persecution of Christians

The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

Several weeks after the stunning election of Donald Trump, I was in New York City (I teach at The King's College two-plus months a year) and attended an event that drew a large flock of urbane Catholics.

There was, of course, lots of talk about the election. But many people were already thinking about the inevitable moment when Pope Francis would meet President Donald Trump.

Several people said something like this: Everybody already knows about their disagreements. It will be interesting to learn what they agree on.

With that in mind, let's turn to several examples of the press coverage of their Vatican meeting. From a journalism point of view, the key is that their actual talk was behind closed doors -- with only an interpreter present. So other than comments on facial expressions, fashion and symbolic gifts, what is the key material here for journalists?

There was, of course, a Vatican statement released afterwards, which can be seen as a short, dry summary of what official voices want outsiders to know was on the agenda.

So how much attention did that statement receive in the Associated Press report that will be buried somewhere inside most newspapers (since there were no public fireworks)? This is all that readers got, down in the story text:

When Trump departed, he told the pope: "Thank you, I won't forget what you said." ...
Hours later, Trump tweeted the meeting was the "honor of a lifetime." A statement released by the Vatican later said "satisfaction was expressed" at their "joint commitment in favor of life" and that there was hoped-for collaboration on health care and assistance to immigrants and protection of Christian communities in the Middle East.

Needless to say, the AP team played quite a bit of attention to the two men's past disagreements. That's valid. But why not focus similar attention on the joint statement?

I would ask the same question about the main New York Times report.

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It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

In the United States, a big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, with is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves it it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting.

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Coptic lives matter: New York Times examines dangers to Egyptian Christians

Coptic lives matter: New York Times examines dangers to Egyptian Christians

I've met Coptic Christians. I've heard stories of their suffering before fleeing their native Egypt. Like a man with a scar down the left side of his face, including his eyelid -- which he said was split open by in an attack by young men shouting "Allahu Akbar!" 

So the New York Times' account of Copts in Egypt at a "breaking point" is all too believable, and a vital account to keep in the public eye. This is why its few reporting flaws need attention.

The fair-minded article starts with Imam Mahmoud Gomaa's appointment to keep the peace between Copts and Muslims in the upper Nile region. The newspaper also reports the support from Copts for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who seized the governmental reins in 2013.

Then it reports the widespread persecution of the Copts:

Yet the limits of that support have became evident in Minya, where Christians continue to suffer violence and humiliation. Houses have been burned, Copts attacked on the streets and hate graffiti written on the walls of some churches. In all, Coptic officials have counted 37 attacks in the past three years, not including some 300 others right after Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were ousted from power in 2013.
The turning point for local Copts came in May when an older Christian woman was stripped naked by a mob, which had been incited by reports that the woman’s son was having an affair with a Muslim.
“After that woman was stripped, we couldn’t be quiet, not after that,” Bishop Makarios said. What especially angered Copts, he added, “is that officials came out denying the incident.”

The Times places itself well with a dateline out of the Minya district, in the upper Nile Valley. That's where some of the worst attacks have happened, according to the Copts I know in South Florida. The further one gets from the major urban areas, where there are international media and other observers, the more trouble there is for religious minorities, such as the Copts.

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Targeting churches: Fox News produces ominous report on threats in America

Targeting churches: Fox News produces ominous report on threats in America

No one is saying, yet, that terrorists are ready to attack American churches the way they have in the Middle East or, more recently, against the Rev. Jacques Hamel in France. But as Fox News reports, the threats are already looming.

And before you say, "What else would Fox say?", consider the examples in the article: hate speech, death threats and aborted attack plans of the type that would be familiar to Jewish leaders.

This is how ominous it can get -- and how some police are slow to address the situation, according to Fox:

As Father Josiah Trenham prepared to read the Gospel, several parishioners discreetly scooped up their babies, retreated up the aisles of St. Andrew Orthodox Church and out into the spring air, so as not to allow the crying of little ones to disturb the divine liturgy.
The time-honored tradition was shattered when a car passed by the Riverside, Calif., church, slowing down as the front passenger leaned out of his window and bellowed menacingly through a bullhorn, according to witnesses.
"Allahu Akbar!" the unidentified man repeated several times as the unnerved parents drew their infants close and exchanged worried glances.
Witnesses were able to give Riverside police a description of the green Honda Civic, but not of the three occupants. Some told police they believed one or more of the men may have been taking photographs, according to Officer Ryan Railsback. Although Trenham insisted multiple congregants heard the Arabic phrase, Railsback noted no mention of it was in the police report. 
Whatever the case, no law was broken – even if an unmistakable message was sent and received.

Fox, of course, is hardly the only news outfit to notice the hatred of jihadis against Christians. As The Guardian reports, more and more voices are calling for branding the "genocide" label onto the brutalizing of Christians in the Middle East.

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Pope and imam dial back talks about Christian concerns, with assist from some journalists

Pope and imam dial back talks about Christian concerns, with assist from some journalists

The leader of a billion-plus Catholics met with a leader of a billion-plus Muslims, and media gave it appropriately thorough coverage.

Except for one matter: persecution of Christians in Muslim lands.

Pope Francis himself was oddly timid on the point. But that doesn't mean mainstream media had to downplay it also -- especially when they cover plenty of such incidents.

Typical was the Associated Press report:

Pope Francis on Monday embraced the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the prestigious Sunni Muslim center of learning, reopening an important channel for Catholic-Muslim dialogue after a five-year lull and at a time of increased Islamic extremist attacks on Christians.
As Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib arrived for his audience in the Apostolic Palace, Francis said that the fact that they were meeting at all was significant.
"The meeting is the message," Francis told the imam.

Following this press release-style lede, though, AP says the two leaders discussed "the plight of Christians 'in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Mideast and their protection,' the statement said." It adds that Al-Azhar broke off talks alks with the Vatican a decade ago, after Pope Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor saying that some Muhammad's teachings were "evil and inhuman."

The article also retells some bloody specifics:

Benedict had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year's bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people. Since then, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased, but the Vatican and Al-Azhar nevertheless sought to rekindle ties, with a Vatican delegation visiting Cairo in February and extending the invitation for el-Tayyib to visit.

But if any Mideastern Christian leaders had opinions on the meeting -- and it's hard to imagine they wouldn't -- AP wasn't interested.

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60 Minutes shows the faces and the tears of Iraqi Christians beseiged by ISIS

60 Minutes shows the faces and the tears of Iraqi Christians beseiged by ISIS

Every so often there’s a piece on TV that surprises you with its grace and pathos. Last Sunday’s 60 Minutes program on the persecution of Iraqi Christians by ISIS was one such program.

To do the show, Lara Logan -- the same correspondent who got so badly attacked in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 -- goes to the Nineveh plains, a vast area east of Mosul including villages that have been there some 2,000 years. I was in the area in 2004 and it truly does feel like ancient Mesopotamia there. One almost expects to hear the boots of Sennacherib’s troops.

The filming is done in Erbil (a regional Kurdish city) and in some of the Christian towns only a few miles from ISIS lines.  One was Al Qosh, the burial place of the Old Testament prophet Nahum and one of the more pristine examples of two millennia of Christian habitation.  If ISIS ever got up there, it’d be a catastrophe, as there’s an orphanage there within a new, elegant monastery. The show commences thus:

There are few places on earth where Christianity is as old as it is in Iraq. Christians there trace their history to the first century apostles. But today, their existence has been threatened by the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State. More than 125,000 Christians -- men, women and children -- have been forced from their homes over the last 10 months.
The Islamic State -- or ISIS -- stormed into Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, last summer and took control. From there, it pushed into the neighboring villages and towns across this region, known as the Nineveh Plains, a vast area that's been home to Christians since the first century after Christ. Much of what took almost 2,000 years to build has been lost in a matter of months.
On the side of a mountain, overlooking the Nineveh Plains of ancient Mesopotamia, is the Monastery of St. Matthew. It's one of the oldest on earth.

The type of Christians in this place are Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Catholics; species of Christian whom those in the West rarely get to meet. We get video of real people with names and faces and sorrows even if they belong to Christian denominations we’ve never heard of. And then there is an American Christian -- Brett Felton, an Iraq war veteran from Detroit -- who gets a segment to himself as to why some western Christians are coming back to Iraq to help Christians there.

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In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

The monstrous, history-making events in northern Iraq can overwhelm reporters and audiences alike, as our own tmatt noted a few days ago. But rather surprisingly, coverage has broadened in breadth and depth and enterprise.

A huge variety of outlets -- from Time to Vox  to Fox to the BBC to The Guardian to Al-Arabiya  to the New York Daily News -- have weighed in with coverage, analysis and background. They're not all equally good, of course.

An outstanding example of perspective is in the Washington Post, where veteran reporter Terrence McCoy examines the reasons for the brutal, merciless warfare waged by the Islamic State. He cites several sources who say that the crucifixions, beheadings and mass killings are no mere battlefield excesses -- they were planned as tools to paralyze some people, polarize others.

One of the more fearsome excerpts:

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A chilling account of Boko Haram targeting Christians

A chilling account of Boko Haram targeting Christians

They killed her husband, burned her church and took away her name. Boko Haram in Nigeria. http://t.co/rJsiCNbV1B http://t.co/ZTHSA9z1UK

— Robyn Dixon (@latimesdixon) July 8, 2014

Last month, I highlighted the New York Times' must-read profile of a Christian convert on the run in Afghanistan.

Now, I write again to recommend an indispensable story on a persecuted Christian — this one by the Los Angeles Times.

LATimes Johannesburg correspondent Robyn Dixon provides a chilling account of the plight of Nigerian church members:

When Boko Haram invaded her village last year, the Islamist extremists burned the churches, destroyed Bibles and photographs and forced Hamatu Juwanda to renounce Christianity.

"They said we should never go back to church because they had brought a new religion," the 50-year-old said. "We were going to be converted to Islam."

The head of the village, a Muslim, presented her with a thick nylon hijab to cover her head and renamed her Aisha.

She submitted, smarting with rage. Women who didn't wear the hijab were beaten.

"When I went to the market, I wore the veil," she said. "But at home, I took it off and prayed."

The gunmen returned time after time to the village of Barawa, shooting people, burning houses and wearing down the resistance of the villagers.

Like the best journalism is apt to do, Dixon's story puts a real human face on this tragedy.

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Pay no attention to Rand Paul (or Christian persecution!)

A Washington Post Politics news blog on Senator Rand Paul’s appearance before the Value Voters Summit in Washington last week has left me perplexed. Reading the article entitled “Rand Paul: ‘There’s a worldwide war on Christianity’”tells me little about what the Kentucky senator said.

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