Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

I guess the big news this Easter is that there isn't any really big news at Easter. Yet.

Obviously, there was big news during Holy Week -- as in the lockdown in Egypt and in other Christian communities across the Middle East in the trembling aftermath of the hellish Palm Sunday bombings. That led to this somber New York Times feature that ran with the headline, "After Church Bombings, Egyptian Christians Are Resigned but Resolute."

It's a fine feature, one that -- as it must -- focuses on the political framework that surrounds the latest wave of persecution of Coptic Christians. After all, this is a tense land in which a near totalitarian Egyptian government that helps lock Christians in their place is also the only force strong enough to weakly protect them from the Islamic State and other truly radicalized forms of Islam.

Orthodox Christians who read this piece may not make it to the end, growing tired of the politics and violence. Where is the ultimate message of Pascha? Where are the voices of those who still believe, who continue to keep the faith despite all the suffering? Aren't they part of the story?

They are. And that theme emerges at the end of the piece -- so wait for it.

The veneration of Christian martyrs is felt most keenly at the monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. There, barren desert has been transformed into a lush compound of gardens and monastic cells around a soaring cathedral. The seven Christians killed in last Sunday’s bombing were taken there for entombment in a martyr’s church under construction for the 2011 bombing’s 23 victims.
“The new martyrs will be buried beside the old ones,” Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, leader of the monastery, said as he walked around the site, weaving through a maze of wooden beams. “It is a gift for them to be buried here.” ... 
Many Coptic clerics are careful of engaging in public debate. Asked what was driving the Islamic State attacks, the monastery’s spokesman, Father Elijah Ava Mina, chuckled dryly. “I don’t know,” he said. “Ask them.”
Yet talk of Copts being forced to leave Egypt en masse, as some have suggested, seems overblown. Attendance at Holy Week services at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria soared after the bombing, clerics said, as worshipers defied their fears and crowded into a church whose pillars and altars were shrouded in black cloth.
On Friday, George Naseem Fahim stood guard at the church gates. His father, Naseem Fahim, was killed in the blast Sunday, he said, after he directed the suicide bomber away from the main gate and into the metal detector.
Now his son took his place.
“I’m continuing what he started,” Mr. Fahim said. “Why worry or be afraid? He has gone to heaven, and I am ready to join him if necessary.”

 

Why doesn't the piece open with the churches that were packed during Holy Week?

Will the Times team update this fine story to report what the mood was during the four-plus hours of the dramatic Pascha Divine Liturgies that began in the late hours of Saturday night and continued on into the morning of Sunday? Did the worshippers process through the streets just before midnight with candles and icons, singing hymns that the resurrection was near?

It's hard to explain to non-journalists, but part of the problem is simply having enough people to cover events on a holiday weekend. I mean, journalists will cover the pope's Easter sermon -- that comes out in printed form and some news organizations still have Rome bureaus.

That's enough Easter, right? I mean, look at this screen shot of the front page of CNN.com this Easter morning.

I understand the point of view of news consumers who are convinced that mainstream news organizations are biased against Christians, when it comes to covering acts of terrorism in distant parts of the world (like Nigeria).

If you want to know what that point of view sounds like, read this part of a recent Piers Morgan conversation with Fox News talk-show host Tucker Carlson:

CARLSON: "You sent out a tweet right after this [bombing in Egypt] saying: 'This will not get the attention of massacres is Europe, but it should.' Why won't it, do you think?"
MORGAN: "I think, unfortunately, if it happens in the Middle East, this kind of atrocity, it just does not seem to attract the kind of media attention in America that it would if it happened, as we've seen with the attacks in Sweden, the last few days, in London two weeks ago. I was there for that -- huge attention in the American Media. In Paris, in Nice, these get huge attention. And yet what happened in Egypt was unbelievably significant.
If you look at what ISIS really stands for, what they are carrying out now in the Middle East -- and in Egypt in particular -- is a kind of genocidal attack on Christians and Christianity. They want Christianity eradicated. They want to convert all Muslims to their crusade, they want it to be a holy war; they want Christians gone.
And I don't think that narrative is getting the attention it should get in the American media..."
CARLSON: "What's so strange is the West is primarily Christian, predominantly -- I mean, that's what makes it the West. And yet there's this sense that it's somehow wrong to root for the home team. When something happens to Christians abroad, it's somehow, I don't know, impolite to mention it because it's self-interested. Have you noticed this?"
MORGAN: "Right. ISIS couldn't be more transparent. After the attack in St. Petersburg last week, they made it absolutely clear that this is a war against the Cross. They said that. That was what the statement said. They are at war -- in their heads -- with Christianity. Not just with Christianity -- they're at war with all other religions as well. But they have been singling out, in increasingly virulent terms, that their real war now is against Christians and the Cross...
I think this is a huge story. This is the kind of story that ought to be dominating cable news in America; it should be dominating headlines around the world. The press in America should be full of headlines about this. This narrative, to me, is very straightforward. ISIS have declared war on Christianity. I'm not seeing that being covered enough."

It has been said many times: Suffering Christians around the world have the wrong political allies here in America. It's hard for some journalists to see Christians anywhere as victims, when one of the main templates for news here in the U.S. is that conservative Christians are a key reason that Muslims face such hostility in this culture. Right?

I see some logic there. But there are other journalism realities at work, in this case.

The bottom line: A terrorist killing a few people near the British Parliament in the heart of London is going to get more coverage, for days, than an attack on Christians in a land where -- in a tight-budget journalism era -- most major newsrooms no longer have solid teams of professionals on the ground.

So let's see if the Times follows up on this solid report from Egypt. Let's see if reporters were present in the  middle of a dark Holy Saturday night, as the Coptic believers waited for Pascha.

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