Ira Rifkin

Unlike the media, Muslim leaders are downplaying China's persecution of their fellow believers

Unlike the media, Muslim leaders are downplaying China's persecution of their fellow believers

The American media, and Muslim groups, remain vigilant in championing the safety and religious liberty of Islamic believers around the world.

But what about the large population of Muslims in China, where atheistic Communists are currently inflicting what’s probably the biggest program of religious persecution anywhere? Reports on the relentless campaign to suppress or “Sinicize” Islam say that a million or more Muslims of Uighur ethnicity have been shipped to re-education camps, amid reports of e.g. forcible pork-eating or renunciation of the faith.

Mainstream journalists have performed quite well on this, despite shrinking resources for foreign coverage and China’s efforts to bar reporters from Muslim regions. But what are Muslims and Muslim nations doing? GetReligion’s Ira Rifkin wrote a Feb. 12 post noting that China’s Muslims have “been largely abandoned by their powerful global co-religionists” due to “blatantly self-serving political considerations.”

Wall Street Journal Asia columnist Sadanand Dhume aims that same complaint (behind paywall) specifically at Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan is quick to denounce “Islamopobia” in the West, he wrote October 4, but “China’s wholesale assault on Islam itself elicits only silence.” He explained, “Hardly any Muslim country wants to risk angering China’s touchy rulers by criticizing their policies.”

Journalists should be quizzing Muslim spokesmen, organizations, scholars and diplomats about this noteworthy anomaly. Such calculated silence, so much in contrast with Christian and Jewish activism on religious freedom, stands out because most Muslim nations fuse religion with state interests.

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Spot the news here: First openly gay presidential candidate in 'Arab' or 'Muslim' world?

Spot the news here: First openly gay presidential candidate in 'Arab' or 'Muslim' world?

To answer a question I hear every now and then: Yes, we do hear from Ira “Global Wire” Rifkin from time to time. If you follow him in social-media circles you know that he is doing well, especially when hanging out with his lively family.

Also, he sends us URLs and cryptic hints when he bumps into GetReligion-ish stories linked to international news. Take this Washington Post story, for example: “An openly gay candidate is running for president in Tunisia, a milestone for the Arab world.”

How important is this story? Rifkin had this to say: “This is not nothing, though I think his chances of ending up in exile in Paris (or dead or in jail) are greater than his winning.”

There are several interesting angles in this story, as far as I am concerned. All of them are directly or indirectly linked to religion. However, I’m not sure that the Post foreign-desk squad wants to face that reality head on. Here is the overture:

Lawyer Mounir Baatour officially announced his candidacy for the Tunisian presidency …, becoming the first known openly gay presidential candidate in the Arab world and heralding a major step forward for LGBT rights in a country that still criminalizes gay sex.

Baatour, the president of Tunisia’s Liberal Party, presented his candidacy to the country’s election commission a day ahead of a Friday deadline to qualify for the Sept. 15 election. He received nearly 20,000 signatures in support of his candidacy — double the required number — according to a statement posted to his Facebook page.

“This enthusiasm already testifies to the immense will of the Tunisian people, and especially its youth, to see new a political wind blowing on the country and to concretely nourish its democracy,” the statement said, calling Baatour’s candidacy “historic.”

OK, is the newsworthy hook here that we are talking about political “first” in the “Arab” world or in the “Muslim” world? Yes, I realize that the answer could be “both-and.” But that is a different answer than simply saying “Arab” and leaving it at that.

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Friday Five: New Zealand, Houston drag queen, Trump as Bible's Esther, Elizabeth Warren's faith

Friday Five: New Zealand, Houston drag queen, Trump as Bible's Esther, Elizabeth Warren's faith

Oh, the joys of life over 50 …

I got my first colonoscopy this week. Then I ate Chick-fil-A. So I either survived or died and went to heaven.

But enough about me and my fun times.

Let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Today marks one week since 50 worshipers were slain at two mosques.

The Associated Press reports that New Zealanders observed the Muslim call to prayer today, the first Friday after an act that an imam told the crowd of thousands had left the country broken-hearted but not broken.

“I could not have brought enough Kleenex for this,” tweeted one of the AP reporters covering the story. “So moving.”

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Julia Duin’s post on “Houston’s drag queen story hour” is our most-clicked commentary of the week.

Duin noted that there are so many questions and so few journalists asking them:

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Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

The terrorist set out to massacre Muslim believers as they gathered for Friday prayers in their mosques.

He covered his weapons with names of others who committed similar mass murders and military leaders that he claimed fought for the same cause.

The terrorist left behind a hellish manifesto built on themes common among radicals who hate immigrants, especially Muslims, and weave in virulent anti-Semitism themes, as well (BBC explainer here). He claimed to have “been in contact” with sympathizers of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people — most of them children — in 2011.

1. Religion story of the week. The gunman’s motives may have been pure hatred, with no twisted links to any world religion, but it’s clear that the New Zealand massacre is the religion story of the week — because of the faith of the 49 victims and the faith statements of millions of people that are offering prayers and help in the wake of the attack.

The gunman labeled his own motives, as seen in this New York Times report:

Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. …

In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes. Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.

The Washington Post noted:

The 74-page manifesto left behind after the attack was littered with conspiracy theories about white birthrates and “white genocide.” It is the latest sign that a lethal vision of white nationalism has spread internationally. Its title, “The Great Replacement,” echoes the rallying cry of, among others, the torch-bearing protesters who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

Also this:

Video on social media of the attack’s aftermath showed a state of disbelief, as mosque-goers huddled around the injured and dead. Amid anguished cries, a person could be heard saying, “There is no God but God,” the beginning of the Muslim profession of faith.

Please help us spot major religion themes in the waves of coverage that this story will receive in the hours and days ahead. Meanwhile, with Bobby Ross Jr., still in the Middle East, here is a tmatt attempt to fill the rest of the familiar Friday Five format.

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Friday Five: Lent trends, Methodist fight, Alabama tornado, Ira Rifkin update, epic NYT correction

Friday Five: Lent trends, Methodist fight, Alabama tornado, Ira Rifkin update, epic NYT correction

I’m traveling to Israel next week on a tour with a group of religion reporters. So spoiler alert: My next few posts will allow me to clear out some of the items in my “guilt folder” as I analyze a few stories that I’ve been wanting to mention for a while.

If you have a comment or a question about those posts, I’d love to hear them. But it may take me longer than normal to get back to you.

I believe that GetReligion Editor Terry Mattingly also will be traveling a bit next week, as well, and sources say he, too, may be a bit preoccupied (read: playing with grandchildren). So things may be a little bit looser than normal around these parts.

In case you missed it, there’s a piece of major news involving our team. I’ll mention it below as we dive into the Friday Five.

1. Religion story of the week: It’s wonderful to have Sarah Pulliam Bailey back covering religion at the Washington Post.

I’m no fan of paper straws, but I really enjoyed the former GetReligion contributor’s timely piece on “The latest Lent challenge for churches: Give up plastic.”

Other Lent-related stories to give a click this week (Eastern Orthodox churches start Great Lent this coming Sunday) include Kelsey Dallas’ Deseret News delve into “Can a good meal bring people back to church? A growing number of congregations think so” and this Southern California newspaper’s report on a church offering drive-thru ashes, which is turning into an annual feature topic somewhere or another.

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Turn, turn, turn: There's a very good reason you didn't hear from Ira Rifkin last week

Turn, turn, turn: There's a very good reason you didn't hear from Ira Rifkin last week

GetReligion readers who pay close attention to international news, period, and religion trends in international news, to be specific, will have noticed that we didn’t have a Global Wire memo last week from religion-beat veteran Ira Rifkin.

Trust me, this wasn’t because Rifkin didn’t try to hit his deadline. He has filed under some of the most amazingly stressful and even painful situations. We are talking really old-school, on that side of the journalism-skills equation.

Well, last week, Rifkin couldn’t file because he was having surgery. No need for too many details, but everyone thought things were on the up and up, afterwards.

You know that old saying that “minor surgery” is surgery on someone else? This is certainly one of those cases — times 10. There were complications. Thus, I received a follow-up note from Ira about the surgery that included the following material. I think we can all agree that the lede is a bit of an understatement, but that’s Ira.

Life's become even more complex for me. …

I started having seizures  -- a very strange out of body experience -- and my heart stopped several times. I'm back in the hospital. … Strokes and/or brain damage have been ruled out. In any event I needed a heart pacemaker installed. … Though because my heart stopped again while on the operating table, they had to install an emergency one before circling back to install the permanent one.

I'm much better today but extraordinarily weak, mostly in bed and sleeping.

Rifkin will update his status when the time is right, I am sure.

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ADL report headlines: What about U.S.-Israeli teen who made 'thousands' of threats?

ADL report headlines: What about U.S.-Israeli teen who made 'thousands' of threats?

Every now and then it helps to read headlines in news sources around the world and then attempt to connect some dots.

Take, for example, that headline the other day in Haaretz ("the land" in Hebrew), which is a small, liberal, but very influential publication that reaches a global audience.

The headline in question said: "U.S. Indicts Israeli-American Teen Hacker for Bomb Threats Against Jewish Centers." Here is the overture of this Reuters story:

A teenager has been indicted for hate crimes connected to threats against Jewish community centers, as well as threatening the Israeli embassy and cyberstalking, the U.S. Justice Department said. ... 
The teen is awaiting trial in Israel, where he was arrested last year. U.S. and Israeli authorities have previously charged him with making thousands of threats, including to airports, schools and Jewish centers, in the United States in 2016 and early 2017.

Later in the story, there is this statement about these activities by this young man -- who holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship:

The hoax threats to the Jewish community centers forced widespread evacuations and raised fears of a resurgence in anti-Semitism. 
U.S. authorities have said in court documents that the teen advertised his services on AlphaBay, a now-closed online black market, and offered to threaten any school for $30.

Now, here is my journalism question, focusing on a wave of recent headlines about anti-Semitism trends in newspapers across America (and in television coverage): Is the information contained in this ongoing story in Israel relevant to the recent wave of reports about a sharp rise in anti-Semitic activity in America during 2017?

Here is a typical headline, at NPR: "Anti-Defamation League Report Shows Anti-Semitic Incidents Rose From 2016 To 2017."

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One story to watch: Will 2018 see notable decline in the Middle East's hardline Islam?

One story to watch: Will 2018 see notable decline in the Middle East's hardline Islam?

Looking at Muslim culture in the Mideast apart from ongoing terrorism problems, The Economist’s fat “The World in 2018” special includes two articles that anticipate secularization and decline for religious hardliners in Sunni lands. You can click here to read, "Roll Over Religion."

The key factor is a “disenchanted” younger generation that no longer accepts claims that “Islam is the solution” to socio-economic woe.  Such unrest is obvious, but The Religion Guy is hesitant about claims of sweeping decline. Nonetheless, U.S.-based reporters should pay heed, since correspondents Roger McShane and Nicolas Pelham are on the ground and we’re not.

“Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates will seek to capitalize on popular sentiment to pursue their Islamist foes,” the venerable Brit newsmagazine predicts. Regimes will talk about “reform and modernization” but in actuality will maneuver “to clip the powers of religious institutions and increase their own sway.” As part of it they’ll “roll back the presence of religion in public spaces.”

Already, with the ISIS collapse, women in Mosul, Iraq, are removing their full-face coverings and returning to school and college classrooms. Tunisia is letting Muslim women marry Christians. In Egypt, symbolic beards and veils are starting to disappear as weekly mosque attendance slides. “In some cities sex before marriage is becoming a norm,” and we should “expect more videos of Saudi women in risqué dress.”

Much of the intrigue centers on straitlaced Saudi Arabia and its busy young Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (a.k.a. MBS, lately in the news for paying a record $450 million for a Leonardo da Vinci portrait of Jesus Christ). All but taking command from his father King Salman, the prince has begun circumscribing powers of the dreaded mutaween (religious police).

As the regime “chips away at restrictions imposed under the kingdom’s strict Islamic social code,” the “conservative clerics are perturbed,” the magazine says. A permanent shift in religion policy would have major impact because the Saudis have funded Salafi and Wahhabi zealotry worldwide.

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Back to Indonesia: When covering disputes among faithful, AP should talk to more Muslims

Back to Indonesia: When covering disputes among faithful, AP should talk to more Muslims

Tensions remain high in Indonesia, where opponents of the nation's Christian governor -- he is part of the nation's minority Chinese population -- held a massive rally calling for the arrest of Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja and his trial on charges of blasphemy.

Obviously, many journalists believe that a story like this requires lots of vague adjectives in front of the word "Muslims."

In this case, the opponents of Ahok are "conservative Muslims" and the Muslims who support him are "moderate Muslims." What does this mean? Who knows, other than the fact that the conservatives are (you knew this was coming) mad about the growing presence of LGBTQ activists in public life.

Here is the key passage in an update from the Associated Press:

The crowds massed in the area of the national monument formed a sea of white that spilled into surrounding streets while gridlocked motorists sat on the sidewalks. Some held huge banners calling Ahok a blasphemer who should be jailed while others chanted and prayed. The blasphemy controversy erupted in September when a video circulated online in which Ahok criticized detractors who argued the Quran prohibits Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader.
It has challenged the image of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, as practicing a moderate form of Islam and has shaken the government of Jokowi, who accused unnamed political actors of trying to undermine him.

Recently, I criticized a Washington Post story about these events in the incredibly complex culture of Indonesia because it didn't include quotes from non-Muslims. As Ira "Global Wire" Rifkin noted at that time: "Tremendous hole in this piece: What about non-Muslim Indonesians? There are many Hindus in Java, Christian Chinese, Sikhs and others living there."

The problem with the recent AP coverage of this dispute is that it offers a different kind of simplicity -- by (a) dealing with these clashes as a matter of politics, alone, and (b) by failing to interview representatives of some of the largest and most powerful Muslim organizations in Indonesia.

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