testimony:

Peter Jacob, a Christian activist in Lahore, said Pakistani Christians feel as if they are being pushed out of the country, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim.
Even though Pakistan’s military continues to battle Islamist militants in the northwest, Jacob said not enough is being done to address the “root causes of extremism.”
“There is so much hate speech against minorities and flaws in the school curriculum, but nothing has been done to do away with it,” he said.

Most of the articles add that other minority religions in Pakistan -- Sikhs, Hindus, Shiites and Ahmadis -- have also come under attack by the militants. But the stories don't try to explain or define the faiths. I doubt many readers know, for instance, how Sikhs and Ahmadis are distinct.

They also seldom say much about motives for the attacks. Reuters hints that the bombings may be reprisals for the government's push to dislodge the Taliban in North Waziristan. But it doesn't quote anyone saying so.

AP and Reuters say that a Taliban offshoot, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the bombings but not why. But the Wall Street Journal and the Times of India quote a Jamaat spokesman that the bombings will continue "until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan."

If there is a ray of hope in this horrific, continuing story, it is that mainstream media finally see something of the scale of anti-Christian hate in many lands -- hate not only in words but in deeds like bombings. Pope Francis' Sunday prayer, as reported by AP, was rather ironic: that "this persecution against Christians, that the world tries to hide, ends."  

Not this time, Your Holiness. This time -- and several others recently -- the media have shone a searing light on the carnage.


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