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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Muslims at slain priest's funeral: AP thinks they should be seen but not heard

Muslims at slain priest's funeral: AP thinks they should be seen but not heard

What a wonderful story of solidarity: Muslims joining French Catholics at the funeral of Father Jacques Hamel, uniting in sympathy for the victim of knife-wielding ISIS sympathizers. 

Let's hear the thoughts and feelings of the Muslims after the funeral. 

Or not. At least not if you read the Associated Press' account. Or those of many other media.

Muslims are mentioned six times in the AP story, including the headline. A hundred of them, just at the Rouen cathedral. And dozens more around France and Italy for Mass, "as a gesture of interfaith solidarity following the attack on the priest."

Yes, it's nice to show not that all Muslims are haters. And it's true that actions speak louder than words. But since a news story is made of words, shouldn't some Muslims have gotten to say a few of them?

I'm not even sure how much original reporting AP did here. Looks like at least some of the story is borrowed from other reports:

ROUEN, France — French media reported Tuesday that roughly 100 Muslims attended the funeral Mass of a Catholic priest slain by two men who claimed allegiance to the Islamic States, capping a week in which Muslims in various European nations attended Masses to express sympathy and solidarity.
The Archbishop of Rouen, leading Tuesday’s solemn funeral Mass, said Father Jacques Hamel tried to push away his attackers with his feet, saying "go away, Satan," remarks that underscored the horror of the murder at the altar that touched a chord throughout France.
Hundreds of priests and bishops filled the sumptuous Rouen cathedral along with many hundreds more people, including Muslims who have joined in the grieving since the murder of the 85-year-old priest, slashed by his attackers while celebrating morning Mass.

Who were those 100 Muslims? Imams?  Professors? Quranic scholars? How many mosques did they represent? Why did they feel the need to come? 

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Massacre in France: RNS promises debate on Islam and terrorism, but doesn't deliver

Massacre in France: RNS promises debate on Islam and terrorism, but doesn't deliver

"Bastille Day attack reignites terrorism and religion debate," trumpets a headline at Religion News Service. Big over-promise there. The article has less debating than intoning -- with one leader after another denouncing terrorism in the name of Islam.

Details are still emerging about the murderous drive of a 19-ton truck that killed at least 84 and injured 202 in Nice, France. Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the driver, left no note or video, as do many suicidal terrorists. 

Still, supporters of ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State have been “celebrating the massacre,” as the Washington Post reports. It notes also that five years ago, Al-Qaida's online magazine recommended using vehicles to “mow down” victims.

The possibility that Bouhlel was a jihadi prompted a range of religious leaders -- from Pope Francis to Shawqi Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt -- to condemn the attack. Here's a sample from the RNS piece:

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Attacks in Lebanon: The New York Times gets it right -- the targets were Christians

Attacks in Lebanon: The New York Times gets it right -- the targets were Christians

The recent multiple suicide attacks on a Christian town in Lebanon -- including a crowd that preparing for a funeral -- have gotten well-deserved attention from mainstream media like the New York Times and the Associated Press. But the Times' eye is sharper than AP's.

On a single day, eight men fired shots and blew themselves up in Al Qaa for no apparent reason than the faith of most of the residents. The Times' report on the attack aptly conveys the dismay and desperation of the townspeople.

The story also spells out two dilemmas -- questions that also plague people in Europe, Turkey and the United States:

In many ways, the questions in Al Qaa echo those that followed attacks in Orlando, Fla.; Paris; and Istanbul: How can a community protect itself from a lone assailant or a small team of attackers with guns or bombs? And local leaders are struggling with the same issue facing Europe as it deals with its own influx of migrants: How to balance the desire to help with fears that the newcomers could harbor a threat?
"It is not easy for people, when their sons have died or are in critical condition, to differentiate between terrorists and refugees," the Rev. Elian Nasrallah, the Roman Catholic priest who oversees Al Qaa’s churches, said during an interview in his home. He had coordinated aid for refugees and would help lead the funeral for the town’s dead.

Although the shooting war is in Syria, across the border from Al Qaa's home in the Bekaa Valley, the fight has severely impacted the residents. As the Times reports, 20,000 refugees from the war have flooded into the area, overwhelming the local populace of 3,000.

The newspaper gives a taut, brutal narrative of the violence. It began early June 27 -- first striking one of the few Muslim resident families in Al Qaa, the paper notes.  A father and son saw a man in their garden; "When they confronted him, he blew himself up, wounding them both."

From there, it gets much worse:

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Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I suggested a story on the verses in the Quran that dealt with killing unbelievers, including how local imams interpret them. My editor hesitated and said, "I'd rather do stories about diversity in the community."

That looks like the attitude among most mainstream media, 15 years later. We know that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay club, was Muslim and anti-gay. But what exactly does Islam say about homosexuality?

Many mainstream media seem to have been avoiding answering that, even when asking it themselves. They’ve chattered about how he checked Facebook and traded texts with his wife. They say he tried to buy body armor. And of course, they talk about gun control and homophobia.

But few have ventured into the minefield where Muslim communities border homosexuality. And of those that do, most concentrate on LGBT Muslims themselves.

In Florida itself, I could find only one newspaper -- my alma mater, the Sun Sentinel -- reporting on a "confused, broken community that lies at the intersection of the tragedy," as it calls them. One of its three subjects is college student Hytham Rashid:

There are not a lot of terms to describe gender identity or sexual orientation in Arabic, Rashid said. The word "transgender," for example, translates to "You are like a woman" or "You are like a man," which can be considered offensive, he says.  
As a gay Muslim, Rashid says he faces both Islamophobia and homophobia every day. He said in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, he doesn’t feel safe going to memorials and events.
"We can put up our stickers and wave around our rainbow flags in Wilton Manors, but the core issue is, there isn’t a safe space for us," he said.

The Sun Sentinel also imports a statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that there is "no religious justification or precedent in Islam for mass shootings targeting any population, regardless of identity." But it doesn't look at the Quran or the Hadith (the record of Muhammad's words and deeds).  Nor does it ask any leaders of the 15-20 mosques in its circulation area.

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Christian lives matter: The Guardian reports Catholic murder in Bangladesh -- NY Times shrugs

Christian lives matter: The Guardian reports Catholic murder in Bangladesh -- NY Times shrugs

Bangladesh, with its new wave of atrocities over the last half-week, has gotten fresh attention -- but not necessarily balanced attention.

"Christian murdered in latest Bangladesh attack," says The Guardian of the Catholic grocer who was hacked to death outside his store.

And the New York Times reports the throat-slashing murder of a Hindu priest in Bangladesh on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the two stories are not equally good. The Guardian ran the better one, for its sweep and for connecting religious and political facets.  

The narrative of the death of Sunil Gomes as brutally efficiently as the crime itself:

A Christian was knifed to death after Sunday prayers near a church in northwest Bangladesh in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
Police said unidentified attackers murdered the 65-year-old in the village of Bonpara, home to one of the oldest Christian communities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. "Sunil Gomes was hacked to death at his grocery store just near a church at Bonpara village," said Shafiqul Islam, deputy police chief of Natore district.

And the paper doesn't just stop with the police-blotter facts. It interviews Father Bikash Hubert Rebeiro of the Bonpara Catholic church. He says Gomes attended Sunday prayers, used to work as a gardener at the church and was "known for his humility."

"I can’t imagine how anyone can kill such an innocent man," the priest says.

We also learn of other recent victims in Bangladesh. One was Mahmuda Begum,  stabbed and shot in the head in front of her young son -- apparently because her husband is a police commissioner who has helped track down terrorists. The others are a Hindu trader and a Buddhist monk, both killed last week. 

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Washington Post raises another one of 'those' Jerry Falwell, Jr., gun questions

Washington Post raises another one of 'those' Jerry Falwell, Jr., gun questions

As best I can tell, there are plenty of important subjects in public life on which Jerry Falwell, Jr., and I would sharply disagree.

For starters, there is the whole Donald Trump thing. Also, it certainly appears that we disagree on some basic gun-control issues, since I lean toward stricter controls.

However, I have always thought that the most important skill in Journalism 101 is the ability to accurately quote someone with whom one disagrees. With that in mind, let's return to a recent controversy involving Falwell and editors at The Washington Post.

Do you remember the mini-media storm in which the Post noted that Falwell had urged Liberty University students to purchase handguns and learn how to use them should they ever be attacked by heavily armed terrorists? What? That isn't the story that you remember?

This issue was clarified in a latter headline and updated text, but now it's back.

So let's start at the beginning -- again.

Watch the CNN clip at the top of this post and then reading the following. Here is the quote as published in the Post:

“It just blows my mind that the president of the United States [says] that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control,” he said to applause. “If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …,” he said while being interrupted by louder cheers and clapping. “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, chuckling.
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”

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Fighting radicalism: Los Angeles Times offers glossy look at new Muslim efforts in Sweden

Fighting radicalism: Los Angeles Times offers glossy look at new Muslim efforts in Sweden

It's one thing to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. It's another thing to ignore or gloss over what could very well be darkness. The Los Angeles Times comes close to the latter in its feature on Muslim efforts at peace in Malmo, Sweden.

The article begins with the three-year-old Islam Academy, which attempts to make young students not only better Muslims, but better Swedes.

In other words, this is a madrasa with a difference:

Like other madrasas, as Muslim religious schools are known, the academy teaches the Koran, traditional Sunni Islamic spirituality, sharia law and Arabic.
Unlike many, it also teaches secular topics. Among them: the Swedish language, nature and sports activities, and social responsibility. The last of these includes interreligious dialogue, especially with the Jewish community.
"All our education programs have the effect of immunizing our youth against radicalization," said Barakat, a 34-year-old imam, who was sitting in his office above the academy's prayer hall dressed in a pale, ankle-length robe and skullcap.

The story, which was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, continues with a briefing on Malmo, the point of entry for most immigrants to Sweden. "About 20% of Malmo's 300,000 people are Muslim, making it one of the most Muslim cities in Western Europe," the Times says.

But the Rosengard district, where many of the Muslims finally settle, is the focus of this story. Rosengard was the site of riots in 2008 and 2011. Many outsiders regarded the area as a "no-go zone," hazardous for non-Muslims.

Clearly, the goal of this Los Angeles Times piece is to change that image:

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Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

The stories have become tragically familiar. A band of jihadists enters a school or some other public facility somewhere in the Muslim world and massacres a large number of people. Mainstream media offer readers a few numbers and a heart-tugging human detail or two.

The latest nightmare unfolded this week in northwester Pakistan. As I read several news reports, a familiar detail was repeated time after time. This led to a question in my mind, one that I think some journalists need to ponder: "Why would radical Muslims shout 'Allahu akbar!' as they massacre other Muslims?"

In other words, if the basic goal in these stories is to provide the "who, what, when, where, why and how" facts, why not pursue the "why" issue? Some of the stories I read took at shot at this ultimate question and others did not.

The first story I saw was in USA Today. This is as close as it came to talking about this "why" issue:

Basit Khan, a computer science student, said he heard the terrorists through the fog and saw them in classroom buildings.
“They were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great) when they started firing,” Khan said. “There were attackers in the stairwell and we had no arms to counter them. In the Pashto Department and Computer Science blocks, I saw at least three attackers.” ...

And later there was this:

A Taliban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, the Associated Press reported. Mansoor was the mastermind behind the deadly December 2014 attack on the Peshawar school.
A spokesman for the main Taliban faction in Pakistan, however, disowned the group behind the attack. The spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, said Wednesday’s attack was “un-Islamic” and insisted the Pakistani Taliban were not behind it. Such statements among the Taliban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions, tje AP reported.
Khurasani said the Taliban “consider the students in the non-military institutions the future of our jihad movement” and would not kill potential future followers.

That was that.

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