Terrorism

The New York Times wishes us a Merry Hezbollah Christmas

The New York Times wishes us a Merry Hezbollah Christmas

Well, it sounded good on paper.

A New York Times article showing us a kinder, gentler, even interfaith Hezbollah was just one of a bunch of Christmas-themed pieces that ran in the paper this past week. One standout was this depressing piece on China’s holiday crackdown on churches, orchestrated by President Xi (the Grinch) Jinping.

It was just another day for China’s 30 million underground Christians with more people tossed in jail, sanctuaries and seminaries closed for the holiday and online Bible sales prohibited. There was also this piece on the Women’s March fragmenting due to anti-Semitism.

But the strangest article was this overseas dispatch with the headline: “Christmas in Lebanon: Jesus isn’t only for the Christians.” As I will explain in a bit, the piece didn’t get the greatest reception.

BEIRUT — The Iranian cultural attaché stepped up to the microphone on a stage flanked by banners bearing the faces of Iran’s two foremost religious authorities: Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader.

To the left of Ayatollah Khomeini stood a twinkling Christmas tree, a gold star gilding its tip. Angel ornaments and miniature Santa hats nestled among its branches. Fake snow dusted fake pine needles.

“Today, we’re celebrating the birth of Christ,” the cultural attaché, Mohamed Mehdi Shari’tamdar, announced into the microphone, “and also the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.”

“Hallelujah!” boomed another speaker, Elias Hachem, reciting a poem he had written for the event. “Jesus the savior is born. The king of peace, the son of Mary. He frees the slaves. He heals. The angels protect him. The Bible and the Quran embrace.”

“We’re celebrating a rebel,” proclaimed a third speaker, the new mufti of the Shiite Muslims of Lebanon, the rebel in question being Jesus.

This being Lebanon, one can say something positive about Christianity; a luxury that Iran doesn’t allow Christians within its borders, as I wrote about recently. The audience at this event was mainly Shi’ite and an Iranian band was playing Assyrian and Persian Christmas carols; again, a luxury not allowed to Christians in Persia itself.

Nearly 30 years after the end of a civil war in which Beirut was cloven into Muslim and Christian halves connected only by a gutted buffer zone, Lebanese from all different sects now commonly mingle every day at home, at work and in public.

But few seasons frame the everyday give-and-take of religious coexistence quite like Christmastime in Lebanon.

Half the women snapping selfies with the colossal Christmas tree that stands across a downtown street from Beirut’s even more colossal blue mosque wear hijabs.

Children with veiled and unveiled mothers wait in line at the City Center mall to whisper wish lists to the mall’s Santa, and schoolchildren of all sects exchange Secret Santa gifts in class.

I wish the writer would clarify that Santa Claus isn’t a Christian concept and that the jolly Bearded One’s presence worldwide this time of year has more to do with shopping free-for-alls than religion.

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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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Why Muslim news media have shied away from covering the Uighur persecution story

Why Muslim news media have shied away from covering the Uighur persecution story

As with other religions, Islam embodies the concept of like-minded believers sharing a global destiny no matter which nation they live in.

In Arabic, this idea is known as the Ummah. Militant Islamists invoke it repeatedly to convince Muslims they are obligated to aid Muslims persecuted by non-Muslims.

How does this work in practice? As with Christians (the extensive history of Christian nations fighting other Christian nations is hardly unknown), the idealized notion that co-religionists can count on fellow believers in stressful times is highly limited.

Witness the lack of global Muslim efforts to assist their Chinese Uighur co-religionists currently being brutalized by the Chinese government. Or the relative dearth of Uighur-related news coverage emanating from Muslim-majority nations.

Western media, on the other hand, have covered the Uighur story like a blanket — despite the geographic, logistical and political hurdles making it difficult to do so. Here at GetReligion, we’ve posted repeatedly on the Uighur situation the past few years.

One Western publication I think has done an excellent job with the story is Foreign Policy. The magazine has published, online, two strong pieces on the Uighurs in just the past couple of weeks.

Here’s one from late October that tells how China is planting strangers who absurdly identify themselves as “relatives” in Uighur homes to monitor them. Here’s the second, published last week, detailing that Uighurs are so desperate to escape Chinese persecution that some are actually fleeing to Afghanistan for safety.

Consider that for a moment. True, Afghanistan is a Muslim nation. But it’s also a land of continual warfare where even the innocent can become collateral damage at any time. So fleeing to Afghanistan hardly ensures peaceful sanctuary. And yet they do.

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Friday Five: Synagogue shooting, Messianic controversy, young evangelicals, Squirrel Hill memories

Friday Five: Synagogue shooting, Messianic controversy, young evangelicals, Squirrel Hill memories

Saturday’s synagogue shooting, which claimed 11 lives in Pittsburgh, has dominated religion headlines this week. Here at GetReligion, we’ve produced a half-dozen posts on that unimaginable tragedy.

If you get a chance today or this weekend, check out what we’ve written, and feel free to let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

Among our posts:

• Julia Duin’s thoughtful commentary on how “Pittsburgh horror marks the start of what could become a new atrocity — synagogue shootings.”

Ira Rifkin’s expert analysis noting that “Pittsburgh surprised many: But not those who repeatedly reported rising American anti-Semitism.”

• And my own piece reflecting on “Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy.”

I’ll mention some of our other Pittsburgh-related offerings below as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In a post Thursday, I called Emma Green’s Atlantic report headlined “The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead” one of the best religion stories of 2018.

Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein praised Green’s “lovely reporting,” and CNN religion editor Daniel Burke lauded the "sensitivity, nuance, context — and the insights” of the story.

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Emma Green's 'The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead' among the best religion stories of 2018

Emma Green's 'The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead' among the best religion stories of 2018

In my last post, I praised the crucial work of local newspaper reporters in covering major tragedies such as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

But the national press has an important role to play, too, as The Atlantic’s award-winning religion writer, Emma Green, has demonstrated in an exceptional fashion this week.

Green noted on Twitter that she spent three hours Sunday night in the Pittsburgh morgue. The result: a piece titled “The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead.”

It’s remarkable in a number of ways: The strength of the idea and the implementation of it. The quality of the writing and the specific details contained therein. The depth of the religious knowledge and the ability to convey it in understandable prose.

Green’s compelling opening paragraphs set the scene:

Under other circumstances, Daniel Leger might be among those making sure the 11 Jews who were murdered in Pittsburgh are cared for in death. He is the leader of Pittsburgh’s liberal chevre kadisha—the committee responsible for tending to and preparing bodies before burial. Instead, he is in the hospital. He is one of the two congregants and four police officers who were injured in this week’s horrific attack.

The Pittsburgh morgue sits in a squat cement building on a street with little light, sandwiched between a bar and a highway. The door was locked and the lobby quiet on Sunday evening; few people were out in the chilly, intermittent rain. A sign on the door instructed visitors to use a nearby phone to reach the security desk. Throughout the night, someone new would be arriving each hour. They were the shomrim, or guards.

Jewish tradition teaches that the dead cannot be left alone. Some call it a sign of respect for people in death, as in life. Others say that the soul, or nefesh, is connected to the body until it is buried, or even for days afterward, and people must be present as it completes its transition into the next world.

Various Twitter users praised the story, and rightly so:

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'If You Want To Humble An Empire': A 9/11 story that got religion and shouldn't be forgotten

'If You Want To Humble An Empire': A 9/11 story that got religion and shouldn't be forgotten

What’s the statute of limitations for pulling a story out of the GetReligion guilt folder?

Seriously, I want to call attention to a remarkable piece of news reporting — written under tremendous deadline pressure — that predates GetReligion itself. This journalism-focused website, in case you need a refresher, launched in 2004.

As you undoubtedly know, today marks the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It seems appropriate then to recall just how much Time magazine incorporated religion into its original in-depth report on the events of 9/11. My thanks to New York Times Godbeat pro Elizabeth Dias, a Time alumnus herself, for highlighting the story by Nancy Gibbs on Twitter this morning:

If I read the Time story back in 2001, I don’t remember it. At the time, I was religion editor for The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. I was focused on my own reporting, including writing four bylined response pieces on 9/11.

But I’m glad I took the time to read Gibbs’ piece today. It brought back so many memories. And yes, it covered crucial glimpses of faith present at that time.

The opening itself — written in Time’s analytical style — certainly emphasizes that element:

If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith, and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can't be safe. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, planted at the base of Manhattan island with the Statue of Liberty as their sentry, and the Pentagon, a squat, concrete fort on the banks of the Potomac, are the sanctuaries of money and power that our enemies may imagine define us. But that assumes our faith rests on what we can buy and build, and that has never been America's true God.

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It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's time for an update on the inseparably braided political and religious goings-on in two key Muslim nations; Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and site of the recently concluded hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

As you may expect, it’s not good news.

Moreover, it’s news that’s in danger of going under-appreciated because of the undeniably more alluring headlines -- for American news junkies, at least -- related to the Catholic Church’s sexual corruption cover up, and the Trump administration’s equally crumbling cover up of sexual, financial and all-around political corruption.

Let’s start with Indonesia, which once enjoyed, and capitalized on, a reputation for being one of the most politically moderate and religiously open-minded of Muslim nations.

These two pieces provide a refresher, should you require it. The first is a news report from Reuterswhile the second is a previous GetReligion analysis by editor Terry Mattingly ("That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?"

Now, it seems, the situation in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation has gone from bad to worse, and perhaps to the absurd.

Here’s what The Washington Post reported last week.

A Buddhist woman’s conviction this week on blasphemy charges has alarmed many in Indonesia who were already worried about the erosion of religious pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.


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Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

For the foreseeable future, journalists will be covering Muslim zealots who terrorize innocent civilians in God’s name, fellow Muslims included, hoping that violence will force the creation of  a truly Islamic society. Their revolutionary  bloodshed spans the globe -- and spurns centuries of moderate teaching by Islamic authorities.

Journalists remain uncertain on how best to name these groups, which is among matters explored in “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” by Robert Manne, an Australian media personality and emeritus professor at La Trobe University. Though publisher Prometheus Books is known for partisan and sometimes supercilious attacks on religious faiths, The Religion Guy finds this title even-tempered, as well as brisk and valuable (though Prometheus deserves brickbats for providing no index).

This readable background will help guide journalism about a complex scourge that mainstream Islam is unable to eliminate. The book covers only Sunni extremists, not the rival radicals in the faith’s minority Shi’a branch centered on  Iran. Here’s Manne’s advice on common terms and labels seen in the news.

Islamo-Fascism. This label is “quite misleading” due to fascism’s historical fusion with nationalism (Muslim radicals spurn existing nation-states and  simply divide humanity into believers vs. “infidels”), and with racism (the movement’s hatreds lie elsewhere).

Islamic Fundamentalism. Also a misnomer, this borrows a term for strict textual literalism among Protestant Christians (see the Associated Press Stylebook). Problem: Such Protestants are non-violent, and so are many of the Muslims who favor that approach to holy writ. Rather, we need to label a terroristic political faction.

Islamists. This term designates believers who seek to reshape politics in accordance with religious law (sharia). Here again, such Muslim activists do not necessarily embrace terror.

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Danes, Muslims, Christmas and why immigration is always a religion-beat story

Danes, Muslims, Christmas and why immigration is always a religion-beat story

Know what’s new from the land of hygge and hot chocolate and high standards of living?

Denmark, which has consistently polled as one of the happiest places to live on Earth apparently isn’t so happy according to a spate of articles just out. 

The reason is about a quarter-million immigrants from the Middle East and Pakistan who have sought asylum there from nasty conditions in their homelands and for the rich benefits Denmark hands out to whoever’s fortunate enough to reside there. To the point where Danes are seeing their place as the world’s happiest place to live slipping by the day.

What’s not so apparent in some stories is how big a part religion plays in it all, being that the overwhelming percentage of these new arrivals are Muslim whereas Danes are Lutheran (at least in name). The Danish government says 4 percent of its 5.7 million population is Muslim, which comes out to 228,000 people.

This piece from CityLab sees a set of new rules as a rich/poor issue instead of a religious one. The word “Muslim” is mentioned only once.

Time magazine pulled the same trick in its reports on “parallel societies” that now exist in Denmark. Remember, Denmark just passed a "burka ban" law early last month.

So I turned to a July 1 piece in the New York Times, which had a more accurate account about what’s at issue here:

COPENHAGEN — When Rokhaia Naassan gives birth in the coming days, she and her baby boy will enter a new category in the eyes of Danish law. Because she lives in a low-income immigrant neighborhood described by the government as a “ghetto,” Rokhaia will be what the Danish newspapers call a “ghetto parent” and he will be a “ghetto child.”

Starting at the age of 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in “Danish values,” including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.

Denmark’s government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.

This sounds to me like some pretty desperate measures that are just short of kicking all these immigrants out.

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