New York Times Magazine tells dramatic story of Aleppo, minus all that tricky religion stuff

New York Times Magazine tells dramatic story of Aleppo, minus all that tricky religion stuff

Please allow me to start this post with a personal note, so that readers will understand my point of view when I write about Aleppo and the wider conflict in Syria.

When I converted into Eastern Orthodoxy 19 years ago, I joined the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Church -- which for centuries has been based in Damascus. For most of my 19 years in Orthodoxy I have been part of parishes that are largely made of American converts to the faith. But for four years (including Sept. 11, 2001) my family was active in a West Palm Beach, Fla., parish that was predominately made up of people from Syria and Lebanon.

Although I now am now active in a convert-oriented church with Russian roots, I still read Antiochian Orthodox publications. To be blunt: My daily prayers include petitions for the protection of Christians, and all of those suffering, in Damascus, Aleppo and that region.

However, Christians with ties to Syria have a very complex view of events there. I have often, here at GetReligion, quoted a 2013 sermon by an Antiochian leader here in America -- Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita, Kan. -- stating the following:

Anyone who prays for peace in Syria must acknowledge, at the beginning, that "vicious wrongs" have been done on both sides and that "there's really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None," concluded Bishop Basil.
"So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we've had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don't know about except what they've shown us in this awful civil war."

This brings me to an amazing, but for me ultimately frustrating, New York Times Magazine piece that ran with this headline: "Aleppo After the Fall -- As the Syrian civil war turns in favor of the regime, a nation adjusts to a new reality -- and a complicated new picture of the conflict emerges."

Note that the defeat of the rebels holding half of Aleppo is referred to as "the fall" of the city. Needless to say, there are others -- and not just enthusiastic supporters of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad -- who see that development as its liberation.

This piece (written in first-person voice by Robert F. Worth) does an amazing job when it comes to letting readers hear from voices on two sides of this story. The problem is that there are three essential voices in this story, if one looks at it from a religious, as opposed to strictly political, point of view. Worth hints at this several times, as in this thesis paragraph:

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Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

American news consumers, as a rule, do not pay much attention to foreign news coverage. Here at GetReligion, we know that writing a post about mainstream media coverage of religion news on the other side of the planet is not the way to get lots of clicks and retweets.

That doesn't matter, because news is news and it's genuinely tragic that many Americans are in the dark about what is happening outside our borders. We will keep doing what we do.

This leads me to news coverage of the fall of the eastern half of Aleppo in Syria, a landmark event in that hellish civil war that is receiving -- as it should -- extensive coverage in American newspapers.

As you read the coverage in your own newspapers and favorite websites, please look for a crucial word -- "Alawites." President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is a member of the often persecuted Alawite sect of Islam. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

Let's start with the top of the Washington Post report, since this story is very typical of those found elsewhere, such as The New York Times and also Al Jazeera.

BEIRUT -- Syria’s government declared Thursday that it had regained full control of Aleppo after the last rebel fighters and civilians evacuated the key city as part of an agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey.
The Syrian military announced on state media that “security and stability” had been returned to eastern Aleppo, once the largest rebel stronghold. The “terrorists” -- a term used by the Syrian government to describe nearly all of its opponents -- had exited the city, the military said.
President Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of Aleppo marks the end of the opposition presence in the city for the first time in more than four years and deals a major blow to the rebellion to unseat him.

Think about this as a matter of history, for a moment. Is there anything bloodier and more ruthless than a civil war, with fighting and acts of violence taking place inside a nation, pitting armies within its population against one another?

If that is the case, then it is crucial how one labels and defines these armies.

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Syrian Christians: Targeted in Aleppo, still being ignored in the New York Times

Syrian Christians: Targeted in Aleppo, still being ignored in the New York Times

Despite all the reports of atrocities, news out of Syria can still shock. And not always for the battlefield events; sometimes for the callous, clueless coverage in media like the New York Times.

Numerous outlets have reported that some Christians have been beheaded or crucified, others ejected en masse from ISIS territory. Two Orthodox archbishops have been kidnapped and many believe that one, or both, are already dead (at the hands of rebels with past ties to U.S. agencies). And irreplaceable churches, monasteries, sacred art and libraries have been systematically demolished.

Just as shocking, none of that is in the latest "in depth" on the war in the Times.

The article deals with the ongoing war over Aleppo, Syria's largest city. It mentions the Sunni-linked Al-Qaida and the Shia-linked Hezbollah.  It looks at the army of President Bashar al-Assad and Russian air power.

What of the estimated half-million Christians, including 40,000 still in Aleppo? Silence. Everything in the Times story is about strategy and alliances, with religion pushed backstage as if it plays no role in this drama whatsoever.

Granted, the barrel bombs and gas attacks don’t ask about religion. The Times says much about the generalized suffering:

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The battle for Aleppo -- Syria’s most populous city -- is once again raging, once again trapping hundreds of thousands of civilians, once again rallying fighters seeking an advantage in the five-year-old civil war.

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'Moderate' rebels once funded by USA behead Syrian boy: Would readers want to know why?

'Moderate' rebels once funded by USA behead Syrian boy: Would readers want to know why?

As I have mentioned many times, your GetReligionistas have never figured out what to do with material published at The Daily Beast.

For the most part, it is a liberal publication that focuses on a pushy, but often interesting, brand of openly slanted, advocacy journalism of the old (and returning) European Model. That's fine and I'll keep reading. However, that is not the kind of hard-news work that we like to focus on here at this blog, unless we are pointing religion-news consumers toward a relevant "think piece."

However, the Beast has also been known to produce features -- especially international news -- that are 99.9 percent basic news. If there is advocacy there, it's because these editors are choosing to cover these stories and others are not. To me, that raises just as many questions about the pros in all of those newsrooms that are ignoring these news events.

Take, for example, the horrible news that the Daily Beast published under this double-decker headline:

U.S.-Backed ‘Moderate’ Rebels Behead a Child Near Aleppo
It’s the kind of stomach-wrenching brutality you’d associate with ISIS. Except this time, it’s American-armed rebels who are cutting off a boy’s head

No, I don't want to click on video URLs that have anything whatsoever to do with this story. I apologize for needing to run the relatively tame screen-grab image that I did, at the top of the post.

However, once again I want to say -- especially since this glimpse into hell has a strong American hook -- that it's amazing that this story is only running at the Beast and in some publications on the other side of the Atlantic, where editors and/or readers seem to have more interest in global news.

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