Lapido Media

Reporting on the unthinkable: Ancient, multicultural roots of female genital mutilation

Reporting on the unthinkable: Ancient, multicultural roots of female genital mutilation

It's hard to imagine a topic that would be harder for journalists to write about than female genital mutilation (FGM).

In some parts of the world it is a procedure with deep cultural and even religious meaning. For others, it may be a way to keep young women attached to a tribe or a family structure that is truly patriarchal. Yet there are women who insist that it is an act that is totally necessary, if women are to be trusted, accepted and in any way empowered in certain cultures.

There is no question that there is a religious element to the FGM story, even though this rite "pre-dates both Christianity and Islam, and is commended in the core texts of neither faith," according to a disturbing, but fascinating, think piece at the website of The Media Project, the organization that supports GetReligion. 

The author of this reported essay is journalist and media-literacy pro Jenny Taylor, best known was the founder of Lapido Media in England.

How high are the stakes in this ongoing crisis? Taylor notes:

As many as one-third of girls in areas of Sudan where there are no antibiotics will die, according to another report. The complications range from haemorrhage to tetanus, blocked urethras and infertility.

A key figure in the essay is anti-FGM activist 55-year-old Ann-Marie Wilson, the founder of 28TooMany. The name is a reference to number of countries that had not banned this rite, at the time Wilson began her work.

How old is this ritual? This first paragraph contains a detail that I had never heard before:

Wilson, a doctor of psychology and a midwife who trained in Pakistan, recently completed a paper on the origins of FGM, claiming that the mummies in the British Museum show clear signs of FGM.

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Parade of 2016 yearenders: Global stories that clicked at the Lapido Media website

Parade of 2016 yearenders: Global stories that clicked at the Lapido Media website

Clearly, anyone who wants to understand the modern world (hello administrators at the vast majority of modern seminaries) needs to take a class or two in media literacy.

At the same time, it has become increasingly obvious that most of the journalists who manage newsrooms (hello Dean Baquet of The New York Times) need to have some kind of systematic, professional training in religious literacy.

On the other side of the Atlantic, there is an organization called Lapido Media that is working hard to build bridges to major newsrooms in the United Kingdom and beyond. The Media Project -- the continuing education umbrella project that includes -- recently cooperated with Lapido Media in an effort to produce a newsroom-friendly book entitled "Religious Literacy: An Introduction." I wrote the final chapter in the book and GetReligion readers that get the book will see many links to themes at this website.

(I should also mention that the headline on the website feature about the book needs to be fixed, since this is not "the first" handbook of this kind, since the Religion News Association -- to give credit where credit is due --  has done similar booklets on this topic in the past, which evolved into the entire ReligionLink project.)

Now, the Lapido team has released an interesting set of feature stories from its website to mark the end of 2016. GetReligion readers with a special interest in global news should click here and check this out.

Some of the subjects include: 

BBC Head of Religion, Aaqil Ahmed chose a Lapido event to clarify the BBC's use of the term 'so-called Islamic State' in our unprecedented most-read article of the year.

Also, this:

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How a British scribe's study of Islam helped explain Pakistani immigrant gangs' sex crimes

How a British scribe's study of Islam helped explain Pakistani immigrant gangs' sex crimes

I haven't spent substantial time in London in several years, and, frankly, I generally feel little pull to revisit.

But I would have liked being there earlier this week to attend what promised to be an interesting talk by a leading British investigative journalist on how his knowledge of religion -- Islam in particular -- helped in his reporting a crime story that officials were loathe to explore too closely for fear they'd be accused of religious or racial bias.

I'm referring to a talk by Andrew Norfolk of The Times, the Murdoch-owned weekday daily,  organized by Lapido Media, the online arm of the London-based Centre for Religious Literacy in Journalism.

Norfolk was interviewed by Lapido for a piece published in advance of his talk. During the interview, he spoke about how his knowledge of South Asian Islamic culture in Great Britain enabled him to uncover what Lapido called "the grooming of teenage white girls by gangs of Asian men -- and the blind eye turned by the local council and police force."

 (At the Monday night event, Lapido also launched what it called -- incorrectly -- the "first guide in the world to religious literacy for media professionals." I say incorrectly because on this side of the pond journalists have long been able to profit from the similar work of the Religion News Association, to which I belong. Not that Lapido's effort, Religious Literacy: An Introductionisn't a welcome contribution. I mean, our own tmatt wrote the last chapter.)

Norfolk's work on the gangs story led to his being named 2014 Journalist of the Year by the British Journalism Awards, the organization that doles out such accolades in the U.K.

Here's the top of Lapido's advance story.

ANDREW Norfolk remembers the time when mentioning religion at work was so taboo that ‘it was as if you had burped at a party’.
That was in a regional newsroom in the 1990s.

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One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

Do you remember that old journalism parable, the one about the cynical poster that is supposedly hanging in a wire-service newsroom somewhere?

The poster, supposedly, explains how the U.S. press covers disasters, in terms of the number of deaths. To be blunt: 1,000 people dead in Afghanistan equals 500 dead in Egypt, which equals 250 dead in Mexico, which equals 100 dead in Japan, which equals 50 dead in France, which equals 25 dead in Canada, which equals 10 dead in Texas, which equals one celebrity/politician dead in Hollywood or Washington, D.C. Or words to that effect.

So why is the death of one Catholic priest at an altar in rural France so symbolic? Why were we still talking about Father Jacques Hamel on this week's Crossroads podcast? (Click here to tune that in.)

I thought of that when I read this summary material in an interesting report at

In 2015, more than 2,000 Christian churches in Africa were attacked by terrorists, and more than 7,000 Christians were killed, according to the advocacy group Open Doors USA. Those figures show terrorist groups like ISIS, which claimed credit for Tuesday's attack, as well as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, will not hesitate to kill inside a house of worship.
"News of the murdered priest in Normandy has shaken many to the core,” David Curry, president and CEO of Christian Watchdog group Open Doors USA told “While in Nigeria, an average of five churches are attacked every Sunday, this is the first documented case of Western Christians being attacked by ISIS during a worship service."

Five churches attacked every Sunday. In Africa, that would include Catholics, but also Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostal believers and others. The story notes that, in 2015 alone, 2,400-plus Christian churches were struck by terrorists in Africa. Yes, many of those attacks were by forces aligned with Boko Haram and, thus, the wider Islamic State.

That's a lot of desecrated churches. There must be thousands of victims and eyewitnesses to these scenes of hellish violence. Are we hearing those voices in our newspapers and on our 24/7 digital screens? Are we seeing those images?

Not very often. Yet the death of Father Hamel is part of that ongoing story around the world. That's story No. 2. for those with the eyes to see.

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That key weekend think piece I didn't have time to post: God and the EU referendum?

That key weekend think piece I didn't have time to post: God and the EU referendum?

Are you following the many angles of the debates in Great Britain about the future of the European Union?

To say that this is an emotional and explosive debate would be a great understatement. That would have been true even before the brutal killing of British MP Jo Cox, a rising Labour Party star who was outspoken in her support for staying in the embattled EU.

Her attacker, of course, was said to have shouted, "Put Britain first!"

All kinds of ultimate questions about culture and national identity loom in the background during these debates, including rising tensions about the role of Islam in what is clearly post-Christian European culture.

This leads me to another essay that has been published by Lapido Media, a London-based think tank dedicated to promoting literacy on religion issues in the mainstream press, among political elites and in public life, in general. Lapido is led by a friend of this blog, Dr. Jenny Taylor.

This piece by Peter Carruthers ran under the headline, "Still time to face facts: the EU referendum is a religious issue too." You should read the whole thing, but here is a slice of two of the context, starting with the overture.

POLITICIANS are ignoring research that shows that religious affiliation could determine the EU referendum.

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That getting religion thing: 'Religion and the Media' group launched in British parliament

That getting religion thing: 'Religion and the Media' group launched in British parliament

If you have followed GetReligion very long then you are probably aware that questions are also be asked on the other side of the Atlantic about the fact that a high percentage of mainstream journalists just don't understand the basic facts about many religious news events and trends.

In England, a group called Lapido Media is at the heart of most of these "getting religion" discussions. It's work in the field of media literacy has been mentioned quite a bit here at GetReligion in the past.

Now the discussion has moved a notch or two higher, according to a recent notice posted online. To make a long story short, we're talking about the launch of a new "All Party Parliamentary Group on Religion and the Media."

Brainchild of Yasmine Qureshi, Pakistan-born MP for Bolton South East, and moderated by Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, it is part of a range of responses to the Living with Difference Report (.pdf here) published earlier this year by the Woolf Institute’s Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life in Britain.

The theme of an initial round-table discussion was "Is there a perceived lack of religious literacy in the media?" The speaker was a friend of this blog, Lapido Media founder Dr Jenny Taylor.

You can click here to get a .pdf document of her remarks. Please do so. But here is a short taste:

I speak as a journalist who trained with the Yorkshire Post and has worked in news all her life except for the five years of my doctorate which was completed in 2001, before 9/11.
For sure the media has a problem with religion. After all, as Bernard Levin famously quipped: "Vicars rhymes with knickers.’ It’s difficult to take seriously."
It was not until my own eyes became religiously attuned that I realized the West had become a menace to the whole world because of its secularist blinkers.

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Disturbing think piece for Thanksgiving week: It's time to open a file on Wilayat Sinai

Disturbing think piece for Thanksgiving week: It's time to open a file on Wilayat Sinai

Veteran GetReligion readers -- or religion-beat pros with a global perspective -- are probably familiar with the work of Dr. Jenny Taylor, a foreign-affairs reporter turned media critic, and Lapido Media, which is also known as the Centre for Religious Literacy in World Affairs.

I have featured "think pieces" from Lapido (which means "to speak up" in the Acholi dialect of Northern Uganda) here many times and will continue to do so. The simple fact of the matter is that news media on the other side of the pond are being forced -- ambushed by reality, really -- to take religion more seriously. Lapido's work is playing a role in helping journalists, and diplomats, dig deeper.

This brings me to the site's new briefing paper on the rise of Wilayat Sinai, the Islamic State affiliate that is on the rise in Egypt. This group was almost unknown in North American media -- until the alleged downing of that Russian airliner the other day.

So, reporters, are you like me? Is the name Abu Osama al-Masry almost totally foreign to you? Then this Lapido Media think piece -- continuing work the centre began publishing a year ago -- needs to go in your files. A sample or two? Sure.

A former Azhar student and clothing importer Abu Osama al-Masry claimed responsibility on behalf of Wilayat Sinai. ‘They were shocked by a people who sought the hereafter, loved death, and had a thirst for blood’, he said.
‘We will inherit your soil, homes, wealth, and capture your women! This is Allah’s promise’.

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Sibling rivalries, religious conflict and another potential hotspot in need of media attention

Sibling rivalries, religious conflict and another potential hotspot in need of media attention

Afavorite journalistic perk of mine was getting on think-tank mailing lists for panel discussions and in-depth interviews involving leading thinkers on subjects in which I am interested.  

For an hour or more you get to hear acknowledged top experts who are tough, if not near impossible, to get to respond to your calls, emails, texts or whatever. And when they do, all you are likely to   get is a brief exchange -- unless you have a special relationship with them or you work for an elite news outlet.

The background information or on-the-record quotes gleaned from such encounters can be invaluable. Plus it often comes with a free sandwich and beverage, or a full meal if you score the right mailing lists.

Thanks to the Web, you no longer have to leave you office, or home, to partake of these events, which are now available to anyone with an Internet connection. That's another big plus, even if I now have to make my own sandwich.

One recent interview, followed by an audience Q&A, I watched online featured Rabbi (and British) Lord Jonathan Sacks, for 22 years the United Kingdom's chief Modern Orthodox rabbi. He left that position in 2013 and now teaches at universities in New York and the UK, when not traveling the world as an esteemed religious leader and philosopher.

The exchange took place before a Council on Foreign Relations audience in New York. Click here to watch the entire 72-minute event.

The subject was 21st Century religious violence -- to my mind the most consequential religion and international story of the moment.

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Deseret News editorial: Religion news is real news, so there

Deseret News editorial: Religion news is real news, so there

As I mentioned earlier this week, GetReligion turned 11 on Feb. 2 and I noted that with a salute to the late journalist and pastor Arne Fjeldstad, the leader of The Media Project that backs this weblog, who died earlier this year. I also mentioned a major religious literacy conference for journalists and diplomats -- fittingly called "Getting Religion" -- held recently in England.

I wrote a pair of "On Religion" columns (here and here) about that conference that, among other voices, quoted Dr. Jenny Taylor, the founder of the Lapido Media network. I mention that because one of those Universal syndicate columns ("Ignore religion's role in real news in the real world? That's 'anti-journalism' ") let to something that I don't think I have ever seen before.

That would be a major editorial in a daily newspaper that warns the press not to ignore religion news. No, really.

The newspaper in question is The Deseret News in Salt Lake City, which is, of course, not your normal daily city newspaper. I should also mention that, as of a year ago, former GetReligionista Mark Kellner has worked in that newsroom helping produce its expanded religion-news coverage.

So here is that editorial.

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