James Foley

AP scores a hit with scoop on ISIS' destruction of Iraqi monastery

AP scores a hit with scoop on ISIS' destruction of Iraqi monastery

Back in 2004, I got to visit a monastery and orphanage for boys that was in Al Qosh, a town about 31 miles northeast of Mosul, the modern Iraqi city that is across the Tigris from what was once Nineveh. The chapel, the old stone walks, a lovely fountain inside an enclosed courtyard; the whole place was a serene, beautiful spot. The tomb of the Old Testament prophet Nahum was nearby.

It was just one of several irreplaceable monasteries and holy spots in an area that goes back more than 25 centuries to the days of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. Recent years have brought true catastrophe in the form of the conquering hordes of ISIS that, among other violations, destroyed the tomb of Jonah in Mosul in 2014. So maybe it should not be a huge surprise that some time in the past 18 months, ISIS destroyed Iraq’s oldest monastery. As the Associated Press describes it:

IRBIL, Iraq -- The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to a field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State group’s relentless destruction of ancient cultural sites.
For 1,400 years, the compound survived assaults by nature and man, standing as a place of worship recently for US troops. In earlier centuries, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches and prayed in the cool chapel. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved near the entrance.

Now satellite photos obtained exclusively by The Associated Press confirm the worst fears of church authorities and preservationists -- St. Elijah’s Monastery of Mosul has been completely wiped out. …

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It's past time for New York Times to correct report that beheaded American converted to Islam

It's past time for New York Times to correct report that beheaded American converted to Islam

"Is it a fact?"

That was the simple question GetReligion asked back in October after The New York Times reported that Islamic State beheading victim James Foley — an avowed Catholic — made a "sincere" conversion to Islam before his death.

Four months later, we revisited the issue when the Times produced an in-depth piece seriously exploring Foley's faith and asking many of the questions that its first story failed to acknowledge. We noted that the second piece linked to GetReligion's post questioning the original report.

Now, the Times is facing more heat for its handling of Foley's faith — this time from the victim's brother. The newspaper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, addresses the issue in her Sunday column.

Sullivan writes:

I was drawn into this subject when I received a letter in February from Michael Foley, the younger brother of James Foley, an American journalist in Syria kidnapped in 2012. Last summer, he was the first of the Americans held hostage by ISIS to be murdered, his beheading recorded in a horrific video seen worldwide.
Michael Foley contends that Times articles portrayed his brother inaccurately — particularly when they depicted him as an enthusiastic convert to Islam and as someone who had been repeatedly waterboarded and routinely beaten. He also takes issue with the description of American and British hostages being singled out for extra abuse. Those things aren’t true, he says, and The Times should correct the record.

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New York Times revisits Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley's reported conversion to Islam

New York Times revisits Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley's reported conversion to Islam

Four months ago, I raised questions after The New York Times reported that Islamic State beheading victim James Foley made a sincere conversion from Catholicism to Islam during his captivity.

Given the circumstances, I asked whether Foley's "conversion" really should be presented as a fact.

At the time, the Times reporter who wrote the story defended the newspaper's characterization of Foley's conversion.

 

Rome bureau chief Jim Yardley's 1,500-word story tackles important questions concerning Foley's faith that the original Times story ignored.

Let's start at the top:

VATICAN CITY — The Islamic State’s beheading in August of the journalist James Foley stirred global outrage, fury and despair. But for many of his fellow Roman Catholics, Mr. Foley’s death in Syria transformed him into a symbol of faith under the most brutal of conditions.
One Catholic essayist compared him to St. Bartholomew, who died for his Christian faith. Others were drawn to Mr. Foley’s account of praying the rosary during an earlier captivity in Libya. Even Pope Francis, in a condolence call to Mr. Foley’s parents, described him as a martyr, according to the family.
Then came an unexpected twist: It turned out that Mr. Foley was among several hostages in Syria who had converted to Islam in captivity, according to some freed captives. What had been among some Catholics a theological discussion of faith and heroic resistance quickly shifted to a different set of questions:
Is any conversion under such duress a legitimate one? Why would a man who had spoken so openly about his Catholic faith turn to Islam? Given his circumstances, is it even surprising if he did?

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Another American beheaded: Peter Kassig became a Muslim while in captivity, but was his conversion genuine?

Another American beheaded: Peter Kassig became a Muslim while in captivity, but was his conversion genuine?

"An act of pure evil."

That's how President Barack Obama characterized the latest beheading of an American by the Islamic State terrorist organization.

Most of the news stories I read Sunday — including that of Peter Kassig's hometown Indianapolis Star — referenced Kassig's reported conversion to Islam while in captivity.

The Star's lede:

Indianapolis native Peter Kassig, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul-Rahman during his yearlong captivity by Islamic State militants, has been beheaded, U.S. officials confirmed Sunday.
He was 26.
The Islamic State group distributed a video via social media early Sunday to announce the execution of Kassig, a humanitarian worker and former U.S. Army Ranger captured last year in Syria.
Survivors include his parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, Indianapolis, who said Sunday they were "heartbroken" by the news and pledged to "work every day to keep his legacy alive as best we can."

 

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Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

After James Foley's beheading by the Islamic State militant group two months ago, the American's Catholic background made headlines.

But in a massive, 5,000-word story Sunday, The New York Times reported that Foley converted to Islam soon after he was taken hostage.

The Times quoted 19-year-old Jejoen Bontinck of Belgium — identified as "a teenage convert to Islam who spent three weeks in the summer of 2013 in the same cell as Mr. Foley":

Mr. Foley converted to Islam soon after his capture and adopted the name Abu Hamza, Mr. Bontinck said. (His conversion was confirmed by three other recently released hostages, as well as by his former employer.)
“I recited the Quran with him,” Mr. Bontinck said. “Most people would say, ‘Let’s convert so that we can get better treatment.’ But in his case, I think it was sincere.”
Former hostages said that a majority of the Western prisoners had converted during their difficult captivity. Among them was Mr. (Peter) Kassig, who adopted the name Abdul-Rahman, according to his family, who learned of his conversion in a letter smuggled out of the prison.
Only a handful of the hostages stayed true to their own faiths, including Mr. (Steven J.) Sotloff, then 30, a practicing Jew. On Yom Kippur, he told his guards he was not feeling well and refused his food so he could secretly observe the traditional fast, a witness said.
Those recently released said that most of the foreigners had converted under duress, but that Mr. Foley had been captivated by Islam. When the guards brought an English version of the Quran, those who were just pretending to be Muslims paged through it, one former hostage said. Mr. Foley spent hours engrossed in the text.
His first set of guards, from the Nusra Front, viewed his professed Islamic faith with suspicion. But the second group holding him seemed moved by it. For an extended period, the abuse stopped. Unlike the Syrian prisoners, who were chained to radiators, Mr. Foley and Mr. (John) Cantlie were able to move freely inside their cell.

Given the circumstances, however, should Foley's "conversion" really be presented as a fact? That was my question as I read the story.

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What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

From time to time, I receive private emails from readers who think this website's insistence that mainstream journalists need to cover both sides of doctrinal debates between Muslims is, to be blunt, just a clever way of bashing Islam.

Why else should journalists, for example, need to listen to and then quote what Islamic State leaders have to say about the role of women or the need for tough blasphemy laws in the modern world? We already know the radicals are wrong, so why be guilty of "false balance" and accurately quote what they are saying?

Why indeed? I would argue that journalists cannot cover the facts in these stories -- such as the gruesome executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- without quoting the religious language in these religious debates. The bottom line: It is not prejudice against Islam to cover both sides of crucial debates between Muslims.

This brings me to the end of that stunning column today by David Brooks of The New York Times, the one about the powerful theological symbolism involved in beheading someone.

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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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Does an Islamic state run on 'ideology,' 'theology' or both?

Does an Islamic state run on 'ideology,' 'theology' or both?

Long, long ago -- 1982, to be precise -- I had a chance to talk with CBS commentator Bill Moyers soon after he returned from a lengthy stay in the Middle East. Americans were, of course, still reeling from the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Iran.

Moyers was fascinated with the role of the mosque in a typical Muslim community in the region. The local mosque was the center for religious life, but it was also where people went for help in every other aspect of their daily lives -- including many contacts with government aid and programs. The key thing journalists and other outsiders needed to grasp, he told me, was that "there was no such thing as the separation of mosque and state." 

With that in mind, hear the words spoken by the man that the British are calling "Jihadi John" as he prepared to end the life of one of his Western captives:

This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen of your country. As a government, you have been at the forefront of aggression towards the Islamic State. You have plotted against us and gone out of you way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties against Muslims. 

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