Could Facebook officials censor religious content? Many people say they already do

Could Facebook officials censor religious content? Many people say they already do

Have you ever been in “Facebook jail?” Censored if you try to start dialogue about something that’s religiously or ethically noxious?

I’m spotlighting a very interesting Washington Post piece about the inner workings of Facebook, which in my mind are harder to figure out than a CIA organizational chart. For the sake of this blog, we’re interested in news coverage of the religion part of this equation and what this has to do with the power that Facebook has over a good portion of the globe.

An accompanying photo shows Zahra Billoo, a hijab-clad woman who is the executive director of the San Francisco office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. So, two weeks after Trump was elected, 

Billoo ... posted to Facebook an image of a handwritten letter mailed to a San Jose mosque and quoted from it: “He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”
The post -- made to four Facebook accounts -- contained a notation clarifying that the statement came from hate mail sent to the mosque, as Facebook guidelines advise.
 “I couldn’t tolerate just sitting with it and being silent,” Latour said in an interview. “I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin, like my kids’ innocence was stolen in the blink of an eye.”
Facebook removed the post from two of the accounts -- Billoo’s personal page and the council’s local chapter page -- but allowed identical posts to remain on two others -- the organization’s national page and Billoo’s public one. The civil rights attorney was baffled. After she re-posted the message on her personal page, it was again removed, and Billoo received a notice saying she would be locked out of Facebook for 24 hours.
“How am I supposed to do my work of challenging hate if I can’t even share information showing that hate?” she said.

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Hysteria? CNN's one-sided obsession with Robert Jeffress goes way over the top

Hysteria? CNN's one-sided obsession with Robert Jeffress goes way over the top

Before any inauguration, media all over town are snooping about, hoping to get unusual stories that no one else is getting. I spent 16 years working in Washington, D.C., so I know the drill.

When CNN learned who was preaching the early morning pre-inauguration sermon to the Trump family, its piece on the lead preacher sounded more like Adolf Hitler himself was showing up. I am no fan of this particular Baptist preacher, but I also don't like journalistic attempts to nuke someone using every weapon in the advocacy journalism arsenal.

Just try to count the scare quotes in this one. Note that every possible alarming fact (yes, lots of them are valid) was thrown in as one more reminder that Donald Trump likes to surround himself with people not fit for polite company. Try to find any sign that the CNN team even considered seeking voices on the other side.

(CNN) A pastor with a long history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays is scheduled to preach at a private service for President-elect Trump and his family on Friday, shortly before Trump takes the oath of office.
The pastor, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, is a Southern Baptist who vigorously campaigned for Trump during the final months of the presidential election and is a member of his evangelical advisory board. "I love this guy!" Trump has said of Jeffress. ...
Usually the Inauguration Day service draws little notice, much less controversy. But offering Jeffress such a prominent pulpit is likely to irk religious minorities, particularly Muslims, many of whom were already angered by the President-elect's stoking of suspicions about Islam during the campaign.

Earth to CNN: You do know that Trump could care less about whether he irks anyone?

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Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Never thought I'd write a post like this.

At GetReligion, we complain all the time about "ghosts" -- religious or spiritual angles to stories that news media miss or downplay. But in one report on the torching of a mosque in Florida, one religious angle may have been actually overplayed.

Just after midnight Monday, someone set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, the home mosque of Omar Mateen, who shot 49 people on June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. On Wednesday, officers announced the arrest of Joseph Michael Schreiber, who they said confessed to the crime.

Schreiber left a lot of clues. Aside from surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses, he'd posted Facebook messages saying that "ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL" and that its followers should be considered terrorists and "crimanals" (sic). He also has a record of theft and robbery.

So far, so routine. But then comes the Daily Beast, which says Schreiber "describes himself as a Jew for Jesus, a religious sect that believes Jesus is the messiah."

Says the Beast:

The first clues to Schreiber’s religious beliefs also come from his Facebook page, where his cover photo features the seal of messianic Judaism. It shows a menorah and a Jesus fish intersecting to form the Star of David. 
Many of Schreiber’s three dozen Facebook friends also self-identify with Messianic Judaism, either proclaiming themselves members of the faith in their profiles, or saying that they work at Messianic Jewish synagogues.
Previous media reports described Schreiber, who spewed anti-Muslim hate on Facebook, as Jewish. But Messianic Jews, colloquially known as Jews for Jesus, occupy a nebulous space in the religious landscape. (Jews for Jesus is also a recognized nonprofit organization that promotes a type of Messianic Judaism.)

The Beast alertly quotes Rabbi Bruce Benson of Temple Beth Israel in Fort Pierce, who says that messianics are “outside the parameters of accepted Jewish thinking."  Benson says Schreiber studied Torah there awhile, and that Schreiber's late grandfather was once a member of the temple.

Interesting details. So, how do they play into Schreiber's hostility toward Islam and Muslims? That's where the article falls silent. It fails to show that messianic Jews tend toward hatred of Muslims.

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In era of Donald Trump, is it true Muslim scholars are no longer split on ethics of voting?

In era of Donald Trump, is it true Muslim scholars are no longer split on ethics of voting?

In an election year in which Donald Trump won't shut up about Muslims, I find stories about Muslim voters intriguing.

Just recently, I wrote a post highlighting Muslims who actually — gasp! — plan to vote for Trump.

The latest piece that caught my attention is the lead item on today's roundup of religion headlines by the Pew Research Center (sign up here for this great resource).

From the beginning, the NPR story relies on a bunch of generalities — Islamophobia, anyone? — while failing to provide concrete details that explain or amplify the specific claims made:

In an election year filled with anti-Muslim vitriol, some mosques are urging their worshipers to vote in an attempt to make their voices heard. To do so, they're borrowing a strategy used by African-American churches and organizing "souls to the polls" campaigns.
Many mosques have traditionally shunned politics. As recently as the late 1990s, Muslim scholars were divided on the ethics of voting. For years, it was common for many Muslim-Americans to not exercise their voting rights. But this year, three of Nashville's biggest mosques are busing worshipers to the polls. The organizers say this is more about demonstrating the importance of voting than providing transportation.

Now, NPR never mentions Trump in this report — but I can't help but think "anti-Muslim vitriol" might be a reference to the Republican presidential nominee.

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Mainstream news media and those missing Muslim voices denouncing terrorism

Mainstream news media and those missing Muslim voices denouncing terrorism

How often have you heard talk radio and TV personalities lament that Muslims don’t denounce terrorism?

The general public also worries about that, and a major reason is that the mainstream media regularly ignore such denunciations when they occur.

Consider the June 12 Orlando attack. North American Muslims scrambled and got out a response of condolence and outrage the very next day, with more than 450 endorsers. The Guy found coverage only from a veteran Godbeat specialist, CNN religion editor Daniel Burke.  

This significant statement, “On the Carnage in Orlando,” hedged matters by noting the assumption of radical Muslim inspiration was based on news reports. But if that’s the case, the signers declared, that “would be a reprehensible distortion of Islam” that made this great world faith one of the victims of the attack.

“Any such acts of violence violate every one of our Prophet’s teachings,” they asserted. “Such an act of hate-fueled violence has no place in any faith.” Also, the “foulness” of the attack was worsened by occurring during Ramadan, Islam’s month of charity and spiritual purification.

There was also a plea to non-Muslims not to “place collective guilt on an entire community for the sins of individuals,” which would be “an egregious offense against the culture and laws of America.”

Did you hear about this? Did you see press coverage?

Organized Islam lacks the money, staffing and savvy to mount much-needed public relations campaigns. So assignment editors should keep this document on file because it names 450 moderates who can be phoned for comment after the next atrocity. The list features leaders from most major national Muslim organizations and local groups across North America.

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Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I suggested a story on the verses in the Quran that dealt with killing unbelievers, including how local imams interpret them. My editor hesitated and said, "I'd rather do stories about diversity in the community."

That looks like the attitude among most mainstream media, 15 years later. We know that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay club, was Muslim and anti-gay. But what exactly does Islam say about homosexuality?

Many mainstream media seem to have been avoiding answering that, even when asking it themselves. They’ve chattered about how he checked Facebook and traded texts with his wife. They say he tried to buy body armor. And of course, they talk about gun control and homophobia.

But few have ventured into the minefield where Muslim communities border homosexuality. And of those that do, most concentrate on LGBT Muslims themselves.

In Florida itself, I could find only one newspaper -- my alma mater, the Sun Sentinel -- reporting on a "confused, broken community that lies at the intersection of the tragedy," as it calls them. One of its three subjects is college student Hytham Rashid:

There are not a lot of terms to describe gender identity or sexual orientation in Arabic, Rashid said. The word "transgender," for example, translates to "You are like a woman" or "You are like a man," which can be considered offensive, he says.  
As a gay Muslim, Rashid says he faces both Islamophobia and homophobia every day. He said in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, he doesn’t feel safe going to memorials and events.
"We can put up our stickers and wave around our rainbow flags in Wilton Manors, but the core issue is, there isn’t a safe space for us," he said.

The Sun Sentinel also imports a statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that there is "no religious justification or precedent in Islam for mass shootings targeting any population, regardless of identity." But it doesn't look at the Quran or the Hadith (the record of Muhammad's words and deeds).  Nor does it ask any leaders of the 15-20 mosques in its circulation area.

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Are Christians paying enough attention to religious-liberty issues for Muslims?

Are Christians paying enough attention to religious-liberty issues for Muslims?

At the end of the Obama era, conservative U.S. Christians are expressing more worries about their religious liberties than they have for a very long time.

Yet devout Muslims face their own challenges. So journalists might ask Christian strategists whether these rival religions might unite on future legal confrontations and, right now, whether they support Muslims on, say, NIMBY disputes against mosques, while also asking Muslim leaders about Christians’ concerns.

As Christianity Today magazine editorializes in the June issue, the U.S. “will be stronger if people of faith -- not just of Christian faith -- are free to teach and enact their beliefs in the public square without fear of discrimination or punishment by the government.” 

This story theme is brought to mind by two simultaneous news items.

On May 24 the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a federal bias complaint about Muslim workers at Wisconsin’s Ariens Company, which makes snow blowers and lawn mowers. Christian Science Monitor reportage said Ariens granted two daily breaks from the assembly line for required Muslim prayer times but some workers needed three. After negotiations fizzled, the company fired seven Muslims and 14 others quit.

On May 25, the education board for Switzerland’s Basel canton, with teacher’s union support, rejected appeals to exempt Muslim students from the expected daily shaking of teachers’ hands out of respect. The New York Times said the board acknowledged that strict Muslims believe that after puberty they shouldn’t touch someone of the opposite sex except for close relatives, but hand-shaking doesn’t “involve the central tenets of Islam.”

Both incidents show ignorance of, or lack of respect toward, Islam.

Since 1997, CAIR has published pamphlets by Mohamed Nimer of American University that inform schools, employers and medical facilities about the Muslim view of practical issues, for instance:

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For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

As surely as Easter brings news stories questioning the Resurrection, the arrival of Ramadan can be expected to bring exactly the opposite -- news reports that are essentially pro-Muslim marketing. And a new four-story package in The Miami Herald returns to that stale script:

Muslims are nice people and good Americans. Muslims are just like the rest of us. Terrorists are not really Muslims. Muslims are persecuted.

Let me stress: Not that any of those points are invalid.

As a religion writer for a daily newspaper, I interviewed a lot of Muslims who were happy as Americans and horrified at what was being done in the name of their faith. But to take essentially the same angle featured in so many newspapers for so many years is, by definition not news -- it's more like PR or image management.

We should have gotten better after that the Herald spent several months with four families on this package, resulting in a total of 3,435 words and three videos (which, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with GetReligion's software platform).

What appears to be the mainbar bears all the above clichés, leading with the persecution:

Yasemin Saib was filling bags with rice for a Feed My Starving Children event when she rolled out a mat and began to pray. A man interrupted her, asking her what she was doing.
"I’m praying," Saib said.
"To Jesus?" he demanded.
A few weeks earlier, the Cooper City school of her 7-year-old son was vandalized, with the words "F--- Muslims" splayed across a wall in bright red letters. "We live in frightening times in the United States," Saib said. "I can say that as an American Muslim."
Schools defaced. Stares on airplanes. Shouts of "Go Home’’ -- this is life in 2016 for many American Muslims. An anti-Muslim mood fueled by 9/11 has reached a throbbing crescendo after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called for a "total and complete shutdown" of U.S. borders to Muslims in the wake of December’s San Bernardino terrorist attack.

"Throbbing crescendo." How did that phrase get past the editor? That might work for the New York Post, but not for a once-world class daily.

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Hey media, here's one way to overcome that tired 'anti-Muslim backlash' storyline

Hey media, here's one way to overcome that tired 'anti-Muslim backlash' storyline

The backlash is baa-aack.

More precisely, the "Muslim backlash" stories are back. Just check out the front page of Thursday's USA Today.

As for an actual backlash against Muslims in the U.S.? That's a subject of some debate.

Here at GetReligion, of course, we've touched on this topic again and again and again.

With your indulgence, I'll reference one more time what I said in the immediate aftermath of this week's Brussels terror attacks:

Key, again, is factual reporting that highlights the various strains of Islam (as we have said a million times, there is "no one Islam") and avoids the simplistic "Islamophobia" propaganda that plagued so much of the coverage last time.

USA Today, whose news coverage is to journalism what McDonald's cheeseburgers are to fine dining, didn't get the memo. But give the national newspaper credit for going all the way with its totally predictable, stereotypical approach. This is the online headline on the story featured in Thursday's print edition:

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