Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

Islamic State's reign of terror named top religion story of 2014 by Religion Newswriters Association

Islamic State's reign of terror named top religion story of 2014 by Religion Newswriters Association

The No. 1 religion news story of 2014?

The extremist Islamic State's reign of terror narrowly edged the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in balloting by Religion Newswriters Association members.

The results were announced Thursday.

For the second straight year, Pope Francis was chosen as the Religion Newsmaker of the Year.

The full top 10 (actually three, since there were three ties), via an RNA news release:

1.  The self-styled Islamic State expands a reign of terror into Iraq and Syria, driving out the Iraqi army from Mosul and exiling ancient Christian communities, Yazidis and other religious minorities on threat of death. The United Nations, Christians and many Muslim groups strongly condemn the videotaped beheadings of American journalist James Foley and other hostages as inhumane and un-Islamic.
2.  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rules that two closely held companies — Hobby Lobby and Conestoga — can claim religious objections to contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling is considered a victory for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and is highly controversial.

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Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Patience, boss. The mainstream press got to the story on day two.

GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, questioned Wednesday why major media outlets seemed to be ignoring the Jewish faith of Steven Sotloff, the latest journalist executed by Islamic State militants.

While tmatt said he could understand withholding that incendiary detail while radical Islamists held Sotloff, he asked:

However, why — now — is the faith element of this tragedy not relevant to editors at CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.? Why isn't this part of the basic factual material at the foundation of this tragic story?

But it didn't take long for that basic factual material to start making its way into mainstream news accounts. Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein was among those who jumped on the story.

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Slain U.S. journalist James Foley was 'living his faith,' and the media take notice

Slain U.S. journalist James Foley was 'living his faith,' and the media take notice

In our post last week on slain American journalist James Foley, we highlighted a letter he wrote describing how prayer helped sustain him during a previous captivity.

We noted that most initial news reports ignored Foley's religious background — with the major exception of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In recent days, though, Foley's faith has received quite a bit of attention.

Daniel Burke of CNN's "Belief Blog" had an insightful piece contrasting Foley's beliefs with those of the radical Islamic militant group that executed him:

The ISIS militant, a man with an apparent British accent, said that Foley’s murder was payback for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq. On Monday, President Barack Obama said the American operation has helped drive ISIS from strategic cities and infrastructure in northern Iraq, which apparently angered the Muslim militants.
“Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny Muslims liberty and safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,” the ISIS militant said in the video.
The man in orange, kneeling. The man in black, wielding a knife. One asked God to cross the “cosmic reach of the universe” and soothe his family. The other claimed to kill in the "name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful."
Admittedly, we know relatively little about Foley's faith and even less about the ISIS militant in black. But the contrast between the two religious paths — one led a journalist to cover conflicts, the other a jihadist to create them — is jarring.

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God and journalism: American reportedly beheaded by ISIS wrote about his faith

God and journalism: American reportedly beheaded by ISIS wrote about his faith

What absolutely crushing news.

Amid all the brutal headlines involving the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria (important background here) came a YouTube video Tuesday purportedly showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

Most of the initial news stories I've read — including those by the Washington Post and the New York Times — ignore Foley's own faith background.

But in the city where Foley graduated from Marquette University — a Catholic and Jesuit institution — the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel nails the faith angle. 

The Journal Sentinel notes that Foley previously was among "four journalists kidnapped by Moammar Gadhafi loyalists in Libya in April 2011." The Milwaukee story describes a letter Foley wrote to his alma mater after 44 days in captivity.

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Irish Times gets creative to report on persecuted Iraqi Christians

Irish Times gets creative to report on persecuted Iraqi Christians

At a time when, as tmatt observes,  "journalists from mainstream media are struggling to do first-hand coverage" of religious persecution under Islamic State rule, an Irish Times reporter uses creative sourcing to get a first-hand account from the ground: "Fleeing Child Abduction, Slavery, Rape and Theft in Iraq."

Lara Marlowe, the Irish Times' Paris correspondent, found an Iraqi Christian expatriate whose sister Mariam fled Mosul with her husband Youssef in June as ISIS was closing in. Now taking refuge in Ainkawa, a suburb of the Iraqi city of Erbil, Mariam spoke to Marlowe via Skype, giving a detailed account of the atrocities she witnessed or learned of from neighbors. 

The story is a must-read. Seeing the events on the ground through the eyes of a single person helps bring home the enormity of the persecution. Marlowe's opening paragraphs use Mariam's experiences to highlight experiences common to many fleeing Mosul -- the loss of ancestral homes, the sight of anti-Christian graffiti, the betrayal by neighbors:

Mariam, a 50-year-old Christian obstetrician from Mosul in Iraq, considers herself and her family lucky, though she fears they will never again see the two-storey villa and garden they inherited from her husband Youssef’s parents.

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The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The Mosul purge: How good is the media coverage?

The purge of Christians from Mosul in northern Iraq -- home to thriving Christian communities almost since biblical times -- is a historic human rights abuse. Yet mainstream media have done comparatively little coverage on it, probably because they're stretched thin with the twin stories of the airline shoot-down in Ukraine and Israel's invasion of Gaza. Also, of course, the Islamic State is in no mood to allow access to the "kafir" media.

Still, some reports have emerged, and some are brave, sensitive and frank on what the Christians are suffering.

The New York Times is often tone-deaf on religion in the U.S., but the newspaper has distinguished itself in stories like this one. Tim Arango's newsfeature opens with an anecdote on the loss shared by Iraqi Christians and many Muslims:

BAGHDAD — A day after Christians fled Mosul, the northern city controlled by Islamist extremists, under the threat of death, Muslims and Christians gathered under the same roof — a church roof — here on Sunday afternoon. By the time the piano player had finished the Iraqi national anthem, and before the prayers, Manhal Younis was crying.

“I can’t feel my identity as an Iraqi Christian,” she said, her three little daughters hanging at her side.

A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, “You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.”

The warm scene here was an unusual counterpoint to the wider story of Iraq’s unraveling, as Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria gain territory and persecute anyone who does not adhere to their harsh version of Islamic law. On Saturday, to meet a deadline by the ISIS militants, most Christians in Mosul, a community almost as old as Christianity itself, left with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

The article logs the outrage over the Islamic State's brutality, from leaders as diverse as Pope Francis and Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations. Arango plays up the angle that the militants are enemies of most Iraqis, not just Christians:

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NYTimes: Waves of generic refugees run for their lives in Iraq

The news from Iraq grows more and more distressing, at least for those who favor old-liberalism virtues found in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the United Nations. Here is a typical mainstream-news update, care of The Los Angeles Times. But let’s back up for a moment and look at two key elements of one of the first major stories that shook the mainstream press into action. I refer to The New York Times piece that ran under the headline “Sunni Militants Drive Iraqi Army Out of Mosul.”

I concede, right up front, that I am concerned about two key issues: (1) the symbolic and practical importance of Mosul to Christians and members of other religious minorities in the Middle East and (2) the tactics and goals of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the militants behind this drive into Iraq. At the top of its report, the Times paints this horror story in very general terms.

BAGHDAD – Sunni militants spilling over the border from Syria on Tuesday seized control of the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, in the most stunning success yet in a rapidly widening insurgency that threatens to drag the region into war.

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