In a kind of techno-jiujitsu, younger American Muslims have started using the same social media as ISIS terrorists -- in their case, as a counter-weapon.
This is the kind of enterprise reporting at which NPR often excels. Alas, that is not the case with the shallow, incomplete report that ran this week on Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Nearly all the trendy elements are there. You’ve got a little-reported interface of two socially hot topics, religion and terrorism. You have the coveted demographic of American millennials. And you’ve got Facebook and other forms of new media -- more familiar each year, but still radiating a cachet.
All the story lacks is what these young anti-terrorism Muslims are actually doing, when they do what they do. Isn't that rather basic information to include in a story of this kind?
The starting point -- the old saw that all Muslims get blamed for the actions of a tiny few -- threatens at first to sink the story into mediocrity:
Tired of being called a terrorist, Ranny Badreddine, a youth from Evansville, Ind., joined other young teens to create World Changers, an initiative that uses the cyberspace to combat misconceptions about Islam.
"Kids have to be worried about...going outside and being scared that someone is going to beat them up because they're Muslim," Badreddine says. "As a 13-year-old kid, I don't want to live my life being scared of Americans trying to hurt me because of what I am and my religion."
Many younger American Muslims say their parents and grandparents have long been reluctant to speak out and risk drawing attention to themselves. But Badreddine and his peers want to take a different approach. They want to use technology to push back against what they see as false portrayals of Islam.
The scapegoating complaint is hardly news anymore. As a religion writer for a daily newspaper, I must have reported similar quotes dozens of times since the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Another World Changers member adds another common line: ISIS talks religious beliefs but actually pursues political goals.
Even the Muslim media campaign has precedents. Back in 2004, the Council on American-Islamic Relations coordinated a petition drive called "Not in the Name of Islam." And after the attacks last year in Paris, numerous Muslims jumped onto Twitter for a campaign called #notinmyname.
The twin hooks in the NPR/Georgia story are the youthfulness of Reclamation Studios, the parent group of World Changers, and their extensive outreach in social media. The Indiana-based organization maintains not only a Twitter account, but a Facebook page and a YouTube channel.
The videos are talky but meaty and often aided with graphics. Not in His Name, for instance, deals with matters like jihad, treatment of women, how ISIS is different from Islam, and whether Islam preaches "Convert or die."
Reclamation Studios seems pretty liberal, judging from its stated "vision":
1) To seek individual and community purpose aligned with our human family's purpose on earth.
2) To discover the innate connection of our souls with the Divine and the beauty of human virtue.
3) To strive for personal improvement, social justice, and genuine conversation.
I'm tempted to say, "No wonder NPR likes the group." But amazingly, none of the above content is in this article. Most of it is about the image of Islam -- in the eyes of ISIS, Muslim millennials, and the non-Muslim public.
The odd thing is that another NPR report on Reclamation Studios, from July, does much of this. That story posts the video on Does Islam Encourage Violence?, then adds a paragraph on it:
In one episode, Zac Parsons is walking side by side with Imam Omar Atia on a sunny day in Evansville, Ind., asking him a question about Islam: "You're a Muslim guy, a peaceful guy, and yet, you know, we see all this stuff in the news all the time about, you know, terrorism and violence and killing, you know, in the name of Islam — which is supposed to be a religion of peace. How is it that for them it's not peaceful, but for you it is?"
"It's not even left for question," Atia says. "Unjust killing is completely forbidden."
The text then identifies Parsons as a digital marketer and Atia as an imam and a founder of Reclamation Studios. I also liked the input from a researcher at the University of Evansville, who said that projects like Reclamation Studios will make it harder for ISIS to brand itself as authentic Islam.
Georgia Public Broadcasting even posted that version -- though without the video link -- so it should have known better.
It's true that some of the remarks in the new piece are insightful. It quotes Hani Yousef, 17 years old, who is asked "if it is fair to expect the younger generation to fight a war that they did not start." He answers with remarkable maturity:
"I think it might be beyond the point if it's fair or not," Yousef says. "The situation is that people are taking the name Islam and using it in a derogatory way, and what's really the problem that we need to focus on is not if it's fair or not, but how to combat it in a way that obviously is nonviolent and aligns with the ways or our religion."
So the new stuff has good stuff. For the holes, the Georgia station could have easily folded some of the older material into the new.
What especially worries me is that just maybe, GPB didn’t even realize the story had holes.