hostages

Donald Trump promised to work to free Americans held captive abroad. Here's what happened next

Donald Trump promised to work to free Americans held captive abroad. Here's what happened next

First, let's address the headline on Time's new story on President Donald Trump's efforts to free Americans held captive abroad: "The Art of the Hostage Deal."

Kudos to the magazine for a clever take on Trump's 1987 bestseller "The Art of the Deal."

Now, to the story itself: It's excellent. It's thoroughly reported and compellingly written. But that's no surprise given the byline: Elizabeth Dias. She's the Time correspondent who covers religion (often mixed with politics), and her Godbeat work has won frequent praise from GetReligion.

So yes, it's obvious that this is a fantastic piece of journalism. But is it my favorite Time piece from a religion reporting standpoint? If I'm honest, it's probably not. I'll explain why in a moment.

Before I get to that, a few readers may be wondering right about now: What exactly does hostage dealmaking have to do with religion anyway? 

Good question.

This story doesn't deal overtly with religion, but religion figures — at least figuratively — throughout the piece. 

The first mention of church appears in the second paragraph of the graphic opening scene:

RIVERTON, Utah — Armed Venezuelan police stormed Thamara Candelo's apartment complex at dawn on June 30, 2016. It was two weeks after her wedding day, and Candelo's American husband, Joshua Holt, was lying in their bed in Caracas. One officer demanded to see his visa. Others ransacked the rooms, took Holt's phone and finally ordered him to get into a pickup truck. For the next five hours, his gun-toting captors mocked and hit him. Then they took him to the Helicoide, a prison home to the Venezuelan intelligence police. He has not been allowed out since.
Holt, 25, sent this account of his capture in a letter last August to his parents, who live south of Salt Lake City in his childhood home. It was only the beginning of an ordeal his family could never have fathomed when the young couple met online through their church that year. Holt was accused of arms possession, though witnesses told his family and lawyers that they watched agents plant firearms in the apartment after the arrest. He and Candelo have been held without trial. Five preliminary hearings have been canceled, with no explanation other than judges or courts were unavailable.
According to his family, Holt has lost more than 50 lb. subsisting on the prison's diet of uncooked chicken and raw pasta, meals former Helicoide inmates have claimed are mixed with feces. He was denied medical care for bronchitis, a kidney stone and pneumonia. When an infection spread from his jaw to his eye, authorities pulled a tooth and filled the hole with cement, right atop his exposed nerve. Holt became suicidal. On July 3, the 368th day of his imprisonment, he fell from his bunk when guards woke him, sustaining what his family fears was a concussion and a back fracture. "Demons stroll the hallways," Holt wrote of the prison. "I have been told by 10 or 20 people, prisoners and guards, that I am here because I am American."

Later, Time refers twice to families placing their "faith" in Trump.

Also, there's this note:

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Harper's produces a masterful longread on Iraqi rescuer of Christian hostages

Harper's produces a masterful longread on Iraqi rescuer of Christian hostages

There’s no lack of reporters running about Iraq these days getting some very gripping stories. Most are tracking the purported last gasps of revived Islamic caliphate in the country’s northwest quadrant as the battle for Mosul grinds on.

The story that your GetReligionistas passed around this week was something a bit different: A story in Harper's magazine of a Christian Iraqi who wheels and deals in Christian hostages held by those within ISIS who are willing to sell them back for the right price.

The man’s name is Matti, he is based in the mixed Arab-Kurdish city of Kirkuk and he’s part fixer, part Mafioso-style godfather and star of a lengthy article titled “Escape from the Caliphate.”

Emad Matti had not received a photograph of the hostages. Two months had passed, and several Iraqi Christian families that had been detained by the Islamic State in an old folks’ home in Mosul were still imprisoned. From Kirkuk, Matti had been transferring $500 each month to a bank to feed the families, and he was afraid that they were dead, or that his informant in Mosul, one of their captors, was planning to prolong their imprisonment and collect even more money before demanding an impossible sum to drop them at the Kurdish border. For now, though, Matti just wanted photographic proof that they were still alive.
He checked his watch, a gold Breitling made from the weapons of martyrs in the Iran–Iraq War. The phone rang. He put a finger to his lips.

What follows is a fascinating read about the ordinary world of Iraqis who deal with ISIS (or what they call ‘Daesh’) like the next-door neighbors they are.

Everyone knows each other in this tribal society of Sunnis, Shi’a, various groups of Christians, Yezedis and Kurds whose lives have been linked for centuries.  Everyone has their informants, friends and family members, just in the same way as long-time residents in any American state have reams of contacts, old school buddies and family members scattered about.

Matti is like a 21st –century Oskar Schindler, trying to save as many Christians as possible before the deluge.

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Kayla Mueller's faith: What was God's role in life of American killed while being held by Islamic State?

Kayla Mueller's faith: What was God's role in life of American killed while being held by Islamic State?

Is there a holy ghost in media coverage of Kayla Mueller's life?

The 26-year-old American was killed while being held hostage by Islamic State extremists, her family and the White House confirmed Tuesday.

In a letter released by her family and cited frequently in news reports, Mueller referred to "our creator" and mentioned God five times.

The Los Angeles Times highlighted a portion of the letter:

“By God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light [and] have learned that even in prison, one can be free,” she wrote. “I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

Meanwhile, Reuters noted:

Mueller's family quoted from another letter she sent her father on his birthday in 2011: "I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

But journalists struggled to uncover more concrete details about Mueller's specific faith and religious background. 

Some major news organizations — including The Associated Press, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post — avoided any mention of God at all.

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Islamic extremism role in Australia? Facts sketchy in Sydney hostage crisis

Islamic extremism role in Australia? Facts sketchy in Sydney hostage crisis

As I type this, the possible role of Islamic extremism in the Sydney hostage crisis remains unclear.

 

The latest from The Associated Press:

SYDNEY (AP) -- Five people escaped from a Sydney cafe where a gunman took an unknown number of hostages during Monday morning rush hour. Two people inside the cafe earlier held up a flag with an Islamic declaration of faith that has often been used by extremists, raising fears that a terrorist incident was playing out in the heart of Australia's biggest city.
The first three people ran out of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney six hours into the hostage crisis, and two women sprinted from a fire exit into the arms of waiting police shortly afterward. Both women were wearing aprons with the Lindt chocolate logo, indicating they were cafe employees.
As the siege entered its 12th hour Monday night, basic questions remained unanswered. Police refused to say how many hostages were inside the cafe, what they believed the gunman's motives might be, whether he had made any demands or whether the hostages who fled the cafe escaped or were released.
"I would like to give you as much as I can but right now that is as much as I can," New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said. "First and foremost, we have to make sure we do nothing that could in any way jeopardize those still in the building."

The AP report notes:

Television video shot through the cafe's windows showed several people with their arms in the air and hands pressed against the glass, and two people holding up a black flag with the Shahada, or Islamic declaration of faith, written on it.
The Shahada translates as "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger." It is considered the first of Islam's five pillars of faith, and is similar to the Lord's Prayer in Christianity. It is pervasive throughout Islamic culture, including the green flag of Saudi Arabia. Jihadis have used the Shahada in their own black flag.

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