terrorism

Will the Pope’s Arabian adventure affect the turbulence within global Islam?

Will the Pope’s Arabian adventure affect the turbulence within global Islam?

Despite the non-stop hubbub in U.S. politics that dominates the news, and the sexual molesting crisis that consumes Catholic media outlets, history’s first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula achieved some spot coverage. But journalists now need to offer richer analysis of the longer-term significance of the February events in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

You want pertinent news angles? You want some valid follow-up stories?

Islam and Catholicism each claim the allegiance of more than one billion souls. Terrorists claiming inspiration from Islam vex the entire region, with fellow Muslims frequently among the victims of carnage, while targeted Christians have been pushed out of their faith’s ancestral heartland. In the U.S. State Department’s latest religious freedom report, six of the 10 worst nations “of particular concern” are majority Muslim (Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan), with others on State’s “special watch” listing.

There was substance alongside the pageantry and photo ops in the UAE, a joint declaration issued by Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, who leads venerable Al-Azhar University in Cairo. This is generally considered the chief intellectual center in Islam’s dominant Sunni branch (though long tainted by links with Egypt’s authoritarian regimes). Tayyeb is no pope but as authoritative as any figure in Sunnism. The joint statement results from years of intricate diplomacy between the Vatican and Al-Azhar.

Among the many moral evils addressed, the pope and imam called upon the world’s leaders “to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression,” adding that “God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorize people. … Terrorism must be condemned in all its forms and expressions”

The declaration also proclaimed that “each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action” and opposed forcing people “to adhere to a certain religion.” It stated that “protection of places of worship — synagogues, churches and mosques — is a duty” under both religious teachings and international law. It upheld women’s rights to education, employment and political action. And so forth, including some interesting theological commentary on God creating the various world religions.

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Sign of @NYTimes? So someone sent a mysterious tweet about Strasbourg attack ...

Sign of @NYTimes? So someone sent a mysterious tweet about Strasbourg attack ...

Since Day 1 of this here blog, or soon thereafter, your GetReligionistas have reminded all readers infuriated by headlines that reporters rarely, if ever, get to write these punchy, essential graphic introductions to their stories.

Mad about a headline? Take it to an editor.

But what about Twitter messages that — in an attempt to create heat that inspires online clicks — actually twist or mangle the contents of a news story? Who is to blame, when there is confusion in the cloud of digital media that now surrounds essential, core news stories?

That happened the other day in the wake of the tragic terrorist attack on the famous Christmas marketplace in Strasbourg, France. We will get to the actual story in a second. But first, here is the content of the tweet “from” The New York Times that started a mini-storm on Twitter.

It Remains Unclear What Motivated The Gunman Who Opened Fire At A Christmas Market In Strasbourg, Officials Said, As The Police Continue An Intensive Search For The Attacker

So what is the problem?

Some readers found it strange that there was confusion — at the Times or anywhere else — about the motives of an attacker who shouted “Allahu akbar!” while attempting to commit a massacre in a Christmas market. Many thought that this seemed like a rather strange editorial judgement.

Ah, but what did the actual story say? Did the actual editorial product published by the Gray Lady say what this tweet says that it said?

That brings us to the story under the headline, “France Declares Strasbourg Shooting an Act of Terrorism.” Here is the overture:

STRASBOURG, France — The deadly shooting at a crowded Strasbourg street market was an act of terrorism, officials said …, as hundreds of police officers hunted the fugitive assailant, a man described as a radicalized hometown career criminal.

The gunman killed at least two people and wounded 12 in the … shooting spree at the famous Christmas market in Strasbourg, a city of more than a quarter-million in France’s northeast border with Germany.

Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, who handles terrorism investigations nationwide, said at a news conference in Strasbourg that witnesses had heard the attacker yell “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, and that the targets and the suspect’s profile justified the opening of a terrorism investigation.

Any sign of an editorial statement swooping in from left field?

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After New York City terror, once more: How can Islam overcome its violent faction?

After New York City terror, once more: How can Islam overcome its violent faction?

The worst church massacre in U.S. history has all but overshadowed the prior New York City murder spree by a Muslim proclaiming "God is greatest."

But as a news theme, the earlier atrocity certainly carries long-term significance. Oddly, it occurred on the exact date the Reformation began 500 years ago, and some Muslims and non-Muslims muse that Islam needs its own Martin Luther to launch sweeping change.

The big Protestant anniversary is behind us, but for years to come the news media will be covering the moral tragedy of a faction's religiously inspired terrorism. As many pundits observe, western outsiders cannot solve Islam's internal problems. The latest insider proposal:

Writing on Reformation Day, Mustafa Akyol rejected the idea of replicating Luther in a piece titled “The Islamic World Doesn’t Need a Reformation.” (This was posted by www.theatlantic.com, which holds first rank among magazine websites for timely and provocative news analysis about religion.)  

Akyol, a Turkish journalist, TV talker and New York Times op-ed contributor, was named a fellow at Wellesley College’s Freedom Project last January. His books include the pertinent “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty” (2011). Significantly, the book is also available in Turkish, Malay and Indonesian translations.

Though Aykol rejects the “Reformation” label, he does seek to renew his faith’s less violent mainstream tradition and foster tolerance. If so, what’s the matter with the Luther paradigm? For one thing, today’s conflict-ridden Muslim countries do not resemble Luther’s original protest but the later religious bloodshed between Catholic and Protestant armies.

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Crux listens as Africans ask: Why isn't it big news when terrorists slaughter our people?

Crux listens as Africans ask: Why isn't it big news when terrorists slaughter our people?

Somewhere in the world, according to this old journalism parable, there is a chart hanging on the wall of a major Associated Press wire service bureau. (Yes, I have discussed this myth before.)

The purpose of the chart is to help editors figure out, when disaster strikes somewhere in the world, just "how big" a story this particular disaster is, compared with others. Is this an A1 or front of the website story? Is this a story that major television networks will mention or perhaps even send personnel to cover? Or was this a story with lots of death and destruction, but it belongs in the back pages somewhere with the other "briefs" that readers won't notice?

The chart has a bottom line and editors can do the math.

It states that, when tragedy or terror strike, 1000 victims in Latvia equals 500 in India, which equals 100 in Mexico, 75 in France, 50 in England, 25 Canada, five in the United States of America (that's flyover country) or one Hollywood celebrity or a famous person in New York City or Washington, D.C.

In other words, according to the mathematics of news, not all human lives are created equal. It's a matter of location, location, location.

The question posed in a quietly provocative piece at Crux, a Catholic-news publication that frequently covers religious persecution, is this: How many terrorist victims in Nigeria do you have to have to equal several victims in the heart of London?

The headline: "In London’s wake, Africans ask: ‘Where’s the outrage for us?’ " This past week, I was in a meeting with a veteran journalist from Nigeria (who also has editing experience in the American Northeast) and he was asking the same question. Here is the overture of the story:

ROME -- In the wake of Wednesday’s terrorist attack on London’s Houses of Parliament that left four dead, the cross-section of African Catholic leaders meeting in Rome this week immediately expressed solidarity and revulsion.

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Nigerian girls are released, news media say -- but most reports keep their religion hidden

Nigerian girls are released, news media say -- but most reports keep their religion hidden

Twenty-one of those kidnap victims in Nigeria have been returned to their parents -- a victory for that nation's government and for the alertness of mainstream media in this 30-month-long story.

What is not so alert is the recurring blindness of most media to the religious dimension of the conflict: the abduction of 276 schoolgirls, most of them Christian, by the jihadist gang known as Boko Haram.

We GetReligionistas have been giving very mixed reviews on the coverage. We've praised mainstream media for keeping an eye on the story, while criticizing the way they seem to dismiss the religious beliefs of captives and captors alike.

One (kind of) bright spot shines at the BBC, in its story on the 21 newly freed girls. The narrative conveys almost Passover-like imagery of deliverance from slavery:

One of the girls freed said during a Christian ceremony in Abuja: "I was... [in] the woods when the plane dropped a bomb near me but I wasn't hurt.
"We had no food for one month and 10 days but we did not die. We thank God," she added, speaking in the local Hausa language.
Many of the kidnapped students were Christian but had been forcibly converted to Islam during captivity.
Another girl said: "We never imagined that we would see this day but, with the help of God, we were able to come out of enslavement."
One parent said: "We thank God. I never thought I was going to see my daughter again but here she is... Those who are still out there - may God bring them back to be reunited with their parents."

Strong clues indeed about the faith of the girls and their families. The story would have been stronger still if the BBC had detailed the occasion for the reporting. The article says only that it was during a "Christian ceremony" in Abuja, the national capital. Wish they'd said what kind of ceremony, and who performed it. (It was a church service, as you'll see in a bit.)

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Preacher foot forward: RNS gives mini-sermon on Sikh who found accused bomber

Preacher foot forward: RNS gives mini-sermon on Sikh who found accused bomber

Why write a long intro?

Let's just get to the preachy lede of a story in the Religion News Service on the capture of a bombing suspect:

(RNS) The man who led police to the bombing suspect in New York and New Jersey was none other than another Asian immigrant.
Harinder Singh Bains, a native of India who practices the Sikh faith,  said he saw Ahmad Khan Rahami "right in front of my face" and made a call to the police after matching the man’s image with the one Bains saw on TV.
Rahami, who is accused of placing the bombs that exploded Saturday (Sept. 17) in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and in Seaside Park, N.J., was sleeping in the doorway of Bains’ bar in Linden, N.J., when Bains spotted him.

It's too bad RNS chose to put its preacher foot forward, because the article does have some virtues. It plugs Bains' action into presidential politics, or tries to. It narrates the police takedown of Rahami. And it tells a little about the Sikh faith -- though, in my opinion, too little.

The RNS article quotes Bains saying that he himself could have mistaken for the perpetrator: "After an attack, we should target people based on evidence, not their faith or their country of origin or their accent."

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Mosque burning: Orlando Sentinel writes a sensitive follow-up, with some flaws

Mosque burning: Orlando Sentinel writes a sensitive follow-up, with some flaws

Shunning clichés. Following up a tragedy. Getting the human angle. The Orlando Sentinel's story on the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, which was set on fire the previous weekend, has several strengths. And a few flaws.

The sensitive piece shuns the clichés that infect many such follow-ups on terrorism. The people talk like people, not talking-head spokespersons. It's also honest about the terrorist acts that allow some people to think they have a right to lash out at all Muslims.

On the other hand, the paper talks about supportive neighbors without talking to them. And I raised an eyebrow when I realized the lede came from a Friday service before the fire:

FORT PIERCE -- As ceiling fans churned muggy August air through the mosque where Pulse shooter Omar Mateen once touched his forehead to the carpet in prayer, assistant imam Adel Nefzi preached that a sincere follower of God harms none.
He thundered that no man should fear the hand or tongue of a true Muslim.
It had been two months since Mateen walked into an Orlando nightclub and opened fire on a roomful of dancers, killing 49. And before the prayer service began and worshippers were still trickling into the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, Nefzi pondered the weighty task ahead of him.
"It's a heavy responsibility to speak about religion," said Nefzi, 53. "You are always afraid that people, they did not understand the right message."

It's much later that the Sentinel divulges the service took place last month -- after Mateen attacked the Pulse nightclub in June, but before the fire on the 15th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

To me, it looks like the writer simply wrote from unused notes, then updated the story. 

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Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Never thought I'd write a post like this.

At GetReligion, we complain all the time about "ghosts" -- religious or spiritual angles to stories that news media miss or downplay. But in one report on the torching of a mosque in Florida, one religious angle may have been actually overplayed.

Just after midnight Monday, someone set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, the home mosque of Omar Mateen, who shot 49 people on June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. On Wednesday, officers announced the arrest of Joseph Michael Schreiber, who they said confessed to the crime.

Schreiber left a lot of clues. Aside from surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses, he'd posted Facebook messages saying that "ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL" and that its followers should be considered terrorists and "crimanals" (sic). He also has a record of theft and robbery.

So far, so routine. But then comes the Daily Beast, which says Schreiber "describes himself as a Jew for Jesus, a religious sect that believes Jesus is the messiah."

Says the Beast:

The first clues to Schreiber’s religious beliefs also come from his Facebook page, where his cover photo features the seal of messianic Judaism. It shows a menorah and a Jesus fish intersecting to form the Star of David. 
Many of Schreiber’s three dozen Facebook friends also self-identify with Messianic Judaism, either proclaiming themselves members of the faith in their profiles, or saying that they work at Messianic Jewish synagogues.
Previous media reports described Schreiber, who spewed anti-Muslim hate on Facebook, as Jewish. But Messianic Jews, colloquially known as Jews for Jesus, occupy a nebulous space in the religious landscape. (Jews for Jesus is also a recognized nonprofit organization that promotes a type of Messianic Judaism.)

The Beast alertly quotes Rabbi Bruce Benson of Temple Beth Israel in Fort Pierce, who says that messianics are “outside the parameters of accepted Jewish thinking."  Benson says Schreiber studied Torah there awhile, and that Schreiber's late grandfather was once a member of the temple.

Interesting details. So, how do they play into Schreiber's hostility toward Islam and Muslims? That's where the article falls silent. It fails to show that messianic Jews tend toward hatred of Muslims.

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Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Veiled references in the press, as French restaurant ejects women for wearing hijabs

Crude and bigoted, yes. Ignorant, yes. And it violated the very secular principles he embraced when a French restaurateur threw out two diners just for wearing hijabs.

But c'mon -- a "vicious attack"? That's a bit much, even for the Daily Mail

Other mainstream media were less inflammatory, but they committed another sin: skipping over the obvious religious aspect of attire associated with a particular faith. Yep, a classic religion ghost.

The dustup began Saturday when the two women sat down at Le Cenacle restaurant. They were given the usual glasses of water, but then a man -- either the chef or the owner or both, the articles don’t agree -- ordered them to leave.

Here's how the Mail puts it:

Two women wearing headscarves were thrown out of a Paris restaurant after being threatened by its self-confessed racist owner who said ‘Terrorists are Muslims, and all Muslims are terrorists.’
The disturbing scenes at Le Cenacle follow a series of incidents in which grandmothers and mothers have been thrown off public beaches in France for wearing Islamic looking clothing.
Now a criminal enquiry has been launched into Saturday’s vicious attack at the restaurant in Tremblay-en-France, a north-east suburb of the French capital.

As you can see by the video above, one of the women recorded the confrontation. She captured hateful remarks like "Madam, terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists," "I don’t want people like you in my place," and "It seems like you don’t understand. Now get out!"

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