Syrian refugees

The real Muslims of Hawaii: WSJ digs below the surface after Trump's travel ban blocked

The real Muslims of Hawaii: WSJ digs below the surface after Trump's travel ban blocked

After a federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Donald Trump's revised executive order on immigration and refugees, the Wall Street Journal dispatched Los Angeles-based national religion writer Ian Lovett to Honolulu.

Talk about a tough assignment! (And, by the way, could you please sign me up?)

In my time with The Christian Chronicle, I've been blessed to report from all 50 states and 10 countries. This probably won't surprise you, but the Aloha State was one of my favorite to visit.

I don't know if Lovett got to spend any time at the beach or if he was too busy working, but his excellent feature captures the mood — and concerns — of the island state's Muslims in the Trump era.

The lede explains Hawaii's surprising role in the controversy:

HONOLULU — With only a few thousand Muslim residents, Hawaii would seem an unlikely place to challenge — and halt — President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Only a half-dozen of refugees are settled here each year. The small Muslim community has quietly thrived, away from the conflicts on the mainland. They built a mosque in the hills overlooking Waikiki, celebrated the end of Ramadan on the beach and enjoyed good relationships with neighbors in this multicultural state. Anti-Islamic threats or hate speech was virtually unheard of, Muslims here say.
But all of that has abruptly changed in recent weeks, as Hawaii’s Muslim community has found itself at the center of the nationwide battle over immigration and Islam’s place in American society.
Anti-Muslim incidents have jumped since late last year, Muslims here say, and members of the community have been separated from their families by Mr. Trump’s travel ban.
The state of Hawaii—along with the imam at the mosque here, Ismail Elshikh—sued to stop the revised ban from taking effect, saying it was motivated by religious animus toward Muslims. On Wednesday night, a federal judge agreed and put the order on hold.

From there, the Journal does a really nice job of quoting real Muslims in Hawaii and letting them describe their own experiences. The piece puts real faces on the random Muslims we hear so much about.

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Now that Turkey's kicking out Mercy Corps, is there a God connection to it all?

Now that Turkey's kicking out Mercy Corps, is there a God connection to it all?

Dumping American charities from some of the world’s neediest spots seems to be the in thing for foreign governments to do these days with India deciding to boot Compassion International out of the country. Tmatt covered that yesterday.

But Compassion is not alone. A Portland, Ore.,-based charity called Mercy Corps International, with a staff of 5,000 in 45 countries, is getting the heave-ho from Turkey. Mercy Corps is helping 500,000 displaced Syrians who, as everyone knows, need all the help they can get these days. But the Turks feel otherwise.

Compassion is an openly Christian group; a factor that’s been mentioned in coverage of the ouster. And so was Mercy Corps soon after its founding. 

So, here’s what the Oregonian had to say about it:

A Portland-based humanitarian agency has been forced to shutter its operations in Turkey, affecting lifesaving help for up to 500,000 people each month in neighboring Syria, according to the group.
Mercy Corps used Turkey as a base for what it called "one of the largest humanitarian operations in Syria." It said the Turkish government rescinded its registration to work in the country after five years there.
"Our operations in Syria will continue, and our priority right now is to limit any adverse effects our departure from Turkey may have on the innocent men, women and children who depend on our assistance," the agency said in a statement. "Our sites in Turkey are closed."
The agency has worked in Turkey since 2012 serving 360,000 men, women and children in Syria and about 100,000 in Turkey, said Christine Bragale, spokeswoman. About 200 Turkish staff members will be laid off, most other expatriate staff have left the country, she said. 
Bragale said the agency has not received a reason for the Turkish action. She said a government official told Reuters it's a technical issue related to documentation.

Yeah, right. The Oregonian, of all places, should know Mercy Corps' history but no connections are made.

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Do Syrian American Christians welcome all the newer Muslim arrivals? It depends ...

Do Syrian American Christians welcome all the newer Muslim arrivals? It depends ...

Finding people who back President Trump’s travel ban is like searching for folks who are left-handed. The people are out there, but they don't advertise their presence. Well, almost. The Washington Post found some Syrian families who believe the travel ban is a good idea.

I am not surprised. Back in the 1990s, when I was assisting a newly arrived Kurdish family in northern Virginia, I learned they were against a lot of Iraqi Arabs being allowed to come as well. Kurds and Sunni Arabs haven’t always gotten along in Iraq and, my Kurdish friends assured me, they knew that many Sunnis were up to no good.

They also felt that Americans were pretty naive about Iraqi culture. So, here is what the Post found:

ALLENTOWN, Pa.-- Hookah smoke drifted through the restaurant as Elias Shetayh and Aziz Wehbey spoke intently about their support for President Trump, whose temporary halt on immigration from war-torn Syria — their homeland — had touched off a political firestorm. Nearby, a waitress carried out several platters of Mediterranean food to a large Arab American family.
“Trump is right, in a way, to do what he’s doing,” Shetayh said, discussing the executive order banning certain immigrants from entry into the United States. “This country is going into a disaster.”

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Anti-Islamophobia: A nuanced portrayal of Syrian refugees in the heart of red-state America

Anti-Islamophobia: A nuanced portrayal of Syrian refugees in the heart of red-state America

Stereotypes plague so much news coverage of Muslims in Donald Trump's America.

I'm talking about negative pieces that attempt to turn every conservative state into a bastion of hatred toward Islam and its followers.

These are the type of stories that take a single case — or a few random incidents — and scream, "Islamophobia!" See examples here, here, here, here and here. Too often, these articles rely on squishy generalizations when what readers really need — and deserve — are hard facts.

So what's the antidote to such poor journalism?

Well, reporting that focuses on real people — with real context and real nuance — would be a nice place to start.

Speaking of which, the Washington Post (for which I occasionally freelance) featured just such a story on its front page Monday.

Post national writer Robert Samuels both enlightens and surprises — both nice traits for a newspaper story — as he paints a portrait of Syrian refugees in a state where nearly three out of five voters supported Trump:

OMAHA — The rice and chicken were steaming on the stove. The twins chased each other around the apartment and the 2-year-old watched Mickey Mouse on the donated television.
Their mother, Fatema Aljasem, 29, sat at the kitchen table with two women from the local synagogue. Since the Syrian was granted asylum in September, the women had been helping her learn English. She pulled at her hijab and pointed at the words, mouthing ways of conjugating the verb “to go.”
“Shadi goes to school. Ahmad goes to work.”

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5Q+1 interview: Why this pastor believes media misinterpreted Trump's order on refugees

5Q+1 interview: Why this pastor believes media misinterpreted Trump's order on refugees

OKLAHOMA CITY — Media coverage of President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily barring refugees from seven countries has displeased Bill Hulse, a Southern Baptist pastor in one of the reddest of the red states.

"I don’t think it was an attack on religion," said Hulse, senior pastor for the Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. "I think he was pretty clear that this would be until we could vet who was coming in, that radical Muslim terrorists are our enemy right now."

The phrase "Muslim-majority countries" — describing Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — has appeared in many, if not most, news reports on Trump's action.  

However, some — including the editor of the Wall Street Journal — see that terminology as "very loaded." It wrongly focuses, critics maintain, on religion instead of the potential terrorism threat posed by certain countries. Others dispute the notion that this is anything but a "Muslim ban."

Hulse serves a conservative congregation — theologically and politically — that averages Sunday attendance of about 700. The 53-year-old pastor expresses a desire to show Christian love and compassion to immigrants and refugees. But he's concerned, too, for the nation’s security.

Despite worries about Trump’s character, many members of Hulse’s church supported the brash billionaire’s winning presidential campaign. Trump’s opposition to abortion — including promising to appoint pro-life U.S. Supreme Court justices — and support for heightened border security were among the reasons why, the pastor said.

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Theology lite: New York Times offers a positive but shallow view of Christians serving refugees

Theology lite: New York Times offers a positive but shallow view of Christians serving refugees

So the New York Times reports today on "conservative people of faith" (read: evangelicals) caring for Syrian refugees.

This is the headline:

Resettled Syrians Find Solace With U.S. Christians

It's a positive treatment of Christians living out how they believe the Bible teaches them to act.

Perhaps we should stop there and simply say: Thank you, Times, for showing readers a different (and in my opinion, truer) picture of Jesus followers than typically dominates mainstream news headlines. 

But since they pay me the big bucks to do so, I'll go ahead and play media critic. That means I must voice my honest opinion: This story feels rather shallow to me.

What do I mean by that? I'll explain in a moment.

First, though, let's set the scene with the Times' opening paragraphs:

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Syrian Christians: Targeted in Aleppo, still being ignored in the New York Times

Syrian Christians: Targeted in Aleppo, still being ignored in the New York Times

Despite all the reports of atrocities, news out of Syria can still shock. And not always for the battlefield events; sometimes for the callous, clueless coverage in media like the New York Times.

Numerous outlets have reported that some Christians have been beheaded or crucified, others ejected en masse from ISIS territory. Two Orthodox archbishops have been kidnapped and many believe that one, or both, are already dead (at the hands of rebels with past ties to U.S. agencies). And irreplaceable churches, monasteries, sacred art and libraries have been systematically demolished.

Just as shocking, none of that is in the latest "in depth" on the war in the Times.

The article deals with the ongoing war over Aleppo, Syria's largest city. It mentions the Sunni-linked Al-Qaida and the Shia-linked Hezbollah.  It looks at the army of President Bashar al-Assad and Russian air power.

What of the estimated half-million Christians, including 40,000 still in Aleppo? Silence. Everything in the Times story is about strategy and alliances, with religion pushed backstage as if it plays no role in this drama whatsoever.

Granted, the barrel bombs and gas attacks don’t ask about religion. The Times says much about the generalized suffering:

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The battle for Aleppo -- Syria’s most populous city -- is once again raging, once again trapping hundreds of thousands of civilians, once again rallying fighters seeking an advantage in the five-year-old civil war.

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Is it possible to discuss U.S. efforts to resettle Syrian refugees without mentioning religion?

Is it possible to discuss U.S. efforts to resettle Syrian refugees without mentioning religion?

The Boss (tmatt, not Springsteen) is playing word games again. I love word games, so I'm delighted.

Perhaps you recall the last time.

This time, the question posed to our GetReligion team concerns the New York Times' front-page story today on Syrian refugees.

The Times' lede:

WASHINGTON -- President Obama invited a Syrian refugee to this year’sState of the Union address, and he has spoken passionately about embracing refugees as a core American value.
But nearly eight months into an effort to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, Mr. Obama’s administration has admitted just over 2,500. And as his administration prepares for a new round of deportations of Central Americans, including many women and children pleading for humanitarian protection, the president is facing intense criticism from allies in Congress and advocacy groups about his administration’s treatment of migrants.
They say Mr. Obama’s lofty message about the need to welcome those who come to the United States seeking protection has not been matched by action. And they warn that the president, who will host a summit meetingon refugees in September during the United Nations General Assembly session, risks undercutting his influence on the issue at a time when American leadership is needed to counteract a backlash against refugees.
“Given that we’ve resettled so few refugees and we’re employing a deterrence strategy to refugees on our Southern border, I wouldn’t think we’d be giving advice to any other nations about doing better,” said Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York.
“The world notices when we talk a good game but then we don’t follow through in our own backyard,” Mr. Appleby said.

So what was the question that tmatt asked?

Here goes:

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