The Independent

Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

What’s the biggest religion news story currently percolating in China?

Your answer probably depends upon your religious worldview.

If you're evangelical Protestant -- or any other sort of Christian, for that matter -- it's probably the rapid spread of Christianity across China, and Beijing’s effort to control the phenomena.

This piece from The Atlantic makes clear that Chinese authorities have their hands full maintaining the smothering control they prefer to have over all nongovernmental groups, religious or otherwise.

If you’re Christian and Roman Catholic, the Vatican’s effort to reach some sort of recognition compromise with Beijing may be your preferred story. Here’s a recent piece from Crux on the issue.

If you're a Buddhist, you're likely focused on China’s effort to suppress Tibetan-style Buddhism so as to limit international support for Tibetan independence, or even limited self-rule. A major part of China’s effort is to try to undercut support for the Dalai Lama, the global Buddhist religious celebrity who leads Buddhism’s Vajrayana wing, the form dominant in Tibet and other areas of Central Asia.

This recent New York Times story details how China’s campaign to maintain its imperial hold on Tibet bleeds into its political and economic dealings with India, though India is far from alone in this.

If you're Muslim, however, the following story about the forced and brutal reeducation of Chinese Muslims is likely to be the religion story in China that most concerns you. (In case you don’t know, both pork and alcohol are banned in traditional Islam.)

Muslims were detained for re-education by China‘s government and made to eat pork and drink alcohol, according to a former internment camp inmate.

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Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

It’s no where near as widespread as the vicious attacks against Buddhist Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, but a similar inter-religious clash is currently roiling Sri Lanka.

If you're not current with the breaking situation, this Reuters news piece will help. So will this analysis from Britain’s The Independent.

There are two takeaways here that journalists need to understand.

First, some majority Buddhist nations -- all of them in Asia -- are reacting to the growth of Islam in their midst in similar fashion to the reaction of some European countries, not to mention a large number of American Christians (religious and cultural) and others.

That is to say, with much alarm; fear of Islamic terrorism being a prime motivator. A second motivator is cultural in nature; the fear of losing one’s historical national dominance as global demographics shift. Call this the tribal component.

This New York Times analysis explains what I mean in far greater detail. Its’s headlined: “Why Are We Surprised When Buddhists Are Violent?” Here’s a taste of it.

Most adherents of the world’s religions claim that their traditions place a premium on virtues like love, compassion and forgiveness, and that the state toward which they aim is one of universal peace. History has shown us, however, that religious traditions are human affairs, and that no matter how noble they may be in their aspirations, they display a full range of both human virtues and human failings.
While few sophisticated observers are shocked, then, by the occurrence of religious violence, there is one notable exception in this regard; there remains a persistent and widespread belief that Buddhist societies really are peaceful and harmonious. This presumption is evident in the reactions of astonishment many people have to events like those taking place in Myanmar. How, many wonder, could a Buddhist society — especially Buddhist monks! — have anything to do with something so monstrously violent as the ethnic cleansing now being perpetrated on Myanmar’s long-beleaguered Rohingya minority? Aren’t Buddhists supposed to be compassionate and pacifist?

I know this is on the longish side, but allow me to also quote this part of the Times essay. It's illuminating, as is the entire article.

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When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. Boko Haram has struck again.

It was bad enough in 2014 when 276 girls were kidnapped from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Half the world, it seemed, demonstrated and hashtagged #BringBackOurGirls in favor of these children.

Not that it did a whole lot of good. Four years later, more than 100 of those girls are still missing. And now it’s happened again and, as always, there are many religion questions that journalists need to be asking. From BBC

The grounds of the boarding school in Dapchi town are eerily quiet. Instead of the high-pitched chatter of 900 schoolgirls, there's only the bleating of goats as they wander through empty classrooms.
Thirteen-year-old Fatima Awaal is walking down the dusty path. She walks past a littering of rubber sandals, lost by girls as they ran away on Monday 19 February.
When the militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group attacked, she was in her boarding house with her best friend Zara. They were just about to have dinner when they heard the gunshots.
"One of our teachers told us to come out," she said "And that's when we saw the gunfire shooting through the sky."

Zara, 14, was one of 110 girls kidnapped that night. What’s almost worse than the kidnappings is the government’s utter inability to do anything about it.

Since the kidnappings, there have been many conflicting lines from the authorities on what exactly happened in Dapchi that Monday night. It wasn't until three days after the assault that they finally acknowledged some girls had been taken. It was another three days before they gave a number of how many were missing.

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Yazidis and their faith: There's more to it than just a quick paragraph

Yazidis and their faith: There's more to it than just a quick paragraph

One often hears how one person can make a world of difference. In a recent New Yorker piece,  “The Daring Plan to Save a Religious Minority from ISIS,” a writer who specializes in greater Kurdistan --  an area that overlaps into four countries -- talks about the Yazidis. (Some spell their name as “Yezidi;” either are correct).

We are not talking about just any Yazidis: Three men who took it upon themselves to try to save their countrymen in Iraq from genocide. With so many Christians fleeing Iraq, that leaves the Yazidis as the largest non-Muslim minority in the country. (This policy brief from the Middle East Institute explains their history and religion, which is based on the worship of a peacock angel, pictured with this piece).

The New Yorker article began with three Yazidis: Hadi Pir, Murad Ismael and Haider Elias, who became interpreters for the American military in Iraq. All received visas to move to themselves and their families to United States (to escape reprisal in Iraq) and were leading more or less ordinary lives until Aug. 2, 2014, when ISIS moved against Yazidis about 6,700 miles away.

At three in the morning, when they pulled into the parking lot of their apartment complex, dozens of their Yazidi neighbors were outside on the lawn, talking on their cell phones and crying.
“Isis has taken over Sinjar,” a neighbor said. “Everyone is running to the mountain.”
Isis came into Sinjar at dawn, with the intention of wiping out Yazidism in Iraq. The group’s Research and Fatwa Department had declared that, unlike Christians or Shia Muslims, Yazidis were a “pagan minority.” The Kurdish soldiers retreated without warning, after determining that their position was untenable. Yazidis ran from their homes and scrambled up the rocky slopes of Mt. Sinjar. Trucks jammed with people overturned on narrow roads. Homes north of the mountain quickly emptied; with the roads controlled by Isis, thousands of Yazidis were trapped in the southern villages.

Back in the States, the horrified Yazidis could follow the fighting via cell phone as their relatives called them whenever they could to relate the increasing horrors they were facing. About 100 former interpreters formed a crisis management team to try to bring media attention to the coming genocide.

By Aug. 7, they were in Washington, D.C., demonstrating in front of the White House, then showing up at the State Department to plead their case. Notice the details of this meeting.

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When reporting on Iceland's attempt to ban circumcision, why not talk to Jews, Muslims?

When reporting on Iceland's attempt to ban circumcision, why not talk to Jews, Muslims?

It was bound to happen: Laws banning circumcision for infant boys. No one knew quite where it might start.

Turns out the place is none other than Iceland, lauded by some as being a “feminist paradise” with a former prime minister who was a lesbian, generous childcare benefits and a strong women’s movement. The circumcision ban is ostensibly to protect children. What the country’s tiny Muslim and Jewish minorities may think of that is not mentioned.

Here’s the bare bones recital from the Independent:

MPs from five different political parties in Iceland have proposed a ban on the circumcision of boys. 
The bill, which has been submitted to the country’s parliament, suggests a six-year prison term for anyone found guilty of “removing sexual organs in whole or in part”. 
Circumcising girls has been illegal in Iceland since 2005, but there are currently no laws to regulate the practice against boys. 
Describing circumcision as a “violation” of young boys’ rights, the bill states the only time it should be considered is for “health reasons”. 
Addressing religious traditions, it insists the “rights of the child” always exceed the “right of the parents to give their children guidance when it comes to religion”. 

As to who thought up this bill and why, we hear nothing. Think about that for a moment. That's a rather important hole in the story. Right?

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Vikings, Islam, fabrics and a dose of magical thinking in The New York Times

Vikings, Islam, fabrics and a dose of magical thinking in The New York Times

Being the New York Times means never having to say you’re sorry.

The Grey Lady was, along with other media outlets, taken in by claims made by a Swedish university professor about Islam and Vikings. The story played into the post-Charlottesville progressive narrative denigrating the alt-Right. White supremacists had championed the Vikings as the progenitors of a superior Nordic race -- but new archaeological evidence showed some Vikings had converted to Islam and brought the faith to Scandinavia.

The problem with the story was that it was not true.

The New York TimesGuardianIndependent and other outlets uncritically ran with it, but the Independent, unlike the Times, followed with a second article walking back the story.

The first day stories followed the pattern set in the Independent’s “Researchers find name of Allah woven into ancient Viking burial fabrics.” It cited a study released by a Swedish professor that claimed in its lede: 

Allah's name has been found embroidered into ancient Viking burial clothes, a discovery researchers in Sweden have described as "staggering".

It doubles down on this “staggering” news to note:

The silk patterns were originally thought to be ordinary Viking Age decoration but, upon re-examination by archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University, it was revealed that they were a geometric Kufic script. They were found on woven bands as well as items of clothing, in two separate grave sites, suggesting that Viking funeral customs had been influenced by Islam.

In support of her claims, Larsson stated that the silks she examined contained “ancient Arabic script, Kufic characters, invoking both Allah and Ali.” There were, however, some questions still to be answered, she conceded.

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Does no one in the Church of England dare oppose top cleric? Britain's Independent suggests so

Does no one in the Church of England dare oppose top cleric? Britain's Independent suggests so

The Church of England and its leader, the Rt. Hon. and Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, whom I've observed close up, command a sizeable presence in the global Christian world. Welby is front and center in a new controversy, guidelines for Church of England schools on how to treat transgender children.

But if one recent news story is to be taken at face value, no one in the Church of England could be found to go on record as disagreeing with some of these new pronouncements.

The journalism question is: How far did the newspaper in question go -- or, perhaps, NOT go -- to find an opposing voice.

Atop a large photo of Welby, we see how The Independent headlined the story: "Church of England tells schools to let children 'explore gender identity.'" Let's dive in:

Children should be able to try out “the many cloaks of identity” without being labelled or bullied, the Church of England has said in new advice issued to its 5,000 schools.
The Church said youngsters should be free to “explore the possibilities of who they might be” -- including gender identity -- and says that Christian teaching should not be used to make children feel ashamed of who they are. ...
Guidance for Church of England schools on homophobic bullying was first published three years ago, and has now being updated to cover "transphobic and biphobic bullying" – which means bullying people who consider themselves to be either transgender or gender fluid.

However, as we'll see in a moment, there are Christians in England, and, presumably, elsewhere, who might disagree with Welby's endorsement, as reported. He condemned bullying, but then went further:

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Why did British journalists throw a PR pity party for an offended transgender activist?

Why did British journalists throw a PR pity party for an offended transgender activist?

Remember the news stories about the bakery in Gresham, Ore., that got sued out of existence by two lesbians? I wrote about the jaundiced press coverage of Sweet Cakes by Melissa here.

Nearly the exact same story is now playing out in British media. Sometimes when I feel depressed about the state of American media, I take a look at what’s available overseas and realize how enlightened, accurate and occasionally balanced things here are in comparison. Sometimes that is not saying much.

However, the Times of London’s take on the matter more resembled classic Fleet Street work than fair and balanced coverage. It began:

A Christian printer has refused to produce the business cards of a transgender diversity consultant because he did not want to promote a cause that he felt might harm fellow believers.
Nigel Williams, a married father of three based in Southampton, turned down the chance of working for Joanne Lockwood’s consultancy, SEE Change Happen, which offers advice on equality, diversity and inclusion.

So far, so good. That's just basic news. Then:

He wrote to her: “The new model of diversity is used (or misused) to margin­alise (or indeed discriminate against) Christians in their workplaces and other parts of society if they do not subscribe to it. Although I’m quite sure you have no intention of marginalising Christians it would weigh heavily upon me if through my own work I was to make pressure worse for fellow Christians.”

Am I right that the printer isn’t so much objecting to her being transgender as he is objecting to her use of “diversity” tactics as a cudgel?

Lockwood, 52, who has been living as a trans woman since January and changed her name in July, said she was “gobsmacked”, adding: “I was not expecting a lecture. I disbelieved this could happen in 2017. I have been distraught and cried and my wife consoled me.”

Now where have we heard this before?

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'Muslim Schindler's list' leader in the Philippines gets nuanced Los Angeles Times' profile

'Muslim Schindler's list' leader in the Philippines gets nuanced Los Angeles Times' profile

I must confess, I had no idea that Islamic State militants have taken over a city in the southern Philippines even though I have friends who live about a two-hour drive from there. I’d visited the island of Mindanao in 1991; a lush and beautiful place that has a history of various rebel groups trying to seize control from the central government.

I’d never heard of the city of Marawi, which isn’t far from where I was in Cotabato City. It is now the scene of a Muslim uprising.

Not much has been written about this conflict in American media until Thursday, which is when the Los Angeles Times ran this amazing story of a local Muslim clan chief who sheltered dozens of Christians in his home. It starts here:

When the first artillery fire rang out one afternoon in May, Norodin Lucman thought of the four workers repairing a cellphone tower on his sprawling property. He sent one of his daughters to tell the men to come in.
Plumes of smoke spiraled up from the city below. But Marawi, home to 200,000 people, had survived armed conflict before, and Lucman assumed this one would end in a few days and his guests would go home.
Soon, though, more people began arriving at his door. Militants were torching homes and schools, freeing prisoners, taking hostages and waving Islamic State flags.
The militants had stopped another group of cell tower workers and demanded that they recite the Shahada, a Muslim proclamation of faith. Marawi is predominantly Muslim. But the men were Christians from nearby cities. They failed the test.
When one tried to escape on his motorbike, the militants shot him dead. Amid the chaos, the nine others managed to flee to Lucman’s house.

The story goes on to tell how the national government sent in troops to quell this uprising while ISIS volunteers were pouring in from around the world to try to establish a foothold in Mindanao. Marawi now lies in ruins.

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