jump to navigation

Balkan absurdist reporting by Reuters: Get Religion, February 19, 2014  April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

At Get Religion it is usually considered bad form to criticize wire service reports for lacking context. There is only so much information that a reporter can pack into a 300 word story. The absence of an explanatory sentence or two that gives the reader some clues as to the meaning of the story is seldom fatal to an article’s journalistic integrity — but it can at times lead to an article coming across as a Haiku.

This article from Reuters entitled “Bulgarian police detain 120 after mosque attack” I readily concede does not fit into the 5 – 7 – 5 sound (on) pattern of classical Japanese poetry nor the 17 syllables of contemporary English Haiku. Nevertheless the imagery created in this short piece does a great job of telling the story.

A problem with imagery, however, is that the reader must be aware of the symbolic meaning of the nouns being used. The story has a wonderful lede:

Bulgarian police detained more than 120 people on Friday after hundreds of nationalists and soccer fans attacked a mosque in the country’s second city Plovdiv, smashing its windows with stones.

Why is this wonderful you ask? On one level there is an absurdist quality to this sentence with overtones of Monty Python, Lemony Snicket and Eugene Ionescu. A mosque has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque in Bulgaria’s second city has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque in Bulgaria’s second city has been attacked by a mob of soccer fans and (Bulgarian?) nationalists casting stones.

Each iteration makes the story ever so slightly more ridiculous, but at the same time it conveys the absurdity of life through the incongruity of its elements and apparent absence of reason. But this is the Balkans.

The story continues:

 

Over 2,000 people had gathered outside a Plovdiv court as it heard an appeal case dealing with the return of an ancient mosque in the central city of Karlovo, taken over by the state more than 100 years ago, to Bulgaria’s Chief Mufti, the Muslim religious authority.

The soccer fans and nationalists then marched on a mosque in Plovdiv and pelted it with stones. Given the limitations of space Reuters did a great job in reporting this story. At its close the article offered two small bits of context:

Muslims make up about 13 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.3 million people. The Chief Mufti has launched some 26 court cases to try to restore Muslim ownership of 29 mosques and other property across the Balkan state, prompting some public opposition in the predominantly Orthodox Christian population.

These help the reader, but for those not au courant with the modern history of the Balkans, the incongruity of elements might make this story hard to follow. The mosque in Karlovo that served as the flashpoint for this controversy was confiscated by Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria after the Second Balkan War of 1913. That war saw an exodus of many Turks and Muslim Bulgarians — the Pomaks (Slav converts to Islam who speak Bulgarian but follow Turkish customs) from the region West of the River Maritsa or Evros. For Bulgarian nationalists the return of the mosque in Karlovo (which is in ruins but preserved as a historical site by the city government) is a political — ethnic — religious insult. Turkish nationalists might react in the same fashion if Hagia Sophia were returned to the Ecumenical Patriarch. An admittedly bad analogy might be if a Mexican-American group petitioned Texas for possession of the Alamo.

That might explain the nationalists in the mob. But soccer fans? In an American context that conveys images of mothers with mini-vans. In Europe it is code language of skin heads, or neo-nazis, or violent nationalists — whose energies are channeled into supporting a particular football (soccer) team and engaging in violent conflicts with the fans of other teams.

Tie all this into recent statements by the Turkish prime minister about his country’s role as a protector of Balkan Muslims, you have all the makings of a Balkan imbroglio.

How do you tell this story in less than 300 words? Reuters did a pretty good job. But it fleshing the story out with a word or two of “why” on the inter play of religion, politics and ethnicity would have made this piece even better.

IMAGE: courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Tweeting Mohammad: Get Religion, February 3, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

The Mohammad cartoon controversy has resurfaced over the past week with a flutter over a tweet.

The British press appears to have come down on the side of Maajid Nawaz. Newspaper articles, opinion pieces and television chat shows have defended his right to share a cartoon depicting Jesus and Mohammad. But they have also ceded the moral high ground to his opponents — Islamist extremists — by declining to publish a copy of the cartoon that has led to death threats and calls for Nawaz to be blacklisted by the Liberal Democratic Party for Islamophobia.

What we are seeing in the British media — newspapers and television (this has not been a problem for radio) — in the Jesus and Mo controversy is a replay of past disputes over Danish and French cartoons. Freedom of speech and courage in the face of religious intolerance is championed by the press — up to a point.

The point appears to be whether being courageous could get you killed or even worse, earn the displeasure of the bien pensant chattering classes.

The Telegraph gives a good overview of the affair.

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate has received death threats after posting a cartoon image of Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. Muslim politician Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of a t-shirt with a crudely-drawn cartoon entitled ‘Jesus and Mo’ which he describes as an “innocuous” and inoffensive.

However the image has caused fury among some members of the Islamic community who believe images of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden. More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Liberal Democrats to suspend Mr Nawaz. Some have even suggested a fatwa should be placed on him while others have threatened they would be “glad to cut your neck off”.

The Guardian summarized Nawaz’s motives in this subtitle to their story:

Lib Dem candidate says he aimed to defend his religion ‘against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest’

It explained:

The row blew up after Nawaz took part in a BBC debate where two students were wearing t-shirts depicting a stick figures of stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?”

The politician, who is founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank, tweeted what he believes is a “bland” image and stated that “as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that”.

Both stories are sympathetic and are topped by striking photos of Nawaz, who is  running to be an MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. But neither article reproduces the cartoon that has led to the threats against his life. In their defence, it could be argued that a photo of Nawaz, rather than the offending cartoon was more appropriate as the article focused on the politician’s travails over the cartoon, not on the cartoon itself. A week argument but an argument none the less.

Television was not blessed with this excuse. During the debate on The Big Questions which sparked the row, the BBC declined to show members of the audience who were wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts. This censorship, avoidance, prudence (take your pick) led Nawaz to tweet a photo of the cartoon — leading to twitter threats to cut off his head.
Newsnight discussed the controversy over censorship, but decided not to show a copy of the cartoon. Newswatch also discussed the “Jesus and Mo” controversy, noting that complaints had been raised by viewers over its failure to show the cartoon. But Newswatch also declined to show the cartoon. Zero for three for the BBC.

The best (from a cognoscenti  of hypocrisy’s point of view) was Channel 4′s handling of the subject. It broadcast the cartoon, sans Mo. This prompted the popular British blogger, Archbishop Cranmer to write:

[This] censoring images of Mohammed establishes a narrow Sunni-sharia compliance: it is, effectively, a blasphemy code adopted by the state broadcasters.

The columnist for The Times, Janice Turner, excoriated the BBC and Channel 4 in an excellent piece entitled “Show us Jesus & Mo. It’s the price of freedom”. It was:

hard to watch Wednesday’s Newsnight without concluding that Britain has become a very strange place. We saw an artist so frightened for his life that his face and even his voice were disguised. We saw his hand sketching the Christian prophet in a crown of thorns, but forbidden to draw the Muslim one. An 11-minute film debated a drawing at the heart of a national controversy but at no point could we see it.

Turner further reported:

When challenged, Newsnight’s editor, Ian Katz, said that there was “no clear journalistic case to use” the cartoon, and that “describing” it was sufficient. (TV news will get a whole lot cheaper if we needn’t send a camera crew to war-ravaged Damascus: let’s just have it described by Jeremy Bowen.) Any depiction of Muhammad, Katz argued, “causes great offence to many, not just extremists” and to run it would be “journalistic machismo”.

She aptly summarized the journalistic and moral issues at play.

Mr Nawaz’s frustration is understandable. In banning the image, the BBC cast him as the faux-Muslim, his opponents as the rational, majority voice that must be heeded.

How can moderate Muslims be expected to speak out, if they are cast as apostates by national TV? Those who have not yet made up their minds will see angry offence as the default position. They hear it proclaimed by the deceptively reasonable Mohammed Shafiq, the Lib Dem, whose Ramadhan Foundation hosts homophobic speakers, and that hot-air balloon Mo Ansar, who argues that gender-divided public meetings are just like BBQs where guys cluster around the grill while wives chat with the kids. No biggie.

The BBC and Channel 4 are guilty of cant and hypocrisy. They are daring when it is safe to be daring, but cowards when it comes to militant Islam. Are the Guardian and Telegraph guilty of cant as well? They preach freedom of speech, but by refusing to show the Jesus and Mo cartoon are they not also ceding the moral high ground to the enemies of free speech?

First printed in Get Religion.

WPost whoppers about the Muslim Brotherhood: Get Religion, January 14, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed


Claims of bias and inaccurate reporting have dogged the Western press’s coverage of Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. A story in this week’s Washington Post entitled “In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear” will do little to restore confidence.

The article eschews the classical news story format in favor of an impressions and perceptions style. Its lede states:

The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades.

But many Egyptians say they are all right with that.

There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability — after three years of political turmoil — might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup; silence dissent; and ask very few questions.

The article begins with an opinion as to the mood of the Egyptian people. Is this then a news analysis article or a news article?

If a news article facts and figures should follow to support the claims in the lede. What “evidence”? How many arrests and convictions? Who is being arrested and why? Which analysts claim the army’s rule has led to the “harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades”? Who is being censored and why? These details are mostly absent.

A thematic diagram of this story suggests this is an opinion piece — a commentary offering the author’s view of the meaning of events, rather than a report on events. Following the lede we have a quote from a government spokesman defending the violent crackdown; a man in the street supporting the crackdown and a Washington-based expert explaining popular support for the crackdown.

This all leads to the central argument of the story.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties captured the lion’s share of the vote in Egypt’s first democratic elections two years ago. The Brotherhood had renounced violence decades earlier and gained popularity by establishing a vast network of charitable organizations.

These days, those images of benign Islamist leadership have been erased from many minds by the hyper-nationalist rhetoric promoted by the government, which has portrayed Brotherhood members as bloodthirsty terrorists bent on destroying the nation.

An assortment of disconnected facts are presented to support this argument, coupled with further pro-Brotherhood arguments from the Washington Post. Assertions are piled on assertions and dubious statements presented uncritically.

The government’s crackdown has been so pervasive — and the cult of support for military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi so far-reaching — that the Brotherhood has likened Egypt’s transgression to “fascism,” as have some liberal observers.

Is labeling support for al-Sissi a “cult” fair? Fascism? Is citing a foreign diplomat as a “liberal” observer appropriate? The US embassy and the former ambassador have been denounced for its pro-Brotherhood statements and have little credibility in Egypt — are Western diplomats an appropriate source on this point?

The article closes with a pessimistic quote from an Egypt expert at Harvard. Given six decades of military rule following the overthrow of King Farouk it was foolish to expect Egypt to take to democracy, he argues.

No mention of the reasons for the popular revolt against the Brotherhood are given in this story. Not only does the Washington Post not “get politics” in Egypt, it does not “get religion”.

There is no sense of context or balance in this Washington Post piece.It is ill-informed, in-curious and overtly partisan. As a news story it is an embarrassment to the Post. Not quite Walter Duranty material — but it does come close in that it too places ideology above reality.

Comparing the tone, style and use of facts in this story to a similar item published by the avowedly pro-Muslim Brotherhood Al Jazeera network will not dispel concerns the Western press are flacks who believe the Muslim Brotherhood is a force for good in Egypt.

Thirty million Egyptians would tend to disagree with this sentiment — that is how many people took to the streets to demand the army step in and remove the Muslim Brotherhood government. Egypt’s Christians along with the other religious minorities who were persecuted by the Muslim Brotherhood — e.g., murdered, churches burnt, schools ransacked — are also likely to take issue with this whitewash.

Arab commentators have also denounced the American press for offering what they see as a false narrative. Writing in the Egypt’s largest circulation daily newspaper, the pro-government al-Ahram, Abdel-Moneim Said wrote:

The one-sided version of post-30 June realities in Egypt that The New York Times presents is nothing short of a travesty.

Al-Ahram accused the Times of ignorance and deliberate bias. It viewed the unfolding political scene in Egypt through ideological lenses.

The NYT’s original sin is that it refuses to recognize the mass uprising on 30 June 2013 as a revolution whereas it does recognize as such the January 2011 uprising, which succeeded in overthrowing a tyrannical regime, even though the number of people who participated in that revolution were about half as many as those who took part in the 30 June demonstrations. In both cases, it was the military that shifted the balances on the ground and that channeled a massive grassroots movement into political processes that brought the country back from the brink of conflict and civil war. But the NYT doesn’t see it that way. In its opinion, the military’s intervention in the first case was not a coup because it eventually brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power whereas its intervention in the second case was a coup because it ushered the Muslim Brotherhood out of power and into forms of “resistance.” Not only do such double standards obscure the truth, they also give way to a number of historical misconceptions regarding the idea of “revolution” or mass uprising in general, and what has happened in Egypt in particular.

No mention of religion appears in this piece save as a descriptor for the Brotherhood. Perhaps the cult like support from the Copts for al-Sissi may have something to do with the Brotherhood’s persecution and pogroms against Egypt’s Christians? Failing to discuss religion when writing about political Islam is an oversight. Is the Washington Post guilty too of propounding a revisionist history of the Arab Spring? Is it a shill for the Muslim Brotherhood’s view of Egypt’s recent history? If this article is an example of the Post‘s reporting from Egypt, then it is guilty as charged.

First printed in Get Religion.

No sex please, we’re Indian: Get Religion, January 9, 2014 January 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Hinduism, Press criticism.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Rape and religion returned to the front pages of India’s newspapers this week after a judge in Delhi stated premarital sex was sinful.

The Hindu reported:

Pre-marital sex is “immoral” and against the “tenets of every religion”, a Delhi court has said while holding that every act of sexual intercourse between two adults on the promise of marriage does not become rape. Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat also held that a woman, especially grown up, educated and office-going, who has sexual intercourse on the assurance of marriage does so “at her own peril”.

According to The Times of India, Judge Bhat, who presides over a court set up last year in response to the nationally publicized gang rape and murder wrote:

When a grown up woman subjects herself to sexual intercourse with a friend or colleague on the latter’s promise that he would marry her, she does so at her own peril. She must be taken to understand the consequences of her act and must know that there is no guarantee that the boy would fulfil his promise. He may or may not do so. She must understand that she is engaging in an act which not only is immoral but also against the tenets of every religion. No religion in the world allows pre-marital sex.

The BBC picked up this story as well. It added this explanation for Western audiences in its story “Indian judge says pre-marital sex ‘against religion’”:

Pre-marital sex remains a cultural taboo in India. Last year, a court in Delhi said live-in relationships were immoral and an “infamous product of Western culture”.

But the BBC goes no further in offering context or an explanation (it appears to be a re-write of an AFP story, which may be a mitigating factor). Even though the lede and headline of the BBC story makes explicit reference to religion, this angle is not developed. This criticism does not fall only on the BBC, the Indian press has also shied away from developing the religious angle to this story and has been content to publish only the judge’s obiter ditca.

The press has not remained silent in discussing Judge Bhat’s remarks — but the conversation has been channeled into discussions of gender and women’s rights.

Why the reticence? In a series of GetReligion posts, TMatt has addressed whether the Indian press avoids reporting on the religion and caste angles to a story. In a 2010 post entitled “Life and death (and faith) in India,” he wrote:

… I was struck by one consistent response from the audience, which I would estimate was about 50 percent Hindu, 25 percent Muslim and 25 percent Christian. When asked what was the greatest obstacle to accurate, mainstream coverage of events and trends in religion, the response of one young Muslim male was blunt. When our media cover religion news, he said, more people end up dead. Other students repeated this theme during our meetings.

In other words, when journalists cover religion stories, this only makes the conflicts worse. It is better to either ignore them or to downplay them, masking the nature of the conflicts behind phrases such as “community conflicts” or saying that the events are cased by disputes about “culture” or “Indian values.”

The Indian press as well as the BBC and the wire service reports on Judge Bhat’s decision are continuing this trend of avoiding religion in reporting. An in depth article from the Wall Street Journal last November entitled “Indian Rape Law Offers Desperate Last Resort” sticks to culture only.

While the Indian press may be restrained to report on religion, should the BBC frame the story in a faith-free atmosphere? Were India a fiercely secular society, such an omission might be justified. But it is not — nor are the rates of pre-marital sex comparable to the West. A study by the International Institute for Population Studies estimated that 3 per cent of women had engaged in pre-marital sex.

Why? Perhaps it is because sexuality for a woman in the Vedic tradition of Hindu culture is controlled by her age and marital status. It frames virginity, chastity and celibacy as being appropriate for distinct periods of life. Virginity is expected of a woman before marriage and chastity is expected within marriage. Celibacy, as signaled by an ascetic withdrawal from the obligations of marriage and family life, takes place at the end of life with abstinence being a liberation of the self from worldly attachments. While Tantric cults exalted women in worship, their sexual mores did not extend to a modern notion of female sexual autonomy. While the ideal seldom governs the real, it must be stated that pre-marital sex simply does not work within the Hindu worldview.

Discussions of sexuality in India seem to go in two directions: blame the English and the golden past.

As the BBC noted an Indian court blames the penchant for some to engage in premarital sex as an “infamous product of Western culture.” Homosexuality and the country’s sodomy laws are also laid at the door of the British too.

Or we go to the opposite extreme and hear of a mythologized past where openness and a lack of hypocrisy ruled. This is the Kama Sutra narrative, but it is not history. It is more a product of the nationalist aspirations of the rising middle classes. A macedoine of anti-colonialism with a dash of “Orientalism”, seasoned with a repressed Westerners and liberated Orientals. However the Kama Sutra narrative of Indian sexuality is largely irrelevant to an understanding of its modern manifestations and as sociologist Sanjay Srivastava of the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi writes:

is best confined to expensive coffee table books of our ‘glorious’ past that was supposedly destroyed by foreign invaders.

There is no middle ground in reporting on sex in India. Silence or secularism governs the discussion. While this may be the environment in which the Indian press must work, should we not expect more of the BBC and the western wire services?

First printed in Get Religion.

Haaretz and Jewish resistance to the Holocaust: Get Religion, December 31, 2013 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

Do you remember Tom Lehrer, the composer/comedian/mathematician? I have long loved his music, which I discovered as a young boy when exploring my parent’s record collection.

A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz set spinning in my head one of Lehrer’s LPs this Christmas and to the embarrassment of my children I broke into song, serenading them with the refrain from Lehrer’s satiric gem National Brotherhood Week (1965).

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

My fertile mind however, added an additional line — “And Haaretz does too!”

Hates the Jews that is.

How else can one explain this article, “The Myth of the Warsaw Ghetto” published last week in the leftist Israeli daily? Writing on the website of Commentary magazine, Eugene Kontorovich summarized the article’s thesis, stating that Haaretz believed that if:

the fighters had not been so uppity, if they had not made a fuss–then the Nazis, who had already murdered 500,000 Jews of Warsaw, might have let the remaining 50,000 live. Maybe! It is not a new argument. Rather, the author amazingly resurrects and endorses the arguments of the Judernat, the Jewish collaboration government of the Ghetto. With every new deportation, they urged restrain with increasing urgency–maybe they will let the rest of us live, and if you fight, all the past deportations would be a sacrifice in vain.

Haaretz’ story discusses the controversy over the number of Jews who fought and the number of Nazis killed, and also offers its view of the political and national symbolism of the Warsaw uprising for modern-day Israel. The article concludes:

The 50,000 or so Jews who remained in the Warsaw Ghetto after the transports of 1942 had survived, as in other ghettos in occupied Poland, largely because they worked in factories for Germany. Many of these factories were owned and managed by Germans, who negotiated with the German authorities and the SS to hold on to their workers.

In light of all this, the Jews’ belief grew that somehow they could survive. They had two bad options: Flee the ghetto to the hostile Polish side or continue working in the German factories. Both options meant living day to day in the hope the war would end quickly.

At the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews survived in Poland and Germany. In Warsaw alone the number of survivors is estimated at about 25,000. Death in battle, as the ghetto fighters planned, did not keep with the intentions of the vast majority of Jews remaining. … Thus the question has never been raised: What right did a small group of young people have to decide the fate of the 50,000 Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto?

Commentary was scathing in its response. Haaretz had:

shown that it exists in a world entirely divorced from any Jewish consensus, and cannot claim the title of loyal opposition. It has crossed all prior bounds of decency and published a criticism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, calling it a “myth,” and accusing its heroes of being responsible for the ultimate liquidation of the Ghetto. Despite disagreements on diplomatic, territorial, and religious issues, the memory of the Holocaust–its heroes and victims–had been the great unifying porch in post-War Jewish consciousness. Now the Holocaust is fair game too.

It concluded:

There can be no more terrible case of “blaming the victim” than laying any responsibility for the liquidation of the Ghetto at the feet of the fighters. It is true, the Jewish “communal leadership”–and the rabbis–opposed the uprising. That is what made it brave. The Judenrat had no right to decide if residents of the Ghetto died in gas chambers or fighting for their freedom.

Fascinating stuff — but where is the Get Religion hook? It comes in the absence of any mention of religion in the Haaretz story, ascribing all of the symbolism and memory evoked by the Uprising in political and ideological terms. No faith component to this story is offered. And, the Holocaust I would argue was one of the most profound events in terms of its impact of Judaism and Christianity in the modern era.

Commentary‘s statements too are incomplete on this point. Was it true that all Jewish religious leaders supported the Judenrat in opposing the Uprising? This thesis is challenged by a recent article in the Jerusalem Post.

The last rabbi in the Warsaw Ghetto” states that the campaign of extermination by Nazis prompted a rethinking of traditional Jewish responses to persecution.

In a meeting of the Warsaw Jewish leadership in January 1943, Rabbi [Menachem] Ziemba declared that traditional martyrdom in the face of persecution was no longer a viable response. He argued that “sanctification of the Divine Name” must manifest itself in resistance to the enemy. “In the present,” Ziemba told the ghetto leaders, “we are faced by an arch foe, whose unparalleled ruthlessness and total annihilation purposes know no bounds.

Halachah [Jewish law] demands that we fight and resist to the very end with unequaled determination and valor for the sake of Sanctification of the Divine Name.”

My impression from the Haaretz article of Jewish self-hatred is given a political twist by Commentary.

Ultimately, the article’s target is not really the Holocaust. The author objects to the glorification of the glorified by the Zionist movement in the early years of the state. Perhaps the fighters should have awaited deportation and seen themselves as “sacrifices for peace,” to use the buzzword of the Second Intifada.

No doubt this is why Haaretz has, somewhat oddly for a newspaper, chosen to revisit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The newspaper has long tried to persuade Jews in Israel that they need no longer fight–they can trust someone to save them. John Kerry is coming to Jerusalem next month with just such a pitch. In order to advance their political agenda, the newspaper does not stop at besmirching one of the proudest pages of our history, nor at aligning themselves with the most shameful, the Judenrat.

The sanctified memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not based on its military significance, its size–or its conformity to the Zionist ethos. Rather, it is the considered, consensus judgment of Jewish history that the fighters were right.

While I would not go so far as Commentary in calling this article “vile”, it is deeply problematic. Here I speak not of the questions of how many Jews fought, how many Nazis died, and how the Uprising shaped the new state of Israel’s psyche — the problems laid out by the Commentary piece. Rather it is the question of historical revisionism and journalism.

Viewing one of the seminal events of the modern era in political/secular terms, ignoring facts and views that challenge a thesis renders the story incomplete.

First printed in Get Religion.

Australia unhappy with Islam: The Church of England Newspaper, November 29, 2013 November 28, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Multiculturalism.
Tags: ,
comments closed

Islam is not a religion of peace in the minds of the majority of Australians, a survey conducted on behalf of the Q Society of Australia reports. The survey undertaken by Roy Morgan Research Ltd shows indicates a majority of Australians believe the assimilation of Muslim immigrants is not working as 70 per cent believe the country is not a better place because of Islam.

The survey, completed in late October, found a majority (53 per cent) of Australians want full face coverings banned from public spaces and 50.2 per cent want Islamic sharia law banned all together.

Older Australians and those who voted for the governing Liberal/National parties coalition were helding harsher views of Islam than did Green party supporters or younger voters. However, only 15 per cent of Australians think Islam and terrorism are not related, while proposals by secularist and multi-cultural advocates to cancel state Christmas, Easter or ANZAC Day celebrations in order not to offend non-Christians is endorsed by only 3.5 per cent of those surveyed.

Q Society spokesman Andrew Horwood said the poll results validate in their opinion the need for “new strategies and policies. While followers of most religions seem to get along well, Australian politicians must acknowledge Islam is not just another religion and the growing concern is not a fringe issue,” he said.

The Q Society of Australia is a civil rights advocacy group founded in 2010 whose members are “concerned about the socio-political problems associated with the rise of Islam and sharia law in Australia; as well as religiously-motivated human rights abuses against religious minorities in many OIC-member countries,” its website states.

The Boys from Buenos Aires?: Get Religion, November 14, 2013 November 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Judaism, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: , ,
comments closed


What is an ultra-conservative Catholic? A member of the Society of St Pius X? A faithful Sunday communicant? A Trappist monk? Or is it someone whose name appears on the subscription lists of both My Daily Visitor and The National Review?

There is nothing improper, from the perspective of good journalism, in describing someone as an ultra-conservative Catholic — newspapers make editorial assertions in their headlines and ledes all the time. It is what draws the reader into the story.

However, the main body of the story should define what the reporter means when labeling someone as an ultra-conservative Catholic. A report Tuesday in the Buenos Aires daily Clarín on disturbances at the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral illustrates the need to be precise with language and labels.

In an article entitled “Incidentes en la Catedral: un grupo ultracatólico quiso impedir un acto por el Holocausto judío”, a group of young people attempted to disrupt a service commemorating the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the night in 1938 when the Nazis burned destroyed hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish owned shops throughout Germany, arresting tens of thousands of Jews. The “night of broken glass” presaged what was to come in 1942 — the Holocaust.

Clarín reported:

Un grupo ultraconservador católico trató de impedir esta noche, a los gritos y con insultos, una ceremonia ecuménica en la Catedral metropolitana al cumplirse el 75º aniversario de la “Noche de los cristales rotos”, considerada el inicio del Holocausto judío perpetrado por el nazismo.

A group ultraconservative Catholic tonight tried to stop with shouts and insults, an ecumenical ceremony in the Metropolitan Cathedral to mark the 75th anniversary of the “Night of Broken Glass”, considered the beginning of the Jewish Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.

Let’s start with the basics. Who: ultra-conservative Catholics; What: disrupted Kristallnacht ceremony; Where: Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral; When: Nov. 11, 2013, Why: That we do not know yet.

The story continues:

Según contaron testigos del episodio a la agencia oficial Télam, cuando el arzobispo de Buenos Aires, Mario Poli, intentó comenzar la liturgia de conmemoración, un grupo de feligreses se puso de pie y comenzó a rezar a los gritos para impedir el desarrollo de la ceremonia.

According to eyewitness testimony gathered by the  official Télam news agency, when the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Mario Poli, tried to start the memorial service, a group of worshipers stood and began to pray and cry out in an attempt to stop the ceremony.

Los manifestantes también repartieron volantes con las leyendas “Fuera adoradores de dioses falsos del templo santo” y “Los pastores que llevan a los hombres a confundir el Dios verdadero con dioses falsos son lobos”.

The protesters also handed out fliers with the motto “Not worshipers of false gods holy temple” and “Pastors who lead men to confuse the true God with false gods are wolves”.

El accionar intolerante del grupo, compuesto en su mayoría por jóvenes, generó de inmediato el repudio de las autoridades diplomáticas, funcionarios y representantes de la comunidad judía presentes en la Catedral, así como de miembros de organizaciones de derechos humanos y de los credos cristianos.

The intolerant actions of the group, composed mostly of young people, were immediately repudiated by diplomats, civil servants and representatives of the Jewish community in the Cathedral, as well as by members of human rights organizations and Christian denominations.

The article continues with an account of the archbishop’s reaction to the protest, the content of the service, and background on Kristallnacht. What we do not learn is who these protesters were and why they did it.

The only description given is that they were ultra-conservative Catholics. May we assume these are members of the SSPX? Their anger appears not to be racial but theological. Their protests, as evidenced by the content of their banners as reported by Clarín and in their chants shown in the video above indicate they were opposed to the participation of Jews in worship held in a Catholic Church — not in Jews being Jews, per se. (As if that were an excuse.) Leaders of the SSPX have made the news in recent years through outbursts of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

But what if were not the SSPX but Roman Catholics giving voice to views once propounded by the inquisition? Suspicion and hatred of conversos or Marranos? (Descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity but suspected of secret adherence to Judaism.)

Or, are the fair skinned and some light haired youthful protestors (Argentinians of European descent) pictured in the video Dr. Mengele’s children? Descendants of Nazi exiles to Argentina who have come out in the open? Preposterous as this sounds, if I were the editor of a British red top tabloid I would go with that explanation. Hitler and Nazis are tabloid gold in Britain.

If you are curious about this story, the Associated Press added this titbit:

The Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, the South America leader of the Society of Saint Pius X, said Wednesday that the protesters belong to his organization and that they have a right to feel outraged when rabbis preside over a ceremony in a cathedral. “I recognize the authority of the pope, but he is not infallible and in this case, does things we cannot accept,” Bouchacourt said in an interview with Radio La Red.

“This wasn’t a desire to make a rebellion, but to show our love to the Catholic Church, which was made for the Catholic faith,” Bouchacourt added. “A Mass isn’t celebrated in a synagogue, nor in a mosque. The Muslims don’t accept it. In the same way, we who are Catholics cannot accept the presence of another faith in our church.”

Would not this information been helpful — in fact necessary — for a reader to understand what was happening with this story? Using the catch all phrase “ultra-conservative” to describe what sort of Catholics were protesting tells the reader nothing.

First printed in Get Religion.

Rihanna’s vague voguing in The Independent: Get Religion, October 29, 2013 October 30, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

What does “improper” mean when it comes to Rihanna — the Bajan pop star? The Independent in London circles hesitantly round this word in its report on Rihanna’s publicity stunt at a mosque in Abu Dhabi last week, but never quite explains what she did that violated Islamic taboos.

Did Rihanna pull the sort of stunt beloved by Madonna and Lady Gaga — actions that appear to have been undertaken to be provocative — theological  marketing ploys designed to sell concert tickets? Are we seeing the start of a new theme in the arts and religious mockery? Will Terrance McNally’s “Corpus Christi” or Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” be joined by Islamic equivalents? Somehow I doubt it.

A 21 October 2013 story in The Independent entitled “Rihanna told to leave Abu Dhabi mosque over ‘improper’ photo shoot” begins in the breathless prose favored by celebrity gossip writers. This school of journalism works to a formula as strict as a murder mystery. A crime is committed:

Wearing a headscarf and with her body almost fully covered, Rihanna portrayed herself as a bad girl gone good this weekend. But it has emerged that the pop star was asked to leave Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque after posing for photographs.

The body discovered:

Mosque officials said they asked the pop star to leave the compound after she turned her visit into a photo shoot opportunity, which was considered to be at odds with the sanctity of the site.

Although Rihanna dressed conservatively in a head-to-toe black jumpsuit with her hair covered, the photographs were said to have been taken in an area normally off limits to visitors.

The detective investigates:

The statement from the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, published today in local Abu Dhabi newspapers, did not mention Rihanna by name but instead alluded to a “singer”.

It said: “In the event of behaviour that violates the moral codes of access to the mosque, or other visit regulations – such as taking inappropriate pictures, posing in ways that are improper in the context of sacred place, talking loudly, or eating – the violators are directed in a polite manner that reflects the civilisational and tolerant attributes of Islam.

And the case, she is solved:

Rihanna, who was in UAE as part of her “Diamonds” world tour, has not yet publicly responded to the statement made by staff at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Here was have the newspaper version of M. Poirot recounting the crime as the suspects are gathered in the drawing room, while Inspector Japp stands to one side ready to snap the manacles on the wrist of the criminal (the doctor?).

But no explanation as to motive is presented. Reading this article, I felt like Captain Hastings. “But why?”

The Independent tells its readers Rihanna violated the sanctity of the mosque, even though she was wearing clothing that covered her body and hair. Was her crime using the mosque as backdrop to her photos — crass commercialism with a tinge of vulgarity?

To find out more we need to turn to the Abu Dhabi newspaper, The National.

The mosque is open to non-Muslims but the body in charge, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre, ask visitors to respect religious sensitivities.

This includes women wearing an abaya and shayla, which Rihanna did not do.

Rihanna was bounced from the mosque for her dress, not her demeanor. The black body suit does not qualify as an abaya, the neck to toe dress worn by Muslim women in the Arabian peninsula, and her cap does not meet the requirements of the traditional shayla, or scarf, that covers the hair.

This is the sort of detail that provides context for an article. The information provided in The Independent article is insufficient for a reader to understand what happened — it draws upon Western assumptions about Islamic customs to flesh out the story. And that is a mistake.

On one level this is a non-story. Mockery of religion in art lost its edge about 100 years ago and is more often silly than profound. Whether touted as free speech, artistic integrity and the like — more often than not it is puerile foolishness. Rihanna’s handlers organized this stunt perfectly — an Islam-themed provocation. One that was “courageous” but rather insincere. The Independent could have pursued that story.

Instead it kept it simple, reimporting the facts ( just not all of them).

First published in Get Religion.

Pay no attention to Rand Paul (and Christian persecution too!): Get Religion, October 15, 2013 October 15, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

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.

Nor am I clear as to what a news blog is for. Is it a vehicle for a reporter to express an opinion about the news, or does this new format permit a newspaper to increase the amount of news stories without having to invest the time and manpower in producing original copy?

Perhaps it was the editorial decision of the Post that what Sen. Paul said was less important than the symbolism of his presence at the meeting of conservative religious activists. Maybe it was fueled by a desire to score points against Paul through irony. It did, however, work very hard in not reporting what the Kentucky senator said nor offering context to his remarks. The headline tells us there is a war on, but does not say who is fighting.

The article begins:

There’s a war raging against Christianity, but the attackers must police themselves, says Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R).

“From Boston to Zanzibar, there’s a worldwide war on Christianity,” the world’s most-practiced religion, he said Friday at the Values Voters Summit, an annual conservative gathering. The intensity of attacks is so high, he later added, that it’s “almost as if we lived in the Middle Ages,” a period that included the Crusades.

Who is waging this war against Christians? Two paragraphs into a five paragraph story we are not told. In the third paragraph we learn the problem is militant Islam, and the solution lies in moderate Islam taking responsibility for their radical kin. Pushing this key fact to the midway point of the story is questionable.

As is the irony. What does the line about the Crusades mean? It is standard Islamist agitprop to blame the crusades for the ills of the Muslim world and its subsequent history of military aggression, and to harken upon the crusades as a dastardly attack on peace loving Muslims by blood thirsty Christians. Some will push this line along with claims that jihad has nothing to do with war against the nonbeliever — nothing to see here folks. Pay no attention to the fact that Islamic jurisprudence holds the doctrine of jihad demands that the “House of Islam” (Dar al-Islam) must subdue the “House of War” (Dar al-Harb, the non-Islamic world). What ever could that mean?

I grant you that if your knowledge of the era comes from Hollywood and Sir Walter Scott you might believe this claptrap. The bad-Crusaders good-Muslims line  favored by some scholars in the last century has been undermined by modern scholarship. I recommend Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades and Other Fantasies by Ibn Warraq on this point.

Writing on Commentary magazine’s webpage, Jonathan Tobin observed there was an inconsistency in Paul’s warning about the persecution of Christians by militant Islam and his isolationist foreign policy stance.

But I’ll leave my fervent disagreements with his worldview that constitutes a genuine threat to a viable U.S. foreign and defense policy aside for the moment. Let’s give him credit for speaking up on an issue of grave concern that most politicians ignore and which most of the foreign policy establishment has been actively seeking to bury.

This report by the Washington Post is an example of burying the story of the persecution of Christians. The great bulk of Paul’s speech dealt with recent examples of Muslim violence against Christians. He stated:

Ever since 9/11, commentators have tried to avoid pointing fingers at Islam. While it is fair to point out that most Muslims are not committed to violence against Christians, this is not the whole truth and we should not let political correctness stand in the way of the truth.

Yes, it is a minority of Muslims who condone killing of Christians. But unfortunately that minority numbers in the tens of millions.

And he cites a dozen examples of violence across the Muslim majority world from Zanzibar to Indonesia.

Commentary added:

Even more important, let’s address some of the criticism he has been receiving over this speech from some liberals as well as those who claim to speak for American Muslims. Whatever the political motivations for Paul’s speech (one suspects he is trying to woo Evangelicals who dislike his cool attitude toward Israel), those who deny this problem or, even worse, try to depict anyone who calls attention to Muslim intolerance as a bigot, are doing neither Islam nor Muslims any good.

It then cited a particularly egregious opinion piece in The Daily Beast entitled “Rand Paul’s Hate Speech Sounded Just Like Al Qaeda” as an example of the intellectual vacuity and moral blindness surrounding the issue of Christian persecution.

In my reporting for the religious and secular press I have written many stories about the persecution of Christians — and have heard hundreds of stories more. Today I received an email from a trusted source, a Western missionary in a majority Muslim area that has witnessed anti-Christian pogroms (one of the locales cited by Paul), asking for help in training midwives for the small Christian community. He wrote:

The government (Islamic) public hospital is killing Christian babies after being delivered. Seven recent murders we know of thus far. We need to build and staff a small maternity clinic. And train some midwives. If you know of medical professionals who might be interested, we urgently need some help in planning and making this happen.

Is this true? I trust the veracity of the person writing, but cannot verify it independently. I doubt this will ever appear as a newspaper story. Yet other stories from this place of extra-judicial murder of Christians have appeared in the press and have been condemned by NGOs. All of this is by way of saying this is an on going tragedy. It is one of the major moral and human rights issues of our day — and the Washington Post is burying it.

We do get the context in the fifth paragraph.

Paul’s speech was delivered ahead of a White House meeting between President Obama and Republican senators, including Paul, to discuss the government shutdown and impending debt ceiling breach.

But it is the wrong sort of context. Perhaps it is unfair to judge a news blog by the standards of journalism and expect balance, accuracy, professionalism, completeness and context. If they are vanity vehicles designed to deliver a stream of conscience approach to the news, then my criticisms are misplaced. If I am reading this to hear the voice of the author then the subject is secondary. But if you are relying upon this as a source of information, then the format as exemplified in this story falls short.

First printed in Get Religion.

Intended Consequences–The Times & Jewish Jerusalem: Get Religion, September 20, 2013. September 20, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
Tags: ,
comments closed

Choosing determines all human decisions. In making his choice man chooses not only between various material things and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference.

Ludwig von Mises, On Human Action. (San Francisco: Fox  Wilkes, 1996 4th rev. ed.) p 3.

Newspaper writing is about making choices. They range from choosing a topic and its parameters to the style of writing, the story’s length and the degree of context down to the language used. Choices are conscious and unconscious. While I should think about the framing of a story — being aware of the worldview I bring to an issue — before I write. I do not do it as often as I should.

But the preconceived notions and assumption I bring add value as I can stories in their historical/political context. I am able to discern if issue X is important, urgent or tired. Spin from PR flacks seldom moves me. Yet I have never written a sports story and can draw upon no well of knowledge to make an informed choice.

The conscious and unconscious choice applies to language. When I write “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” I am making a political choice with my vocabulary that signals the editorial stance of the publication or my personal views. This was especially true when I wrote for the Jerusalem Post. Through my upbringing and culture I knew to write “Jerusalem” as it would not have occurred to me to write “Al Quds”. But I learned to say “Judea and Samaria” not the “Occupied Territories” and “separation barrier” not “the wall” in line with the newspaper’s editorial policies. The vocabulary I brought to a story, whether innate to my worldview or learned from my employers, framed the article.

Choice results in consequences, whether intended or not. Let me draw your attention to the work of The Times foreign correspondent Michael Binyon to illustrate this point.

Binyon has penned a superior piece on one of the major under reported stories from the Arab Spring — the plight of Arab Christians. Taking as its news peg a report on a conference of church leaders in Amman hosted by King Abdullah of Jordan The Times article entitled “Middle East Christians face a bleak future” takes an indirect, but highly effective route in telling its story. It is a master class lesson in the craft of newspaper writing.

Yet this story also rang alarm bells within the Jewish community in Britain. “Did conference speakers call for the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem?”, a prominent Jewish activist asked me after she read the article. “Had the Church of England gone over to the replacement theology camp?” This did not appear in a surface reading of the paper, but I immediately grasped her concern when I read the story again through her eyes.

The Times lede is beautifully written.

Their churches have been bombed, burnt and ransacked. Thousands flee their homes to seek safety in exile, as ­Islamist extremists incite mobs to ­attack the dwindling communities that remain. Christians in the Middle East are today facing the ­greatest dangers they have known for centuries.

Moving from a strong opening, the article succinctly gives the who, what, when and where — before moving into an extended treatment of the why. Again, this is nicely and professionally done — you see the hand of a professional at work here.

The article then passes to a serious of comments and observations from participants, that give substance to the theme articulated in the lede. And at the end we hear from Church of England (hurrah!).

The Anglicans were well represented. The Episcopal bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem were joined by the Rev. Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace and former Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter representing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mr Howarth made the point that Western Christians too often had a skewed assumption that Christianity was an import to the Middle East rather than an export from it. And he underlined the importance of intra-Christian and intra-Muslim dialogue.

He was also one of the few speakers to note the importance of women in faith issues. Only two nuns joined the panel of 80 male clerics. One male speaker said that if faith issues were left to women half the problems would disappear immediately.

Aside from the male cleric’s patronizing comment about women — and what did he mean by saying that if half the people (men) left you would have half the problems you now have? — there seemed little objectionable in these comments, and nothing that would suggest an anti-Jewish attack from the CoE.

But further up in the article, we read that Arab Christians

had taken a full part in the wars against Israel and were in the forefront in the fight to maintain the Arab presence in Jerusalem and prevent its judiacisation.

In the worldview of my British Jewish friend the “judiacisation” reference prompted concerns that at this conference Christian Arabs had called for a Judenfrei Jerusalem. Though former Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs of Iran are the best known proponents of driving the Jews into the sea, the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world — from Morocco to Iran — in the years since 1948 is an open wound in the Israeli psyche. If some Christian Arabs had made this call — echoing their political leaders in the Palestinian Authority or other Arab states — had the Church of England and the bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem remained silent. By their silence were Anglicans implying consent to the calls to de-Judiaze Jerusalem?

If true, this was quite a story. “Church silence on Jew bating” would have been a fun headline, while the church journals would take a story on Anglican Replacement Theology.

To find out, I thought I would ask. A checked with Canon Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace (the shorthand way to refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff). Dr, Howarth told me he had no knowledge of any calls from conference speakers to expel the Jews. I also raised the issue with the Bishop of Egypt at breakfast on Thursday — we were both attending conference at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. He had no memory of any anti-Semitic comments from the conference podium, but added that from the perspective of the Christian Arab, the judiacisation controversy was not about expelling Jews from Jerusalem, but Jews expelling Arab from Jerusalem.

The last patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem had been removed from office after he had been accused in acquiescing to the sale of church lands to Jewish businessmen. The gentrification of Jerusalem was forcing Arabs out of the city by pricing them out of the housing market or removing housing available to Arabs from the market, the bishop said.

Which perception is true? Both, none, one?

Had The Times intended to press this button in their story about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. I think it most unlikely. But the use of “judiacisation” without explanation prompted some readers hear things that other readers did not.

First printed in Get Religion.

Who’s afraid of les jeunes of France?: Get Religion, July 16, 2013 July 16, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

Nick: Are you all right?

Honey: Of course, dear. I just want to put some powder on my nose.

George: Show her where we keep the … euphemism.

Martha: I’m sorry. I want to show you the house anyway.

Honey: We’ll be back, dear.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

One of the marks of the avant garde across the centuries has been an eagerness to mock the the polite sensibilities of society. Played by Richard Burton in the 1966 film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the character George mocks Honey for offering a genteel euphemism — powder on my nose — in place of a direct request to use the toilet. While much of the power of the film comes from the performances of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandy Dennis and George Segal, in its day the language and lives of its characters was considered shocking. Watching the film today we are more likely to be shocked by the unhealthy personal habits — drinking and smoking — than by the language or morality on display.

Whether it is “He who must not be named”, e.g., Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series or Endlösung der Judenfrage (the Final Solution of the Jewish Question), e.g., the Nazi name for the Holocaust, euphemisms as The New Criterion  has observed are a form of timidity that refuses to call untoward realities by their correct names.

The word “youths” (jeunes) when used in the press is a euphemism known to all Frenchmen. It means Muslim. The summer of 2005 saw rioting by “youths” in the HLM high-rise estates, or cités HLM, across France  and there have been recurring outbreaks of violence each summer. In May Reuters reported on the rioting in Sweden — employing the same euphemism of “youths” to describe who was involved.

The British equivalent euphemism is “Asian”. When reports of crimes by Asian youths appear in the press, no British reader believes the junior division of the Red Dragon tong, or bands of Hindus or Sikhs are involved. Asian is the press code for a Muslim from the arc of countries from Morocco to Bangladesh.

An article by AFP that formed the basis of stories in Libération, Le Monde and other Parisian dailies offers a recent example of the euphemism at work. On Saturday the New York Times reported the underlying incident:

France’s worst train accident in years, an official with the national rail company said Saturday. The crowded intercity train, leaving Paris at rush hour before a holiday weekend for the city of Limoges, jumped the tracks 20 miles south at Brétigny-sur-Orge station. The seven-car train split into two, with some cars riding up the station platform and flipping over.

Six people died, two were in critical condition and seven more were in serious condition, officials said; 21 others were still in the hospital. More than 190 people were treated at the site for lesser injuries.

The second day French stories added a twist to the tragedy. A pack of “youths” attempted to strip the dead of their belongings. Le Monde‘s print edition reported:

Le ministre des transports, Frédéric Cuvillier, a indiqué, samedi 13 juillet sur i-Télé, n’avoir pas eu connaissance “de victimes dépouillées” par des délinquants après la catastrophe ferroviaire de Brétigny-sur-Orge, comme des rumeurs en font état depuis la veille. Le ministre a fait état d’”actes isolés”, d’”une personne interpellée”, d’”une tentative de vol de portable” au préjudice d’un secouriste, de pompiers qui, par petits groupes, ont été accueillis de façon un peu rude”. Mais de véritables actes commis en bande, non, a dit le ministre qui a ajouté qu’”à (sa) connaissance, il n’y avait pas eu de victimes dépouillées. Tout de suite après l’accident, selon des témoins interrogés par Le Monde, une trentaine de venus des environs ont tenté de voler des effets des victimes, sacs, portables ou autres. Ils ont également caillassé les pompiers qui intervenaient. Puis ils ont été évacués hors du périmètre par les CRS. Les échauffourées se sont poursuivies encore quelques temps, avant de s’apaiser.

Transport Minister, Frédéric Cuvillier told i-Télé on Saturday, July 13 he had no knowledge of criminal delinquents “stripping the victims” following the Brétigny-sur-Orge train disaster, as rumors indicated yesterday. The minister reported “isolated incidents”, “a person arrested” for the “attempted theft of laptop”  and a stated a “small group of firefighters received a rough welcome”. ” But “real acts” [of violence]? No,” The minister added that “to his knowledge” there had been no “stripped of victims.” Immediately after the accident, according to witnesses interviewed by Le Monde, about thirty youths from the area tried to steal the bags and cellphones of the victims. They also stoned firefighters. Then they were moved out of area by the CRS. The clashes continued for some time afterwards.

An American reader, were he unfamiliar with the euphemisms used by the European press, might well assume a gang of juvenile delinquents was involved. Perhaps the Sharks and Jets? The deployment of the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) to disperse the gangs and the mention of stone throwing are likely to solidify the impression in the average reader those involved were Muslim youth of Arab, North African or African extraction.

Is the press doing its job when it resorts to this sort of short hand? I believe not. Not every French delinquent is Muslim. But for fear of causing offense to those who are perpetually aggrieved, the euphemism “youth” gives the impression that all criminals are young Muslims — or all Muslim youth are criminals. The attempt to avoid stigmatizing some members of a disaffected minority serves to stigmatize all.

Lousy reporting plays its part in poisoning social relations between communities. Who’s afraid of the youths of France? The AFP for one.

First printed in Get Religion

Muhammad marketing mishaps in Sydney: Get Religion, July 12, 2013 July 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, All over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between, My brothers and my sisters, All over this land.

So begins the first stanza of “The Hammer Song”. Written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, the progressive anthem had its first public performance by Seeger in 1949 at a rally in New York on behalf of the leaders of the Communist Party-USA, who were on trial for sedition. It was recorded by The Weavers in 1950 but attracted little popular interest. In 1962 Peter, Paul and Mary recorded their version, which reached the top of the charts in August of that year.

The song has continued to move away from its Communist roots and has been recorded by artists ranging from Luther Vandross to the Von Trapp Family Singers — (never knew they too were secret Communists).

My introduction to the song — and the Peter, Paul & Mary oeuvre — came in summer camp and church youth groups. In the space of 25 years “The Hammer Song”  had been sanitized — homogenized if you will.  Stalinist agitprop rendered into wholesome children’s camp fire music.

As I write this post it is Friday evening. Time for some free association and thoughts of change (and decay all around I see). What I once believed the “The Hammer Song” meant and what it’s authors meant bore no relationship to one another.  For that matter, what did “Puff the Magic Dragon” mean?

The Australian the largest daily newspaper in Australia and a part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire– this week published an expose challenging the cherished beliefs of one religious group. It took a hammer to Mypeace exposing their claims as exaggerations at best or deliberate falsehoods. The Australian press — the Fairfax newspapers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in particular — are strongly anti-clerical, but I nevertheless was surprised to read this story entitled: “Ads for Islam ‘misquote Shaw from bogus book’”.

The article began:

Anti-”Islamophobia” advertisements due to screen on major free-to-air channels from today rely on a fabricated quote from Irish playwright and avowed atheist George Bernard Shaw, from a book that does not exist, according to the International Shaw Society.

The 30-second ads have been funded by the Sydney-based Mypeace organisation, which says it hopes to “build bridges” between Muslims and other Australians. Animated with voiceovers and with quotations displayed on the screen, they feature major historical figures including Mahatma Gandhi and Shaw praising the prophet Mohammed.

Hows that for a strong opening! And notice the small “p” in prophet in the last sentence. The BBC, to cite one outlet, in deference to Muslim sensibilities always uses a capital “P”. The story reports:

The advertisements quote Shaw proclaiming the prophet Mohammed was “the saviour of humanity” in a book he is supposed to have written entitled ‘The Genuine Islam’. But International Shaw Society treasurer Richard F Dietrich said he had compiled a complete list of Shaw’s works. which did not include the book. “I think ‘The Genuine Islam’ is bogus”, he said.

The Australian does not stop there, but goes for the kill.

In his writings, Shaw described the religion in a 1933 letter to Rev Ensor Walters as “ferociously intolerant”. “Mahomet rose up at the risk of his life and insulted the stones (that the Arabs worshipped) shockingly, declaring that there is only one God, Allah, the glorious and the great…And there was to be no nonsense about toleration”, Shaw wrote. “You accepted Allah or you had your throat cut by someone who did accept him, and who went to Paradise for having sent you to Hell”.

The article further states the Shaw-Muhammad myth had its origins in a newspaper article.

The suggestion that Shaw may have written a book entitled “The Genuine Islam” has its origins in an interview between Shaw and Muslim propagandist Maulana Mohammed Abdul Aleem Siddiqui published in a Muslim periodical in January 1936. The interview took place in Mombasa, Kenya, some time between April 10 and 20, 1935, and copies of the periodical remain. It contains a quotation which describes Mohammed as the “saviour of humanity” and Islam as having “wonderful vitality” and “the chance to rule of Britain, nay, Europe, in the next hundred years”, but these are not recorded as the words of Shaw.

When was the last time you read the phrase “Muslim propagandist” in a mainstream newspaper. The article closes with this word from Mypeace.

Mypeace, a Muslim organisation dedicated to fostering understanding of Islam did not respond to The Australian’s requests for comment. Mypeace founder Diaa Mohamed told the [Sydney] Daily Telegraph the advertisements were a response to “misinformation” about the prophet.

That will  leave a mark. Lest you not see what The Australian did in the closing … they lay out a story documenting misinformation being broadcast in the Mypeace advert and then close with a quote taken from a rival paper (something normally not done) where Mypeace claims they were fighting misinformation. Was this take down over the top? “Muslim propagandist”? The closing insinuation of hypocrisy? Or should The Australian be praised for applying the same standard to Islam that it applies to the Catholic or Anglican Churches in Australia?

Was there an innocent explanation for Mypeace’s mistake? Had there arisen a [false] folk memory of Shaw praising Muhammad that entered the conventional of Western Muslims 75 years later? After all Shaw did have good things to say about Stalin and Mussolini. Would it be too much of a stretch for any but a Shaw scholar to believe the playwright added Muhammad to his pantheon? Or, is the Costanza law of history at work here? “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.”?

What say you GR readers?

First printed in Get Religion.

BBC silence on honor killings and Islam: Get Religion, July 3, 2013 July 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed


The BBC reports three Pakistani women were murdered by a member of their family for insulting the family honor by “smiling and laughing in the rain outside their family home” . The Corporation does a strong job in detailing the who, what, where and when of this “honor killing”, but continues its policy of hiding the why. The mention of Islam is absent from this story.

The story opens with the what, who and where:

Three women in north Pakistan have been shot dead by a male relative who seemed to have believed that they had brought shame on their family, police say. A mother and her two daughters – one aged just 17 – were allegedly killed by her stepson. He had apparently seen a family video in which the daughters were shown laughing in front of their family home.

We then are offered this tortured sentence explaining why:

The woman’s stepson appears to have considered the footage an assault on the family’s honour. So-called honour killings are common in northern Pakistan where women are seldom seen by men other than their relatives.

The story offers background information, noting this was not a freak occurrence.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that five young women and two men were reported killed in the same region last year after footage emerged of them singing and dancing together at a wedding. The killings were said to have been ordered by a tribal Jirga, or local council. But locals denied anyone had been killed when Pakistan’s Supreme Court send a fact-finding mission to the area. Leading human rights campaigners however expressed fear that all those in the wedding video were dead.

The article closes with this grim note:

Campaigners say more than 900 women were killed in Pakistan last year in the name of family honour. In spite of reform in the law they say conviction rates are not encouraging and in most cases the killers escape justice.

The self-censorship from the BBC on this issue would be comic if it were not so horrible. True, the BBC did not interview the killer and hear from his own lips the reasons why his relatives’ conduct impugned his family’s honor. Yet we have a statement from an advocacy group detailing the frequency of these crimes and the lack of punishment for the perpetrators. Might they have had an idea?

When the link between Islam and honor killings is raised, it more often than not takes the form of special pleading.  While it is important to hear why some Muslim scholars believe honor killings are not condoned in Islam, one is left wondering why we do not hear from those who support this barbaric practice, or who can explain why it is such a widespread belief. Do a little digging and you will find these voices. Do a little more digging and you will see that the legal codes of a number of Muslim-majority states do not in practice punish honor killings, or punish their perpetrators far less severely than they do others convicted of murder.

An example of the special pleading on honor killings and Islam came from CNN following the 2011 Shafia case in Ontario. “Islam doesn’t justify ‘honor murders,’ experts insist” stated:

Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly endorsed the Canadian judge’s verdict, insisting that “honor murders” had no place and no support in Islam. “There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honor killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honor of the family,” said Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England. represent?

Is this view universal within Islam? Why then do some Islamic jurists find justification in Islam for honor killings? Why did religious leaders object to laws strengthening penalties against honor killing in Pakistan if this was so?

In a 4 Dec 2008 interview with Al-Hayat TVWafa Sultan argued that honor crimes arose from within Islam.

The subjugation of women reduces them to a level lower than beasts – not to mention the laws of inheritance, testimony in court, the beating of a wife who refuses to go to bed with her husband, and ‘honor’ crimes. “Muhammad said in a hadith: ‘Three things spoil one’s prayer: a woman, a black dog, and a donkey.’ Do they ever give this any thought? Do they realize that Allah chose the female body for his greatest invention – creation itself? Wouldn’t it be moral to bestow upon the female body a certain holiness, instead of viewing it as impure?”

Should we take Dr. Sultan seriously? She is a Syrian-born physician and human rights activist who now lives in Southern California. In 2006 she was profiled by Time as one of the “100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming our world.”

In the Shafia case we have testimony from one of the killers explaining why he did it. The Star reported that a wiretap caught the killer telling his wife (and co-conspirator):

To his wife, Shafia allegedly assured that the right actions had been taken: “I say to myself, you did well. Were they to come back to life, I would do it again. No Tooba, they messed up. There was no other way. They were treacherous. They betrayed us immensely. There can be no betrayal worse than this. They committed treason on themselves. They betrayed humankind. They betrayed Islam. They betrayed our religion. They betrayed everything.”

Pride, culture and religion are cited as reasons for the honor killing. If the reporting does not lay out why these killers interpreted their faith as allowing them to kill women, the reader is left to conclude that the killers are moral monsters, are fanatics or insane.

Tell me GetReligion readers should the BBC raise the question of religion when reporting on honor killing? Is it right to ignore the religious element or make a blanket denial that Islam supports honor killings? Are we seeing unequal treatment of Islam from the BBC? Does it treat other faiths this way?

First printed in Get Religion.

IRS targeting Jews too?: Get Religion, May 13, 2013 May 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed


Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase it this way for your editor: the IRS has created a religious test defining what it means to be a loyal Jew.

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Callerreported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

Breitbart developed this story, adding historical context and suggesting  there was a “common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.”

What has not been developed yet is this paragraph in The Jewish Press story:

And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel.  Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state “whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,” and also demanded the organization “[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

The implications of this paragraph are profound. Is the state seeking to control religious doctrine for political ends through the coercive power of its tax authority?  There are some red flags in The Jewish Press story. Though it is characterized as a news story, the article is a one-sided advocacy piece written by an individual closely associated with one of the organizations under IRS scrutiny. No names, dates or details are given though a powerful quote is supplied. Absent a name, it is difficult to judge its veracity.

But … Here is an opportunity for religion reporters to add their expertise to the IRS audit scandal. Let it not be said that religion reporting is a cul-de-sac – – the hints inThe Jewish Press story open the door for an energetic reporter to explore allegations of political malfeasance and corruption, separation of church and state issues, foreign policy, and perhaps a dose of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is going to be fun.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Jewish Identity and the Western Wall: Get Religion, April 14, 2013 April 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

You couldn’t, he thought, find three Jews in the world who would agree on what it meant to be Jewish, yet there were apparently fifty million of these people who knew exactly what it meant to be German, though many of those on deck have never set foot in Germany.

Alan Furst, Dark Star, (1991), p. 380.

Who is a Jew? What is a Jew? Who decides who is a Jew? These questions lie beneath the surface of a Washington Post story that reports on the controversy of women worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The article entitled “Women challenge Orthodox practice at Israel’s Western Wall” links the political dynamics of the pressure being brought by American Jews upon the Israeli government to accommodate non-Orthodox Jewish worship at what the Post calls “Judaism’s holiest shrine” with an Israeli local news item. Yet the story could have fleshed out the religion ghosts — telling a non-Jewish, non-Israeli audience why this is the something more than a turf battle over worship space.

Because this article is written from an American secular Jewish perspective  — the Post states its support of the protesters in its lede — only half the story is told. The presuppositions of the author — call them biases or perspectives or relative truths — prevents a reader from understanding the political and religious calculus here. It begins:

JERUSALEM — A long-running battle over worship at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine, was rejoined Thursday as Israeli police arrested five Jewish women who wore prayer shawls at a morning service, contrary to Orthodox practice enforced at the site. The arrests came two days after disclosure of a potentially groundbreaking plan that could allow for non-Orthodox services to be held in the area on an equal footing with those conducted according to Orthodox tradition.

Note the verb being used in second clause of the lede sentence: “enforced”. The Post is characterizing the dispute as one of power — he who has power can enforce his will. What trajectory would the story have taken it different verb were used stating that Orthodox practice is not merely enforced but required by law? The story then moves to quotes from the women activists and an “ultra-Orthodox heckler”, before moving to the political, summarizing the history of the dispute, taking it up to recent discussions in the cabinet:

[Prime Minister] Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to come up with a plan for worship at the Western Wall that would accommodate the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism that are dominant overseas. The move signaled an increasing awareness in the Israeli government that the confrontations over ritual at the Western Wall are driving a wedge between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.<

Sharansky’s solution presented to American Jewish leaders was to build a platform “south of the main prayer plaza; men and women could pray together there, and women could lead services.”

The article closes with a quote from the Western Wall Orthodox rabbi who said he was in favor of the separate facilities and an Israeli reform rabbi who is given free reign to sound off on his views on the Orthodox hegemony of Judaism in Israel.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that Women of the Wall had succeeded in making religious pluralism at the shrine a major issue of Jewish concern. “The Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue,” Kariv said, adding that Thursday’s arrests sent a signal that undermined Sharansky’s proposal. “You can’t make a serious attempt to reach a compromise while maintaining a situation where the rights of one side are seriously breached,” he said.

Still, Kariv predicted that if the proposal is implemented, the area set aside for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall “will become the main platform for the vast majority of Israelis and Jews.”

I am not a Jew and have no dog in the fight between the traditional and progressive strands of Judaism. I am concerned with good journalism, though, and find this story unbalanced and incomplete.

Unbalanced because there is no explanation as to why the Orthodox object to bare-headed women leading prayers (as the accompanying photo from the Post shows) next to a gathering of Haredi men praying. While supporters of change have their say in this story supporters of tradition do not. I should say that I know the Talmud rejects the practice — but I do not know if other non-Jews know this. Without an explanation of the religious issues a casual reader might well assume that this is an issue of power.

It was an issue of power in 1928. On the Day of Atonement that year, 28 September 1928, a riot erupted when British police torn down wooden barriers separating male and female worshipers at the Wall. Protests from Jewish communities around the world greeted this action which in turn were followed by protests from Arabs in Palestine against Jews worshiping at the Wall. The British ban on sex segregation barriers became a ban on Jews at the Wall from 1948 1967 when it was under the control of Jordan.

When Israel took control of the Temple Mount area the Wall came under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the 1980s American and English emigrants to Israel began the Women at the Wall movement which sparked a riot by Haredi men at the wall in 1989. In 2003 Israel’s Supreme Court disallowed women from reading publicly from the Torah or wearing traditional prayer shawls at the plaza built by the Ministry in front of the Wall. However, it held the government must build a second area for women and mixed sex groups — as well as non-Orthodox Jews — on the site of Robinson’s Arch.  Sharansky’s solution is to expand this site — which is not under the control of the Ministry.

Without explaining the religious elements — the objections of the Orthodox or the determination of Jewish women to worship at the wall rather than near — the story is incomplete. Without touching upon the history behind this section, it’s context, a casual reader might well suppose this is just about power.

What does the wall symbolize for the religious Jew or the secular Israeli? Is this a continuing chapter in the saga of who is a Jew, what does it mean to be a Jew, and who gets to say who is a Jew? Written for an American or Diaspora audience — the story is incomplete.

First published in Get Religion.

God or mammon in Iran: Get Religion, April 8, 2013 April 9, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Iran, Islam.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

The New York Times article “Power Struggle Is Gripping Iran Ahead of June Election” offers a detailed examination of the Iranian political scene as the country prepares to elect a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Well written and intelligently crafted, the article, as the lede notes, discusses the:

power struggle ahead of the June election between Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction and a coalition of traditionalists, including many Revolutionary Guards commanders and hard-line clerics.

However a religion ghost lurks beneath the surface of this front page story. A knowledgeable reader will be able to discern what lies behind the political dispute from the text of the New York Times story — but though the information is there the article will likely not inform the typical reader as to what is really happening.  The article does aptly summarize the recent moves by Pres. Ahmadinejad to undercut the power of his opponents. The Times notes:

At the funeral of Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader, he was photographed embracing the former president’s mother, a display that was denounced by the clerics, who forbid physical contact between unmarried men and women who are not closely related. But urban Iranians, many of whom have moved far beyond the social restrictions set by the Islamic republic, viewed his action as a simple gesture of friendship.

Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights. “He more and more resembles a normal person,” said Hamed, a 28-year-old driver in Tehran who did not want his last name used. “He doesn’t allow them to tell him what to do.”

In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,” or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism. He has also said he is ready for talks with the United States, something other Iranian leaders strongly oppose under current circumstances.

Writing at Commentary magazine’s blog Jonathan Tobin argues the article’s liberal/conservative, left/right worldview masks the issues.

The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent.

The religion ghost materialize towards the end of the Times article when it touches upon Pres. Ahmadinejad’s support for Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as the next president of Iran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s support of Mr. Mashaei, his spiritual mentor and the father-in-law of his son, is a particular stick in the eye for the conservatives, as well as a subtle appeal to more progressive Iranians. In messages filled with poetic language, Mr. Mashaei repeatedly propagates the importance of the nation of Iran over that of Islam.

Leading ayatollahs and commanders say that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been “bewitched” by the tall, beardless 52-year old, whom they have called a “Freemason,” a “foreign spy” and a “heretic.” They accuse Mr. Mashaei of plotting to oust the generation of clerics who have ruled Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and of promoting direct relations with God, instead of through clerical intermediaries. He and his allies, they say, are part of a “deviant” current.

Buried in the paragraph above is the theological or ideological grounds the dispute between the two factions. In 2011 the New York Review of Books reported that Pres. Ahmadinejad’s clerical opponents “hate” Mr. Mashaei.

The mullahs who make up the country’s conservative establishment hate Mashaei because he is reputed to be in contact with the Twelfth Imam—a messianic figure who, according to the dominant branch of Shiism, has been in a state of “occultation” (in effect, hiding or concealment) since the tenth century.The ramifications of Mashaei’s alleged “gift” of having relations with the Twelfth Imam are enormous. Most Shia Muslims endorse a dynastic line of claimants to the leadership of Islam that began with Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, who was elected caliph in 656 and murdered five years later. There were eleven more of these hereditary imams, or guides, and all but one of them met a violent death at the hands of their enemies—the forebears of today’s Sunni community, who had rejected the dynastic principle and established their own caliphate. According to the Shia tradition, in 941 the Twelfth Imam was occulted, promising to reveal himself at an unspecified moment in the future to end vice and confusion.

The prospect of an infallible imam who might return at any moment (having miraculously retained his youth) holds obvious attractions for an embattled minority religious community, and the history of Shiism is full of controversial figures who have alleged—or let it be alleged on their behalf—that they have met the Twelfth Imam. But these claims are a challenge to Shia clerics, who regard themselves as the rightful intermediaries between God and the community. What if someone from the community claims to be in direct contact with the imam, and can transmit his wishes to society? In that case, the clergy becomes superfluous.

What are the motivations at work among the various actors? The prospect of financial gain or the accumulation political power are certainly present. But it is also important to stress the place of ideology or religion in the affairs of men. While the outward workings of the dispute between Pres. Ahmadinejad’s faction and the clergy are taking place on the material or carnal plain — I would argue the real battle is over revelation. How does God communicate to his creation?

Which leads to the journalistic question. How much context is too much? It is easy to report on power struggles — but hard to report on ideology, on motivation. I would argue that when reporting on a theocracy such as Iran the theological divisions are more important to understanding the story than any other factor. Can a reader understand story unfolding in Iran without an appreciation of the Twelfth Imam? No.

Christians under fire in Zanzibar: The Church of England Newspaper, March 17, 2013, p 6. March 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

The Bishop of Dar es Salaam’s home has come under assault, church leaders report.

Bishop Bill Atwood writes: “On 2:45 on Sunday morning, an armed gang attacked Archbishop Valentino [Mokiwa]’s home. Most bishops in that part of the world have watchmen either from the Massai or Hehe tribes who serve as guards. That was the case at Archbishop Valentino’s home as well. His Hehe watchman was captured by armed men who cut through the wire fence. The watchman valiantly fought back crying out. The men with guns cut him severely with machetes (called pandas there), but fled. Archbishop Valentino and his wife and children were inside the house. It is clear that great evil was intended.”

The 10 March 2013 attack follows last month’s murder of Catholic priest Evarist Mushi, who was shot and killed by two gunmen on the steps of his church. A second Catholic priest, Fr. Ambrose Mkenda suffered gunshot wounds in an attempt on his life on Christmas Day while moderate Muslim cleric Sheikh Fadhil Suleiman Soraga was attacked with acid in November. Several churches have been burned over the past few weeks and on the mainland a Pentecostal minister was beheaded by Muslim extremists.

President Jakaya Kikwete’s move to invite foreign investigators to help local police thoroughly investigate the killings has been applauded by Zanzibar’s chief mufti, who has called on the government to actively investigate the targeting of religious leaders in Zanzibar, Tanzania’s Guardian newspaper reported on 4 March.  (March 4th).

Sheikh Thabit Noman Jongo said the terror attacks, believed to have been carried out by al Qaeda-linked groups, violate Islamic principles. “According to the Holy Koran, it is not allowed to take life of another person without any reason … experts should dig more to find the source of these acts,” he said.

Tanzania’s Daily News reported that leaflets calling for Christians to fight back were being distributed over the weekend. “We Christians of Zanzibar and people from the mainland living in the islands have decided to organise ourselves to retaliate,” the leaflet said, according to the Daily News. “It is high time we hit back.”

Bishop Michael Hafidh and Catholic Bishop Augustine Shao condemned the leaflets and their content, and urged Christians not to return evil for evil.

Note: This article has been corrected following its first publication to state the attack was on the home of Archbishop Mokiwa, not Bishop Hafidh.

Jesus, the Mahdi and Hugo Chavez: Get Religion, March 11, 2013 March 12, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , , , ,
comments closed

A note of condolence written by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, upon the death of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has been the occasion of some of some mirth in the press. The Washington Post and the Huffington Post have made arch references to President Ahmadinejad’s statement that Hugo Chavez will be resurrected at the end of time. The Washington Post observed:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Tehran today to attend Hugo Chavez’s funeral. But that’s not all — in his condolences for the former Venezuelan president, Ahmadinejad said he has “no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect” Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shiite Muslims, according to AP. Ahmadinejad also said the three men will together “establish peace, justice and kindness” in the world, and that he is “suspicious” about the cause of Chavez’s cancer.

The Huffington Post began its story by stating:

Hugo Chavez had a friend in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who apparently held the Venezuelan leader in such high regard that he believes he will “return on resurrection day” with Jesus Christ and will “establish peace, justice, and kindness” on earth. After Chavez’s death on Tuesday afternoon, Ahmadinejad released a statement on Wednesday to announce a day of public mourning, according to Iran’s Raja News, Ahmadinejad’s official news agency. In his message, Ahmadinejad voiced skepticism over Chavez’s “suspicious” illness and proclaimed that the 58-year-old will resurrect with Jesus one day.

The tone of these stories suggests the Iranian president is a loon. Is that fair? I don’t know if President Ahmadinejad is a loon, but the statement on his website cited by these reports is not sufficient cause for making such a claim. Let’s look at the text and see what it actually says. The translation provided by the Mehr news agency states in part:

Chavez is alive, as long as justice, love and freedom are living. He is alive, as long as piety, brightness, and humanity are living. He is alive, as long as nations are alive and struggle for consolidating independence, justice and kindness. I have no doubt that he will come back, and along with Christ the Savior, the heir to all saintly and perfect men, and will bring peace, justice and perfection for all.

The language is flowery but not inconsistent with Muslim teachings on the end of time. Like Christians, Muslims believe that at the end of time Jesus will return, the dead shall be raised and the wicked and the righteous shall be judged, and will merit a place in Heaven or Hell. How this happens and the role played by Jesus are very different in the eschatology of Islam and Christianity — that is to say they are completely incompatible. Nor are Muslims in agreement on all aspects of eschatology, the final things.

Sunnis and Shiites have a different view on the role of the Mahdi, who will arrive before the return of Jesus.  The Shiites view this person as someone who will establish order in the world and convert people to Islam before the return of Jesus.  The timeline of  particular events of the end are not completely spelled out in the Koran. However among the articles of faith in Islam is a belief in the day of judgment, when the dead shall be raised and all will be judged according to their deeds. What President Ahmadinejad said was that he believed Hugo Chavez would be judged as being righteous upon his resurrection. For a Muslim the fact of Chavez’ resurrection — as is mine or yours — is not in doubt.

The Guardian reports that some clerics have taken exception to President Ahmadinejad’s comments but these objections are about the mixing of religion and politics — and his presumption to speak for God. Who is President Ahmadinejad to claim that Chavez will be accounted righteous?

While it is good fun to beat up President Ahmadinejad, a reporter must take care not to look like an idiot or a religious bigot when doing so. In this case both Posts failed to get the story because they don’t get religion. The could have saved themselves great embarrassment by asking an expert.

First printed in GetReligion.

Piling on Pat Robertson: Get Religion, February 13, 2013 February 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: ,
comments closed

Having apparently exhausted discussion of one octogenarian, The Huffington Post appears to have turned its attention to a second aged religious leader this week and published a hit piece on Pat Robertson. “Pat Robertson Claims Islam Is ‘Demonic’ And ‘Not A Religion’ But An Economic System” is a lazy, badly written story. What it reports is not news, and the tone it uses to report this non-news story is unprofessional.

Let me say at the outset that I am not seeking to examine the claims put forward by Pat Robertson in a recent episode of his television show, The 700 Club, rather I am concerned with quality of the reporting in this article. It begins:

Controversial conservative Christian Pat Robertson doubled down Tuesday on claims that Islam is not a religion. According to Right Wing Watch, Robertson, an elder statesman of the evangelical movement, made the inflammatory claim during an episode of his TV program, “The 700 Club.”

I too love alliteration. But this love is not shared by all. The repetition of consonants as an artifice of newspaper writing goes in and out of fashion. While the New York Daily News would have to fold up shop if it could not use alliteration in its headlines, Fowler’s The King’s English discourages it as a “novice’s toy” — yet The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage has no strictures against its use. In modern writing, alliteration is judged on how well it works in setting a mood, tone or in creating resonance or echoes of other works. William Safire’s Political Dictionary cites good, “evil empire,” and bad, “nattering nabobs of negativism”, examples of its usage.

Is a “controversial conservative Christian”  who “doubles down” Reaganesque? Or is The Huffington Post channeling Spiro Agnew? While not quite in the same circle of writer’s hell as “vicars of vacillation” or “pusillanimous pussyfooters”, the tone it creates is a bit too much. Rather than having fun with language the author is giving voice to her contempt for the subject of the article. An editor also should have stricken out “controversial”. Where his word’s controversial or is he controversial? Also this silly syntactical start sadly slips in substantiating its statements of fact.

What Pat Robertson said is not new. According to the article, he stated:

“Every time you look up — these are angry people, it’s almost like it’s demonic that is driving them to kill and to maim and to destroy and to blow themselves up,” Robertson said of Islam. “It’s a religion of chaos.” He went on to say, “I hardly think to call it a religion, it’s more of — well, it’s an economic and political system with a religious veneer.”

The story notes Mr. Robertson shared his opinion that Islam was not a religion in a 2009 comment in a discussion of the Fort Hood shooting. A Google search reveals the most recent comments to be in line with what he has been saying for a number of years. Media Matters reported him having said in 2007.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law. In the Quran, it says it very clearly. There are two spheres. One is the Dar al-Harb, which is the realm of war. The other is Dar al-Islam, which is that part that’s under submission to Islam. There is no middle ground. You’re either at war or you’re under submission. Now, that’s the way they think.

Why then are the comments made this week newsworthy? His words in 2007 were even stronger yet no conflagration ensued. How many times can you make “inflammatory” comments before they no longer become “inflammatory” — do they become combustible, explosive, or after the passage of time — and when no fire ensues — do they simply become rude?

The tone of offended outrage adopted by the article, that Pat Robertson has said a terrible thing, is not explored. The Huffington Post believes these sentiments are outrageous, but it does not say why. A long time ago I studied Arabic and Farsi as an undergraduate and took a number of courses in Islam. I have not kept up my studies and have lost my facilities in these languages, but I do recall the academic debates over Islam — whether it was a religion in the sense that Christianity or Judaism understood itself to be a religion, or whether it was a religio-political movement that did not bear a one to one comparison with the other Abrahamic faiths. I offer no answer to these questions. But given the unlimited space available to a Huffington Post author for an article, to denounce him without substantiation is sloppy reporting.

And please note, Pat Robertson is not an “elder statesman of the evangelical movement. ” He is a Pentecostal Christian. There is a difference. TMatt has discussed this point at GetReligion before. In a story about voodoo that included a reference to Pat Robertson, he wrote:

Also, Pat Robertson — last time I checked — was a Pentecostal leader, not an evangelical, which is important distinction to make when one is dealing with Haiti and its growing Protestant churches.

Also, out of all of the critics of voodoo in the Christian world, how does Robertson rise, once again, to the top of the list? Why is an American from TV land the authority on this complex and emotional subject, as opposed to Haitian Pentecostals or Catholics who are actually involved in these debates in Haiti and in Haitian communities in North America?

Cynics will say that the answer is simply: Robertson is a straw man, beloved by lazy journalists.

This is another lazy Pat Robertson story that is not worthy of the name news.

First published in GetReligion.

Is Christian Zionism off the radar for the NY Times?: Get Religion, January 24, 2013 January 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
Tags: , , , , , ,
comments closed

Comments given to an American church audience in 2011 by an Israeli rabbi, who stood for election this week to the Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) ticket were a one-day wonder over the weekend in the Israeli press. Atlanta-native Jeremy Gimpel was lambasted by the liberal press in Israel for allegedly calling for the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be destroyed and replaced with a new Temple.

The controversy was also an example of the importance of fleshing out religious ghosts in a story. The American and Israeli press that picked up this issue focused on the political angle. If they had developed the religious elements of the story they would have turned a campaign “gotcha” story about one politician into a better story about the links between Christian Zionists in the U.S. and conservative religious political parties in Israel. Looking into the faith element would have made this a better political story.

Let’s run through the coverage first then ask the faith questions that were left unasked.

On Saturday Ha’aretz’s English language website ran a profile of Gimpel following a broadcast the previous day on Channel 2 of comments made by the rabbi in 2011 to a church in Florida.

The Times of Israel summarized the controversy this way:

Fending off a frenzy of political criticism over a 2011 speech in which he appeared to speak with relish of the theoretical prospect of the Dome of Rock being “blown up” and a new Jewish Temple being built in its stead, prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel claimed in a TV interview on Sunday that he had actually been telling a joke meant to “parody” the extremists who want to destroy the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine.

Statements Gimpel has made in the past, examined by The Times of Israel, indeed show no record of him explicitly calling for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. They do indicate that he considers the golden dome atop the Temple Mount an alien element which he wishes would be replaced by the third Jewish temple.

A candidate for the Orthodox, right-wing Jewish Home party, Gimpel also sports a long history of hard-line statements that would raise eyebrows in many circles in Israel and large parts of the Jewish world, including calling the Jewish outlook of non-Orthodox Jewish movements “nonsense” and questioning whether Israel is truly a democracy because it forbids freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount.

The Israeli political left jumped on Gimpel, with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s  liberal Hatnua party calling for his disqualification from the election for allegedly having uttered hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League’s Israel office weighed in also, saying they were appalled a rabbi would condone terrorism, Forward reported.

The New York Times‘ Israel correspondent picked up the story and it appeared in Monday’s edition on page A9 under the headline: “Rightist Israeli Candidate’s Remarks Cause Stir”. I imagine the American angle — Gimpel is a dual Israeli-American citizen and the Florida setting of the speech — prompted the editors to give the story space. The Times‘ article repeated the basic facts of the story of the speech and fleshed out the Israeli political context. It also carried the incendiary quotes that raised the ire of the left.

During a November 2011 lecture about biblical prophecies at the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs, Fla., Jeremy Gimpel, who is now a Jewish Home candidate, told the audience: “Imagine today if the dome, the Golden Dome — I’m being recorded so I can’t say blown up — but let’s say the dome was blown up, right, and we laid the cornerstone of the temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? I mean, none of you would be here, you’d all be like, I’m going to Israel, right? No one would be here. It would be incredible!”

After this mention of religion, the Times moves back into politics. This was unfortunate for if they had done some simple internet searching they would have learned some interesting things about the Florida church that calls into question Gimpel’s explanation.

A look through the website of the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs shows it to be a non-denominational Protestant Church that identifies itself as being part of the Christian Zionist movement. Among its outreach projects are the Temple Mount Faithful, whose mission according to its website is:

The goal of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement is the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in our lifetime in accordance with the Word of G-d and all the Hebrew prophets and the liberation of the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation so that it may be consecrated to the Name of G-d.

How credible is Gimpel’s explanation that he was making a joke that satirizes the views of those who want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and replace it with the Third Temple?

There are also questions that were left unasked as to what Gimpel meant when he told the Christian audience that if the Third Temple were rebuilt they would all “going to Israel.”

The question “why” a group of Central Florida Christians would go to Israel is not examined. Perhaps this statement from the Temple Mount Faithful website provides context for Gimpel’s words.

It is the view of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful that the redemption will proceed in an orderly fashion according to G-d’s plan.

  • First is the foundation of the modern state of Israel and the miraculous victories that G-d gave the people of Israel in the wars against 22 Arab enemy states.
  • Second is the regathering of the people of Israel from all over the world to the Promised Land.
  • Third is the liberation and consecration of the Temple Mount and fourth is the building of the Third Temple.
  • The final step is the coming of the King of Israel, Messiah Ben David.

The existence of the state of Israel and the return of the people of G-d to the Promised Land is the biggest G-dly event and miracle in the history of mankind – ever. This was predicted by the prophets of Israel. We are calling all the nations to link arms in support of this people and the State of Israel to help her complete this process of redemption. We are not allowed to forget that the redemption of the people of Israel is a condition for the redemption of the earth. Also, we remember what G-d said over 4,000 years ago to Abraham, the father of the Israelites: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”.

The articles note that Gimpel states he was conducting a Bible study on prophecy — but again does not ask what prophecies and why they would be of interest to a non-Jewish audience? By not exploring the religious angle the Times is missing the story. Politicians say dumb things all the time. Leaving the story on that plane makes it old news the moment the it is printed. Exploring the faith angle opens up far more interesting and important questions.

Did the Times simply play follow my lead and not bother with the religion angle? Did they choose not to follow it, or just did not see it? And does the reason for the omission matter? Did ignoring the faith element in this political story leave this incomplete? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

Tibet is burning: Get Religion, January 18, 2013 January 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, China, Get Religion, Persecution, Politics.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed


Let me commend for your reading this AP article by reporter Gillian Wong on the military crack down in Tibet. Entitled “As Tibet burns, China makes arrests, seizes TVs” this article reports on the wave of self-immolations that have swept across Tibet in protest to the Chinese regime’s occupation of the region.

It opens with a strong lede, provides the facts in a straight forward – balanced way, offers good comments from knowledgeable experts, provides the principle points of view — all while being written under a Beijing dateline (which means the reporter can find herself severely discommoded by the government for reporting unpalatable truths.)

The article opens:

Chinese authorities are responding to an intensified wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule by clamping down even harder – criminalizing the suicides, arresting protesters’ friends and even confiscating thousands of satellite TV dishes.

The harsh measures provide an early indication that the country’s new leadership is not easing up on Tibet despite the burning protests and international condemnation.

For months, as Tibetans across western China doused themselves in gasoline and set themselves alight, authorities responded by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, but those efforts did not stop or slow the protests. The self-immolations even accelerated in November as China’s ruling Communist Party held a pivotal leadership transition.

There is a strong religious component to the story:

Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009, calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Speaking technically, (e.g., removing the subject of the story and looking at its construction, language and the reporter’s craft) this is a superior news story — it has all the elements of good journalism. And when you add in the compelling subject matter of religious freedom and political self-determination for Tibet you have a great story.

Where I to add anything to this story, it would be a paragraph or two on what the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has to say about self-immolation. Buddhism holds that human life is sacred — how does suicide as political/religious protest stand in light of these teachings?

My sense is that a reporter writing from Beijing can only go so far down this path before they find their visa cancelled. One telephone call to a leader of the Tibetan exile community in a story might pass police muster — direct quotes or a response from the Dalai Lama would be too much. An informed reader should look at the dateline of an article — the location where the story was written often placed in parentheses at the beginning of an article — so as to understand how to read the story. A dateline of Beijing as opposed to Hong Kong or Tokyo for this story says very different things. Let the reader understand.

Informed Western readers of this article are likely to come to this story with the knowledge the Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. Older readers will remember the self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war in protest to the South Vietnamese government’s policies. Is this the tradition in Tibet?

Not according to the Tibetan government in exile. They released a You-Tube video this past summer that looks into this question — noting the first Tibetan self-immolation took place in 2008.  The video received little news attention when it was released, and I do hope that it is picked up by the press now that the Chinese government has pushed this issue into the limelight with its crackdown.

What say you GR readers? Is an extra sentence or paragraph necessary to explain the religious “why” question behind this story? Or, given the threat of censorship from Chinese government that hovers over all Tibet or religion (think House Churches, Falun Gong) stories, is it incumbent upon the reader to approach these stories with a modicum of wisdom — knowing that he will only hear part of the story?

First printed in Get Religion.

Bishop warns of civil war as Egypt heads to the polls: Anglican Ink, December 14, 2012. December 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Politics.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Tahir Square, Cairo

The political battle between Islamists and moderates may push Egypt into civil war, the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis has warned.

In a pastoral letter released the day before first vote on a national referendum to ratify a constitution drawn up by the Islamist-dominated parliament, Dr. Anis writes the democratic hopes that lay behind the “Arab Spring”, the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, have faded away.

“I cannot tell you how much I am heavy-hearted because of what is going on in my beloved country Egypt. Many Egyptians were expecting that after the 25 January Revolution in 2011 there would be no exclusion for any citizen or groups because of their political or religious stance. Sadly, we are still groaning for this equality,” the bishop wrote on 14 Dec 2012.

In his letter, Dr. Anis described the background to the new constitution, noting it had been crafted by Islamists with little meaningful input from Christians, moderate Muslims or secularists. The lack of consultation spelled troubled, he warned.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Terror attack at base chapel in Nigeria: The Church of England Newspaper, November 29, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Islam, Terrorism.
Tags:
comments closed

Terrorists have attacked the base chapel at the Nigerian Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC) in Jaji in Kaduna State, killing an undisclosed number of people.  While no group so far has claimed responsibility, the twin suicide attacks follows a campaign of bombings and shootings mounted by the Islamist Boko Haram terror group, which has demanded Christians convert to Islam or leave Northern Nigeria.

Government reports state that on 25 Nov 2012 at approximately 1:00 pm a terrorist driving a bus packed with explosives detonated his vehicle outside the Protestant Chapel at the Nigerian Army’s staff college. Services had concluded for the morning and only the parish council remained in the building. Aside from the bomber, no deaths occurred in the attack, though the exterior of the building was damaged.

However, as a crowd gathered to inspect the damage and help the wounded a second bomb exploded.  Reuters reported that at least five people were killed while the Vanguard newspaper reported 11 deaths.  The Kaduna state police command declined to comment on the incident telling This Day newspaper that as the attack took place at an army compound, only the army could discuss the incident.  A military spokesman in Kaduna, told AFP that two bombs have exploded at the AFCSC, but he declined to offer further

Last month, at least 10 people were killed and 145 wounded in the bombing of a Catholic Church in Kaduna, and an estimated 3000 people have died in terror attacks since Boko Haram began its jihad in 2009.

Last week, the Nigerian Armed Forces offered a reward of 50m Naira (£198,000) for information leading to the capture of Abu Bakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Justin Welby joins Tony Blair in Nigerian launch of inter-faith youth dialogue: The Church of England Newspaper, November 29, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Interfaith, Islam.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

The Archbishop of Canterbury-designate has joined Tony Blair and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan in launching an inter-faith initiative in Nigeria to promote reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.

On 22 Nov 2012, Bishop Justin Welby took part in the conference in Abuja organized by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation that brought Christian and Muslim students together. “By talking directly to one another, the aim is to break down barriers, and give the students the knowledge to resist extremist voices and ideology by working together to achieve long term peace for the next generation in Nigeria,” conference organizers said.

“Thirty four years after first coming to Nigeria, and with more than seventy visits since in all parts of this vibrant, passionate, talented and promising country, I am both challenged and profoundly excited by this initiative,” Bishop Welby said.

“It is a service, there is no question of bringing some external solutions, and peace and development in this country are always made possible only by Nigerians. Thank you for allowing me to contribute to the future of a country I admire and love,” he told the young people participating in the gathering.

Christian and Muslim leaders welcomed the dialogue between young people, while Mr. Blair said personallydeeply committed to addressing the challenges of religious reconciliation in Nigeria. Understanding and respecting different faiths is central to securing sustainable peace, particularly where those who seek to misuse religion for violent ends aim to destroy it.”

He lauded the work of Bishop Welby also, saying he hoped “that over the coming months, the work he and my Foundation do will go towards healing the rifts and divisions amongst faiths in the country, bringing unity and peaceful co-existence”.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Self censorship and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 5, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

An International Herald Tribune report about Pakistan seems a bit confused as to what constitutes sectarian violence. Written under the title “Christian Aid Worker Is Shot in Pakistan” the article from the New York Times’ international edition ties together three different stories in one article. But it does not want to say why.

This story with a dateline of Hong Kong is a compilation of Pakistani press reports and wire service bulletins. As per its ethical reporting standards, the Times‘ man acknowledges his debt to these sources, though he did make a few phone calls to provide some original material to the stories. As this is a first report on the incidents I am not that concerned with how complete it is or if all the facts are properly nailed down. My interest in in how the reporter laid out his story given what he had in hand.

And it is the construction of the article and the unwillingness to state the obvious that leads me to say the Times has lost the plot.

The shooting of Swedish missionary, an attack on a Ahmadiya graveyard, and the kidnapping of a Jewish-American aid worker all have something in common (it is called militant Islam) but the Times’ reporter appears at a loss as to how to put the pieces together. Last month the New York Times brought on board as its CEO Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC. It also appears to have taken on board Thompson’s policy of treating Islam with kid gloves.

Here is the lede:

HONG KONG — A Swedish woman doing charity work through her evangelical church was shot outside her home in Lahore on Monday, according to news reports from Pakistan. A gunman riding a motorcycle fired at the 72-year-old woman as she got out of her car in the upscale Model Town neighborhood.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The article then goes into the details as they were known of the attack and then links to the second subject with this transitional sentence:

But early Monday morning in Model Town, gunmen tied up the caretakers of an Ahmadi cemetery and desecrated more than a hundred grave markers, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The Times gives details of the attack on the graveyard, notes that Ahmadiya Muslims are “considered heretical by mainstream Muslims”, and recounts past terror attacks and government fostered discrimination against the Ahmadiyas.

The story closes with the tale of a kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein seized by al Qaeda last year. Details of Mr. Weinstein’s plight are offered and a quote from an earlier Times story is offered.

Mr. Weinstein, now 71, also appeared in a video in September, embedded below, in which he appeals for U.S. acceptance of the Qaeda demands. At one point he addresses Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying:

Therefore, as a Jew, I’m appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish state of Israel, one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf. To work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family.

These three stories share the common theme of extremist Muslim violence against religious minorities in Lahore: Christians, Ahmadiyas and Jews. What then is the problem I have with this article, you might ask?

Look at the second sentence of the story.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The choices the Times is offering the reader are: a) the shooting of the Christian missionary was a sectarian act; or b) it was not a sectarian act but somehow linked to the attack by Salafist Muslims against an Ahmadiya graveyard. Perhaps I am thick but I do not see the distinction between a and b. Are they not both sectarian attacks?

And by adding in Mr. Weinstein’s case, which also took place in Lahore and also has a religious element — an American Jew being held captive by Muslim extremists who is forced to make a plea to the Israeli prime minister for his life — the militant Islam links are all there. But the Times does not want to connect the dots.

Why? Maybe the author was in a rush to get something into print quickly and mangled his syntax. Or is this an example of the Times‘ stifling political correctness? Is the Times heading the way of the BBC and self-censoring its stories?

In March 2012 the Daily Telegraph carried a short item reporting on Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast a show that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although the BBC was willing to disregard protests from Christians who considered its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera as an affront, Mark Thompson, its outgoing director-general, is more wary of giving airtime to Can We Talk About This?, the National Theatre’s examination of how Islam is curtailing freedom of speech.

Lloyd Newson, the director of the DV8 physical theatre company which staged the new work, challenged Thompson to screen his production during a platform discussion at the theatre.

He pointed out that Jerry Springer: The Opera was a lot more controversial because it was a “satire”, whereas his work, consisting of a series of comments and factual statements set to dance, is “a factual piece”.

Thompson’s spokesman tells me: “We are currently working with the National on various ideas. There are currently no plans to broadcast Can We Talk About This?, but this is not due to the play’s content or themes.”

In the past, Thompson has conceded that there is “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam”. He claimed that because Muslims were a religious minority in Britain, and also often from ethnic minorities, their faith should be given different coverage to that of more established groups.

Has more than Mark Thompson crossed the Atlantic from London? While the Times has long been a bastion of PC reporting, its aping of the BBC’s supine stance on Islam is disappointing. The hiring of Mark Thompson did not cause the New York Times to engage in self-censorship on Islam — but I suspect courage will not be one of the strengths he will bring to his new post.

First posted in GetReligion.

Whistling in the dark about Islam and reform: Get Religion, December 3, 2012 December 3, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
comments closed


Has anyone seen a story in the U.S. press about the opening of France’s first gay-friendly mosque? I’ve not come across anything in the U.S. mainstream media so far, but the story has received a great deal of play from the European press.

Now the cynic in me would want to feign shock at the New York Times not having picked up this story as it deals with an issue dear to its heart. However, it is the foreign policy ramifications of this story that I thought would attract the attention of the U.S. media elite — for the underlying theme of this story has been the philosophical principle behind U.S. Middle East policy. All right-thinking people — government leaders, columnists, the professoriate — believe Islam can be reformed and its tenets brought in line with the Western liberal mind. I am surprised not to have seen America’s public intellectuals jump all over this story.

On Friday Le Monde published a tight, nicely written story entitled « Une “mosquée” ouverte aux homosexuels près de Paris ». Drawing from a Reuters wire service story and its own reporting, Le Monde reported that a gay French Muslim had opened a mosque in a borrowed room on the grounds of a Buddhist dojo outside Paris.

Reuters reported:

Europe’s first gay and lesbian-friendly mosque opens on Friday in an eastern Paris suburb, in a challenge to mainstream Islam’s long tradition of condemning same-sex relationships. The mosque, set up in a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk, will welcome transgender and transsexual Muslims and seat men and women together, breaking with another custom where the sexes are normally segregated during prayer. Its founder, French-Algerian gay activist and practicing Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, will also encourage women to lead Friday prayers, smashing yet another taboo.

“It’s a radically inclusive mosque. A mosque where people can come as they are,” said Zahed, 35, whose prayer space will be the first in Europe to formally brand itself as a gay-friendly mosque, according to Muslim experts.

M. Zahed sounds like he has latent Episcopalian-syndrome and uses all the right sort of Christian left buzz words. The story offers a few more words of explanation from M. Zahed, negative reactions from French Muslim leaders and closes with comments from a French academic.

“The goal of these Muslims is to promote a form of Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” said Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, an associate researcher at France’s Research and Studies Institute on the Arab and Muslim World. The push by gay Muslims for acceptance comes as a younger generation of Muslims is questioning some of the existing interpretations of the Koran as over-conservative. “Even though they are still a extreme minority, their views have a solid theological basis. So their message is not having an insignificant impact,” Bergeaud-Blackler said.

The Le Monde story goes a bit deeper. The comments from French Muslim leaders are much harsher than those reported by Reuters.

« Il y a des musulmans homosexuels, ça existe, mais ouvrir une mosquée, c’est une aberration, parce que la religion, c’est pas ça », estime Abdallah Zekri, président de l’Observatoire des actes islamophobes, sous l’autorité du Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM).

Which I roughly translate as:

“There are Muslim homosexuals. They exist. But to open a mosque, that is an aberration because homosexuality is contrary to our religion,” said Abdallah Zekri, president of the Islamophobia (sorry AP but that’s what Le Monde calls it) Observer for the CFCM.

 Le Monde also has some choice quotes from M. Zahed as well.

« Les musulmans ne doivent pas se sentir honteux. L’homosexualité n’est condamnée nulle part, ni dans le Coran ni dans la sunna. Si le prophète Mahomet était vivant, il marierait des couples d’homosexuels. » Il rêve d’un islam « apaisé, réformé, inclusif », qui accepterait le blasphème car « la pensée critique est essentielle pour le développement spirituel ».

Which I understand to mean:

Muslims should not feel ashamed. Homosexuality is not condemned either in the Koran or in the Sunna. If the Prophet Muhammad were alive, he would marry of homosexual couples.” [Zahed] dreams of  “peaceful, reformed, inclusive” Islam which which accepts blasphemy as “critical thinking essential to its spiritual development.”

Le Monde frames the story in a sympathetic light to M. Zahed. He is the underdog seeking to reform an ossified, dyed in the wool religious establishment. The article offers both sides of the debate — M. Zahed’s beliefs and the institutional response. However, I am surprised this item has not received the New Yorker 10,000 word treatment. A Muslim who speaks like an Episcopalian I imagine would be catnip to the mainstream American media.

The Islam of M. Zahed is that of Presidents Bush and Obama. Government policy since 9/11 has been predicated on the belief that Islam is like Christianity or Judaism. Given enough time, money and jawboning, Islam can reform and accommodate itself within a secularist pluralist society.

Le Monde‘s article about M. Zahed and Islam is written from a Westernized Christian worldview. Change the location to Texas and Islam for Southern Baptists and you would have the exact same story — even down to the buzz words and phrases proffered by M. Zahed. How often is it repeated that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality?

However, Islam is fundamentally different from Judaism and Christianity and this difference is what makes it nearly impossible for Islam to reform. And, it is the consensus of Islamic scholars that Islam is in no need of reform. Writing in the Asia Times under the pen name Spengler, David P. Goldman’, stated:

Hebrew and Christian scripture claim to be the report of human encounters with God. After the Torah is read each Saturday in synagogues, the congregation intones that the text stems from “the mouth of God by the hand of Moses”, a leader whose flaws kept him from entering the Promised Land. The Jewish rabbis, moreover, postulated the existence of an unwritten Revelation whose interpretation permits considerable flexibility with the text. Christianity’s Gospels, by the same token, are the reports of human evangelists.

The Archangel Gabriel, by contrast, dictated the Koran to Mohammed, according to Islamic doctrine. That sets a dauntingly high threshold for textual critics. How does one criticize the word of God without rejecting its divine character? In that respect the Koran resembles the “Golden Tablets” of the Angel Moroni purported found by the Mormon leader Joseph Smith more than it does the Jewish or Christian bibles.

Now almost 10 years old, Spengler’s “You say you want a reformation?” remains fresh and his observations stand as a challenge to U.S. government policies that believe Islam can be transformed into another variety of American Protestantism.

Speaking at the U.N. in September, President Obama said of the Arab Spring:

“True democracy—real freedom—is hard work,” Mr. Obama said. “Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted— may be tempted—to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.”

Can Islam, which allows for no distinction between church and state, reform? The academic cited in the Le Monde piece believes it can. France’s first gay mosque will be a symbol of the younger generation’s desire for an “Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” she stated. A contrary voice speaking to Islam’s response to minority voices (past and present) would have been a welcome counterweight. And give pause to those expecting peace to break out all over the Muslim world.

First printed in Get Religion.

Anti-Semitism complaint filed against Surrey vicar: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2012 p 6. November 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has lodged a complaint with the Diocese of Guilford accused the Vicar of Christ Church Virginia Water,with anti-Semitism.

The Rev. Stephen Sizer has been accused under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 for misconduct consisting of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

The Chief Executive of the Board, Mr. Jon Benjamin told the Church of England Newspaper they had met “with the Bishop of Guildford who noted the formal mechanism for complaints that we have followed.”

On 31 Oct 2012 the Diocese of Guilford released a statement saying “the Bishop of Guildford is considering a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure against Dr Stephen Sizer and will be following the statutory procedures provided in the Measure.”

“Nothing else can be said at present, since the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 ensures that legitimate complaints against members of Anglican clergy are dealt with appropriately.”

Mr. Sizer has not responded to requests for comments on the allegations.

In its complaint, the Board said Mr. Sizer “spends time trawling dark and extreme corners of the internet for material to add to his website. Rev Sizer re-publishes such items to support the target of his polemical writing, while at the same introducing his readers to the racist and anti-Semitic websites from where he draws his material.”

Mr. Sizer had kept some “strange company” for a “Church of England vicar,” the Board said in a statement released on its website denouncing his association with “Holocaust deniers”, Iranian government agencies and anti-Israel groups. However, its complaint lay not in politics or “his supersessionist theology.  While we view all of these with concern and distaste, Rev Sizer is entitled to his views and may travel where he wants.”

“But we draw the line at making statements that we regard as anti-Semitic and advertising the content of racist and anti-Semitic websites.  It is a matter of great regret that we are driven to make this complaint, but the Jewish community should not have to stomach material that we see as crossing the line into anti-Semitism,” the Board statement said.

“We are not seeking to have him stopped from his ministry or dismissed from his job.  We only ask one thing, which is that effective measures are taken to prevent him from publishing or re-publishing material that we find to be not merely offensive but anti-Semitic.  We don’t think that’s too much to ask,” the Board said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Buddhism compatible with democracy, Tibetan leader says: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2012 p 7. November 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Lobsang Sangay

Democracy and Buddhism are compatible social institutions, the leader of Tibet’s government in exile declared last week, but they can only survive in East Asia if Western governments engage with China over Tibet.

In a statement released on 14 Nov 2012 and subsequently published in the Wall Street Journal, Tibetan political leader Lobsang Sangay, said U.S. President Barack Obama’s forthcoming trip to Asia was a hopeful sign for Buddhists in the region’s fledgling democracies.

The tour will “attract a lot of attention throughout the region, but especially in Tibet. Mr. Obama will visit Cambodia and Thailand, two predominantly Buddhist countries, and will be the first sitting American president to visit Burma, also a majority Buddhist nation,” he said.

The American President “should use his trip in part to make a broader point about the compatibility between Buddhism and democracy,” said Mr. Sangay, who holds the title of sikyong, and serves as the democratically elected leader of the Tibetan people and the political successor of the Dalai Lama. Like their Burmese counterparts, “Tibetans in exile have worked to build a democracy. Indeed, as with the upsurge of the Saffron Revolution in Burma, Tibetan monks have been at the forefront of a non-violent struggle for freedom in Tibet for the last 60 years.”

He called upon the Obama administration to press the cause of Tibet with China’s new leaders appointed this month at the 18th Party Congress. “Tibetans in Tibet are crying out for justice, including the autonomy and freedom to worship they have been promised by Beijing over the years. Some 72 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, 70 of them since March 2011, and five in one day this month alone. The common cry of all self-immolators is the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans.”

Western engagement with the Chinese government over Tibet would be applauded by the world’s Buddhists, he said, the “millions of Indians, Nepalese, Bhutanese and Mongolians who at one time looked upon Tibet as the source of their culture and home of their faith. Today there are reportedly more than 300 million Chinese Buddhists.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anti-Semitism charges laid against English Evangelical leader: Anglican Ink, November 14, 2012 November 14, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, British Jewry, Church of England, Judaism.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

The Rev Stephen Sizer

Aggressive blogging has led to the filing of misconduct charges against an Evangelical vicar in the U.K.  Last month the Board of Deputies of British Jews filed a complaint with the Diocese of Guilford charging the Rev. Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey, with anti-Semitism.

An author of works on Christian Zionism, prolific blogger and participant in the 2008 GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, Mr Sizer was the subject of a complaint brought last month under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 for misconduct consisting of “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

Mr. Sizer is not being charged with being two-clicks away from objectionable material, but with publishing links directly to anti-Semitic literature.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Newcastle bishop pulls out of EAPPI meeting following Jewish protests: The Church of England Newspaper, November 4, 2012 p 7. November 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Judaism.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

The Bishop of Newcastle has withdrawn from a conference organized by the north-eastern branch of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI) after leaders of the Newcastle Jewish community warned Bishop Martin Wharton that his participating in the two-day meeting in Gateshead next month would end inter-faith relations.

The controversial motion had been a focus of discussion at this summer’s meeting of the Anglican-Jewish Commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel which stated the vote had “caused much distress within the Jewish community in Britain and also within the Christian community as well as in Israel and beyond.”

The presidents of the Representative Council of North-East Jewry, Brian Mark and Eric Joseph, also wrote to Bishop Wharton about his vote in favour of the EAPPI motion.  They were perturbed he had endorsed EAPPI “despite…our grave concerns about that proposal, especially that it would encourage anti-Semitism.”

The bishop also aroused their ire by agreeing to attend a meeting sponsored by EAPPI “in Gateshead in November, which plans to include a session on boycotts and divestment by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.”

These actions make “any further contact with the Jewish community in the North-East impossible,” they said.

Last week, Bishop Wharton said he would withdraw from the meeting “for the sake of good relations between all the faith communities in Newcastle”.

The Jewish Chronicle reported that Bishop Seamus Cunningham, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle had also withdrawn from the meeting.  A spokesman said that “after becoming aware that many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset. They feel that EAPPI speaks for only one side of a complex situation and that, as the conference is to be held on a Saturday, they could not attend and present an alternative view.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Muslim extremists attack Zanzibar’s Anglican Cathedral: The Church of England Newspaper, October 28, 2012 p 6. October 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution, Terrorism.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

Ponda Issa Ponda

Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar came under assault last week after militant Islamists rioted in the wake of the disappearance of a leading Muslim cleric, Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed.

The Muslim Mobilization and Propagation Group (UAMSHO) has been calling for the dissolution of the United Republic of Tanzania and the creation of an Islamist state for the island of Zanzibar.  UAMSHO cadres have also demanded the expulsion of Zanzibar’s Christians, saying they have no place on the island.  In July two rural Pentecostal churches were attacked by Islamist extremists and attacks on Christians have been reported across the island.

On the morning of 16 October 2012 Sheikh Ahmed was seen getting into a car driven by an unidentified man.  UAMSHO reported his disappearance to the police soon after.

Police Commander Said Juma told the Dar es Salaam Daily News the police had not arrested Sheikh Ahmed and “immediately we started to investigate.”

“Unfortunately as the investigation continues, youths started demonstrating by blocking streets with stones, garbage and burning tyres.” He reported a leisure centre was destroyed by fire and riot police deployed to the old city area of Stone Town.

Anglican leaders were warned to evacuate as Islamist militants had issued death threats against Bishop Michael Hafidh and foreign clergy serving on the island.  Unconfirmed reports from Stone Town sent to Dar es Salaam report militants had attacked the cathedral after the bishop was evacuated and attempted to burn the coral stone building.  Built on the sight of the former slave market of Zanzibar, the Nineteenth century cathedral is one of the island’s leading tourist attractions.  It also hosted Dr. Rowan Williams and the primates of the Anglican Communion in 2007.

Four days after leaving the island, the bishop and the evacuated clergy were able to return to their homes.  One priest told the Church of England Newspaper that although his car had been vandalized his home appeared untouched, as the army was patrolling the streets and had restored order.  As of our going to press, no reports have been released on the condition of the cathedral.

Riot police were also deployed in the Central Business District of the capital Dar es Salaam last week after militants marched on the Central Police Station demanding the release of Mr. Ponda Issa Ponda, the Secretary of the Council of Muslims’ Organizations.

Mr. Ponda had been arrested on 16 Oct after threatening President Jakaya Kikwete.  The Muslim leader had issued an ultimatum to the government calling upon it to release members of his organization arrested last week for their involvement in a sectarian riot sparked by claims a 14-year old Christian boy had urinated on a Koran.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

When Worlds Collide II: Scientology and the Nation of Islam: Get Religion, October 30, 2012 October 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Scientology.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Louis Farrakhan

The 25 October 2012 issue of The New Republic carries a story entitled “Thetans and Bowties” that I can’t quite get my head round. By this I do not mean I do not understand what the article says – but I am having a hard time classifying its species.

Is this story about the convergence of the Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology news, news analysis, a feature or a newsy magazine feature?

The article has a magazine opening. It is strong on adjectives, impressions and has a nice hook. While it has solid quotes, it also strikes me as being under-sourced for a 1600 words piece. While it does not display the narcissism that runs rampant in much magazine journalism,  it is a tad too self-referential for my taste. It begins:

ON A COOL, clear evening in mid-September, the Church of Scientology held a grand opening for its new national affairs office in Washington, D.C. Located in a handsome, 122-year-old mansion in Dupont Circle—a genteel neighborhood populated with embassies and well-appointed homes—the office had been established to lobby on various Scientology pet causes, such as religious freedom, prisoner rehabilitation, and the evils of psychiatric drugs. Three members of Congress showed up to deliver words of welcome, as did a FEMA official, who praised the Church’s volunteer efforts after national disasters like September 11. Finally, Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige, addressed the several hundred people in the crowd. Miscavige is 52 but looks at least a decade younger. Dressed in an expertly tailored suit, his slicked hair parted to one side, he spoke excitedly of Scientology’s goal to have a presence in every city in America.

The message of the event couldn’t have been clearer: The Church of Scientology was directing the full force of its persuasive powers at the Washington establishment. But who the Church courts and who the Church converts is a very different matter. And when Mike Rinder, Scientology’s former chief spokesman, visited the Washington church last year, he noticed something strange. “Half the damn people there were Nation of Islam,” he told me. “[It’s] the weirdest, weirdest thing.”

The article then recounts the growing affinity of the two groups, but with the framing round Scientology – the theme being the Nation of Islam moving into (and propping up) Scientology.

I applaud TNR for exploring the issue and this story is worth a read. However, I was struck by the repeated use of the phrase “he told me” in the story. Perhaps I am too hard boiled but I am turned off by first person pronouns in news stories – and the five told me’s here are a bit much.

The research on this issue is also somewhat thin. The Tampa Bay Times has done some very fine stories on the general topic of Scientology – and has also explored the intersection of the Nation of Islam and Scientology — as has the Chicago Tribune and the Village Voice. I’ve written about this work also for Get Religion. Citing the work that others have done is not always necessary, but this is not virgin soil The New Republic is plowing.

One of the anecdotes offered in this story also struck me as being not quite right.

…But the story of how Farrakhan came to embrace it concerns a Nation minister in Los Angeles named Tony Muhammad. In 2005, Muhammad was beaten by the LAPD at a prayer vigil he’d helped organize for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting. The incident plunged him into an agitated, depressed state. A concerned friend introduced him to Scientology, which he credits with saving his life. When Farrakhan later met with Muhammad, he was amazed by the transformation and, as Muhammad tells it in an audio clip posted on YouTube, exclaimed: “Whatever you’re on—I want some of it.”

The TNR writes as if there was no doubt that Muhammad was “beaten by the LAPD at a prayer vigil”. That is not the story reported in the LA Times – and the National Review’s Jack Dunphy offers a scathing critique, calling Muhammad a “charlatan”. Is this account of how Louis Farrakhan began his move towards the Church of Scientology a good story, or is it a true story? And — what does Islam say about Scientology? Does this effectively remove the Nation of Islam from the ummah — the community of Muslim Believers?

Which takes me back to my opening — what sort of story is this? As a straight news story the article falls short. If it is a feature story, it does the job. What is it?

First printed in Get Religion.

Crazy Charlie: His cartoons are insane: Get Religion, September 29, 2012 September 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed


In this week’s podcast Issues Etc. host Todd Wilkin and I discussed two of my recent GetReligion stories: “Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad Cartoon Crassness” and “Foggy Bottom’s ‘pantywaist protocol pussy-footers’.” Starting with the press coverage on the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi, the articles (and our discussion) moved on to the vexed question of how the Western media reports on blasphemy in an Islamic context.

I argued the early coverage on the Middle East stories was uneven.  There were some great stories from the Washington Post, New York Times and other outlets from their reporters on the streets of Cairo.  I also singled out for praise a CNN story that put the issue of blasphemy in context for an American audience — answering the question why the “Innocence of Muslims” movie would be so offensive.

The domestic reporting on the embassy attacks was not as strong.  In my opinion, stateside reporters seemed to view this incident  through the lens of the Presidential election campaign.  They parroted the State Department’s claims the riots were spontaneous reactions to to the YouTube video — even though the same papers’ overseas reporters were writing there was evidence the riots were scripted and pre-planned, awaiting a suitable provocation.

The second story about the cartoons satirizing Muhammad as a gay porn star in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo reinforces the disconnect between the domestic and overseas reporting.  The assertion that this was spontaneous, or some sort of religious flash mob, has not been borne out by the responses to the French cartons.  The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are obscene, while the “Innocence of Muslims” video is dumb. The French government closed 20 embassies in the Muslim world in fear of attacks, yet nothing so far has happened (either in Metropolitan France or abroad).

Other European magazines have joined Charlie Hebdo in printing Muhammad cartoons.  The German magazine Titanic pictured depicts Germany’s former “First Lady” Bettina Wulff, being threatened (or defended) by an armed Muslim.  Is it Muhammad?

The Spanish magazine El Jueves last week published its Muhammad cover showing a line up of men in Islamic outfits. The cover says: “But how do they know which one is Muhammad?”

Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Hilmar Klute argued the Muhammad cartoons and videos — and the responses they have generated have become rather tiresome.

Seldom has satire been so much in the public spotlight as it has these days. Seldom have satirical drawings and cover pages in Germany and especially in France caused such a great stir. And rarely have so many supporters and opponents of satire popped up with a number of somewhat outrageous claims and warnings. Günter Wallraff wants to flood the European media with anti-Islamic cartoons to ensure that the “demonstration of liberty” – and he really means it – is not just the concern of a few friends of freedom.

This vibrant audacity is, in truth, the quivering anger of an over-excited neo-bourgeoisie that believes that the liberal order can be toppled by crazed Islamists and that we can also defend our open society with art. Sharpened quills versus the scimitar.

This is a pity because satire, precisely at a time when there’s so much material, has seldom been as mediocre as it is today. The mediocre craftsmanship of Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, Charb, is not the problem here. What’s sad is the intellectual laziness behind all these sensationalist pictures, photo-montages and jokes.

My sympathies lie with Mr. Klute. There is an air of unreality and lack of intellectual and moral seriousness about this controversy. Those who lived in the New York area in the 1980s will certainly remember “Crazy Eddie”. The discount electronics chain ended each of its high power, high volume advertisements with the tag line: “His prices are insane!”.

At times I feel Crazy Eddie has returned, but this time round he is peddling politics.

First published in GetReligion.

Egyptian bishop backs blasphemy ban: The Church of England Newspaper, September 23, 2012 p 5. September 24, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

Bishop Mouneer Anis

The Government of Egypt reports the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis, has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon endorsing the call made by Islamic member states to ban blasphemy. The government statement comes as part of the Muslim Brotherhood government’s media response to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo by Muslim militants last week ostensibly in response to a YouTube video that defamed Mohammad.

In a statement released on 16 Sept 2012, the Egyptian State Information Service said Dr. Anis had written to the U.N. chief the previous day urging him to “issue a declaration that prohibits blasphemy.”

The Egyptian government said that in his letter, Dr. Anis said a ban on blasphemy would “not run counter to freedom of speech, but it prevents using this right to insult religious sanctities. ‘We believe that mutual respect is the only way for peaceful coexistence’.”

The Church of England Newspaper has not been able to confirm with Dr. Anis or the Diocese of Egypt the veracity of the state information service’s claim, or whether Dr. Anis’ letter was an endorsement of the resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on 19 Dec 2011 condemning the stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of people based on their religion, and urging countries to take effective steps “to address and combat such incidents.”

Similar resolutions had been brought to the U.N. each year since 1999 by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – a 56 member block of Muslim nation-states, but had been opposed by Western states.

However, in 2011 the language of the resolution was changed with language condemning the “defamation” of religion dropped and a clause inserted that reaffirmed “the positive role that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the full respect for the freedom to seek, receive and impart information can play in strengthening democracy and combating religious intolerance.”

The amended resolution received the backing of the U.S. and U.K. and the E.U., though Poland’s ambassador questioned whether this resolution favored one religion over others. After the vote, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the best way to treat offensive speech is by people either ignoring it or combating it with good arguments and good speech that overwhelms it.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan church torched by Muslim mob: Anglican Ink, September 21, 2012 September 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of Pakistan, Islam, Persecution.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

St Paul’s Mardan

A Muslim mob has set fire to a church and looted its school in response to Western acts of “blasphemy” against Muhammad.  Reports from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province near the border with Afghanistan remain unclear on the size and motivation of the mob, however, the Church of Pakistan and the security services police have confirmed the assault and looting of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and St Paul’s High School in Mardan.

On 21 Sept 2012 the mob, a several thousand strong mob stormed the compound after Friday prayers.  The Diocese of Peshawar reports the church was set alight and the homes of its two priests and the school’s headmaster were destroyed.  The school, which serves the Christian and Muslim community, was ransacked and newly installed computers taken away by the mob.

“The damage has been very severe, and we will need to rebuild. We are asking for people around the world to keep us in your prayers,” said Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Christians under threat from Burmese govt, NGO reports: The Church of England Newspaper, September 16, 2012 p 5 September 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
Tags: ,
comments closed

Christians in Chin State worshiping in a makeshift church beside the ruins of their old church, destroyed by the military. Photo: CHRO

The Chin people of western Burma are denied religious freedom and are being coerced into abandoning their Christian faith and forced to convert to Buddhism by the state, according to a new report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

The 160-page report, entitled “‘Threats to Our Existence’: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma” released on 5 September 2012 documents the military junta’s abuse of religious freedoms including forced labour, torture, church demolitions, banning of Christian worship services and forced conversions to Buddhism.

The 2012 US State Department’s International Commission on Religious Freedom categorized Myanmar as a country of “particular concern”, but a reform government led by President Thein Sein which came to power in March 2011 has ended press censorship, ended the ban on opposition parties, and released many political prisoners.

However, “Threats to Our Existence” reports the abuses of religious rights for the Chin have not ended.  The government’s “claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de-facto state religion,” said CHRO Program Director Salai Ling.

“The discriminatory state institutions and ministries of previous military regimes continue to operate in the same way today. Few reforms have reached Chin State.”

Chin students are also frequently targeted for enrollment in schools run by Myanmar’s military which convert them to Buddhism, she said, adding that Christian students are beaten for failing to recite Buddhist scriptures.  CHRO Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming stated, “These schools are designed to facilitate a forced assimilation policy under the guise of development. The schools appear to offer a way out of poverty but there is a high price to pay for Chin students.”

“They are given a stark choice between abandoning their identity and converting to Buddhism, or joining the military to comply with the authorities’ vision of a ‘patriotic citizen’,” she said.

Chin state, which borders India, is home to around 500,000 people – the majority  of whom are Baptist or Anglican Christians.  Amnesty International reports that tens of thousands of Chin have fled to India and still face persecution from the state in Burma.

“The government needs to recognize that a multi-ethnic Burma needs to be a multi-religious Burma,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch. “This is a challenge the government has to face.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Charlie Hebdo cartoons 18 Sept 2012 September 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags:
comments closed

Foggy Bottom’s ‘pantywaist protocol pussy-footers’: Get Religion, September 13, 2012 September 14, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

Wanted to thank me brokenly, I suppose, for so courteously allowing her favorite brother a place to have his game legs in, Eh? [said Bertie Wooster]

Possibly sir. On the other hand she alluded to you in terms suggestive of disapprobation. [said Jeeves]

She — what?

“Feckless idiot” was one of the expressions she employed, sir.

Feckless idiot?

Yes, sir.

I couldn’t make it out. I couldn’t see what the woman had based her judgement on. My Aunt Agatha has frequently said that sort of thing about me, but then she has known me from a boy.

P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves! (1930) p 124.

The 9/11 assaults on the U.S.  consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo have jumped to center stage since the first reports came out on Tuesday. The press has continued to do a fine job of highlighting the religious and political issues behind the protests — this report from the AP on the Benghazi attack is quite good. The latest round of stories also addresses the question whether the assaults were spontaneous acts of religious outrage in response to an anti-Mohammad film, or where they planned attacks?

Yahoo! News’ The Lookout reports:

The deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya may have been a planned operation and not a spontaneous protest that turned violent, U.S. officials told the New York Times and CNN on Wednesday. Initial reports suggested that protesters in Benghazi, Libya, were angry about an online video that mocked the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, and then attacked the consulate, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other foreign service workers. But now, according to the New York Times, officials suspect that “an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack.”

There are reports out of Egypt that the Cairo assault was also a planned spontaneous political action that was awaiting a religious provocation — this was the opinion of my Christian Egyptian contacts on Tuesday. MEMRI states:

On September 7, 2012, Nasser Al-Qaeda, a prominent writer on the Jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam suggested burning down the U.S. embassy in Egypt with all workers inside in order to pressure the U.S. to release Sheikh ‘Omar ‘Abd Al-Rahman aka the Blind Sheikh. In the post, titled “How can the U.S. embassy remain in Egypt while [the U.S.] imprisons Sheikh ‘Omar ‘Abd Al-Rahman,” Nasser Al-Qaeda wrote: “Oh people of Egypt, it is time [to launch] a powerful movement to liberate the mujahid Sheikh ‘Omar ‘Abd Al-Rahman.

In contrast to the foreign reporting, I’ve not been that impressed with the even handedness of the domestic stories. For example, Geoffrey Dickens at NewsBusters reports:

The Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) Wednesday evening newscasts devoted more than 9 minutes (9 minutes, 28 seconds) to the flap over Mitt Romney’s statement criticizing the administration’s handling of the Libyan crisis but spent just 25 seconds on questions regarding Barack Obama’s Middle-East policy, a greater than 20-to-1 disparity.

My colleague at GetReligion Mollie Hemingway today also tweeted a telling question:

Has anyone seen any MSM reports about why conciliatory messages from U.S. officials aren’t going over well with some Americans?

I would however like to single out for particular praise CNN’s story “Ambassador’s killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed” by Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi.

This well written, well researched, finely balanced piece from CNN provides the views of Sunni Muslim scholars who explain why a film portraying Mohammad in an unflattering light would provoke religious outrage.

Violence over depictions of the Prophet Mohammed may mystify many non-Muslims, but it speaks to a central tenet of Islam: that the Prophet was a man, not God, and that portraying him threatens to lead to worshiping a human instead of Allah.

“It’s all rooted in the notion of idol worship,” says Akbar Ahmed, who chairs the Islamic Studies department at American University. “In Islam, the notion of God versus any depiction of God or any sacred figure is very strong.”

“The Prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshiping him,” Ahmed says. “So he himself spoke against such images, saying ‘I’m just a man.’”

Do read the whole story. It will give you a good grounding in one of the religious angles in this affair.

My first post on this story also generated several thoughtful comments focusing on the statements issued via twitter from the U.S. embassy in Cairo. “The Old Bill” asked who had tweeted these comments, while “Ben” questioned the timeline. When did the Embassy release the tweet and press statement — before, during or after the compound was attacked?

By day’s end, these questions had entered the U.S. political arena as Mitt Romney criticized the administration over the tweets and statement. Foreign Policy Magazine’s “The Cable” has a solid story that looks at these issues, identifying the embassy staffer who wrote the tweet — and revealing the anger within the State Department over the content, timing and tone of the embassy tweets and statement.

People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content,” the official said. “Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn’t provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about ‘continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.’”

Despite being aware of Washington’s objections, the embassy continued to defend the statement for several hours, fueling the controversy over it, a decision the official again attributed to Schwartz.

“Not only did they push out the statement but they continued to engage on Twitter and retweet it,” the official said. “[Schwartz] would have been the one directing folks to engage on Twitter on this.”

The State Department has long had a reputation of being disconnected from reality. Spiro Agnew is not the author of the title of this post — that honor belongs to a Democratic congressman from Ohio who in a 1948 speech condemned the reluctance of the State Department to engage with China over the fate to two downed airmen. The actions of its public affairs officer in Cairo has done the administration no good — adding yet another stanza to the song of the feckless idiots of Foggy Bottom.

First published in Get Religion.

Attack on Bible Study leaves 1 dead in India: The Church of England Newspaper, September 9, 2012 p 7. September 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Hinduism, Persecution.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Hindu nationalists attacked a Church of South India (CSI) prayer meeting last week in Tamil Nadu, leaving one man dead and a dozen injured.

On 26 August 2012 supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)attempted to break up a prayer service led by a CSI minister at the home of one of his parishioners in Sasthancode village in the Diocese of Kanyakumari.  One church member is alleged to have invited a friend, a Hindu woman, to attend the Bible study, prompting protests from Hindu militants the pastor was seeking to convert Hindus to Christianity. Two Christians were hospitalized following the attack and the melee spread to the neighboring village of Nadaikavu where a Christian man, Edwin Raj (29), was allegedly beaten to death by Hindu extremists.

The Indian press reports the police have charged seven BJP party members in connection with the attack and are also seeking to question the Kanyakumari district BJP party chief over his role in the pogrom.  A curfew and ban on public assembly was also imposed by police on 29 August to prevent further violence.

The BJP is alleged to have tested police resolve by staging a protest march the next day.  Approximately 800 BJP cadres including the Tamil Nadu BJP party leader, Mr. Pon Radhakrishnan, were arrested on 30 August in Marthandam.

BJP national secretary Muralidhar Rao denounced the arrests saying the incident was a Christian provocation.  “This entire act of falsely implicating the BJP leader and innocent people was part of the attempt by police to please local churches and Christians at the behest of certain political leaders,” he said in a statement to the press.

Mr. Rao said the invitation to a Hindu woman to attend a Bible study angered local Hindus.  The local BJP party chief had been present in an attempt to defuse the tension, however the violence began when members of the Bible study attacked Hindu protestors.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) told the Catholic news service, AsiaNews the situation in Kanyakumari was “rapidly deteriorating.”

“The central government and that of Tamil Nadu must do something. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and the basis of any healthy society. Such hostility and intolerance are a bad omen for India. If the whole population is not guaranteed freedom of worship, Christians could become second class citizens,” he said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Mullah accused of fabricating evidence in Pakistan child blasphemy case: The Church of England Newspaper, September 9, 2012 p 7 September 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Islam, Persecution.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

One of the accusers of the 11-year old Christian girl imprisoned in Pakistan and awaiting trial on for blasphemy has been arrested by Islamabad police for fabricating evidence and filing false charges.

On 31 August 2012, a witness came forward to inform the police that a local mullah, Khalid Jadoon Chisthi, had concocted the accusations against Rimsha Masih, and had conspired to foment anti-Christian hatred.

The Express Tribune reported that Hafiz Zubair informed police that he had witnessed Mr. Chishti fabricate the evidence and had heard him describe his plan to frame the Christian girl.  “We tried to stop him but he said this would strengthen the blasphemy case against Rimsha,” said Zubair in his statement to the police.

A police spokesman told the Express Tribune Chishti “put pages into the ashes, showed them to the people of the area, gathered them to attack the girl’s house and detained her before taking her to the police station. He made the boy Hammad become a complainant in the case and urged the police to press blasphemy charges against the 11-year-old girl,” said the police officer.

Rimsha, whose baptismal certificate indicates she is 11 years of age, although a police medical examination places her age at 13, has Downs Syndrome and is illiterate.  She was arrested on 16 August after she was accused by Chishti and others of burning a Koran.  The girl and her mother remain in protective police custody and a hearing is scheduled on her case this week.

The outcry over the arrest of Rimsha led to an anti-Christian pogrom, allegedly fomented by Chishti, that forced 900 families from their homes – emptying the Islamabad neighborhood of Christians who feared for their lives.

If convicted of falsifying evidence in a capital case, Chishti could face life imprisonment.  If charged with blasphemy for burning the pages containing Koranic verses, he could be executed.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Righteous Religious Indignation in Cairo: Get Religion, September 11, 2012 September 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Politics.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed


There are conflicting reports coming out of Egypt and Libya tonight on the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, drawing upon reports from Reuters and AFP, stated one U.S. official was killed and a second injured in the attack on the Benghazi consulate,while the Washington Post, citing the Associated Press, reported that no one was inside the Benghazi consulate when the attack occurred.

The protests, coming on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, are being described in most press accounts as being driven by religious fervor. The New York Times reported:

The protest was a result of outrage over a movie being promoted by an anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner in the United States, clips of which are available on YouTube and dubbed in Egyptian Arabic. The video depicts Muhammad as a fraud, and shows him having sex and calling for massacres. Muslims find it offensive to depict Muhammad at all, much less in an insulting way.

And the ABC noted:

Reports suggest both incidents were sparked by anger over a film which was produced by expatriate members of Egypt’s Christian minority resident in the United States.

Reports said the Cairo protesters, numbering nearly 3,000 were mostly hardline Islamist supporters of the Salafist movement.

A dozen men scaled the embassy walls and one of them tore down the US flag, replacing it with a black one inscribed with the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God.”

The New York Times added a bit of context about this black flag, stating: “The flag, similar to Al Qaeda’s banner, is popular with ultraconservatives around the region.”

Religion, then would seem to be one of the forces driving the attack — though some Egyptian Christians with whom I was in contact via email today suggested the attacks were driven by Egyptian domestic political considerations. Their argument was that the Salafist parties — the hardline Islamist groups that are junior coalition partners with the Muslim Brotherhood government — are seeking to incite the “Arab Street” to pressure the government to adopt a stricter Sharia law-based government. Religion, this line of thinking believes, is a tool for political ends.

I have no knowledge as to the truth of these assertions, but the first day reports out of the Middle East have noted the religious and political nature of the protests.

The Washington Post reported:

Many of the protesters at the U.S. Embassy Tuesday said that they were associated with the Salafist political parties Al Nour and Al Asala. Salafism is an extremely conservative branch of Islam.

Protesters condemned a video clip that depicted the prophet Mohammed in a series of humiliating scenes. A controversial Cairo television host, Sheikh Khaled Abdallah, aired clips from the video on an Islamic-focused television station on Saturday, and the same video clips were posted to YouTube on Monday. Depicting Mohammed at all is considered deeply offensive by Muslims. Some protesters said that the movie had been created by Egyptian-American Coptic Christians, though its provenance online was unclear.

“We are speaking out and will never be tolerant toward any curses for our prophet,” said Moaz Abdel Kareem, 37, who had a long beard typical of followers of the Salafist movement and was carrying a black flag.

Congratulations to the Post — and the wire services — for being on the scene and doing  a great job in explaining what is taking place.

I would note that the prohibition against the portrayal of Mohammad is a Sunni Muslim tradition and not practiced by the Shia.  My colleagues and I at GetReligion have written extensively about reporting on images of Mohammad. Articles on Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, South Park, and the Jyllands-Posten cartoons have raised questions about the quality of reporting and unwarranted suppositions about Islam. I hope we will not see these same mistakes in this news cycle.

While the press has done a great job so far, I would not say the same about the U.S. embassy press people in Cairo. There response to the violation of American sovereignty, the raising of the al-Qaeda flag at the U.S. embassy and destruction of the American flag by the Salafist protestors on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was to send out this tweet:

We condemn the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims

An extraordinarily feckless statement — even by the standards of the State Department.

I do hope that in the days to come the press continues pushing this story, seeking to unravel the political and religious dimensions of this story.

First printed in GetReligion.

Iran frees Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani: Anglican Ink, September 8, 2012 September 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Islam, Persecution.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

The Iranian Christian pastor awaiting execution has been acquitted of the charge of apostasy and released from imprisonment.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that at an 8 September 2012 hearing, the court overturned Yousef Nadarkhani’s 2010 conviction for apostasy, finding him guilty instead of proselytizing Muslims.  He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, but released for time served.

In 2009, Mr. Nadarkhani was arrested and charged with apostasy after he complained that new government regulations requiring that his two sons, Daniel (10) and Yoel (8) be instructed in Islam in school violated the Iranian constitution’s guarantee of the free practice of religion.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Sex and the Single Indian: Get Religion, September 7, 2012 September 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Hinduism, Popular Culture.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

The BBC’s inability to comprehend religion is not a new story at GetReligion. Often as not the corporation appears oblivious to the faith dimension of a story. I should say the BBC’s religion reporters are a professional lot and there are a number of fine specialty programs that treat faith issues well and when it focuses on religion it does a good job. It is outside the religion ghetto that the BBC fails to “get religion.”

This item, “Virginity cream sparks Indian sex debate”, is an example of the BBC’s failure to comprehend the faith element of a story.

It begins:

An Indian company has launched what it claims is the country’s first vagina tightening cream, saying it will make women feel “like a virgin” again. The company says it is about empowering women, but critics say it is doing the opposite. The BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan in Mumbai reports.

It is certainly a bold claim. As the music starts playing on the advertisement for the 18 Again cream, a sari-clad woman is singing and dancing. It is an unusual take on Bollywood. “I feel like a virgin,” she croons, although the advert makes it clear she is not. Her shocked in-laws look on, before her husband joins her for some salsa-style dancing. “Feels like the very first time,” she continues, as she is twirled around. Cut away to her mother-in-law who begins by responding with a disgusted look on her face, but by the end of the advert even she has been won over, and is seen buying the product online.

This video is designed to market a vaginal “rejuvenation and tightening” product, which was launched this month in India. The makers of 18 Again, the Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company Ultratech, say it is the first of its kind in India (similar creams are already available in other parts of the world such as the USA), and fills a gap in the market.

The article starts off with a few facts about the product but then turns into a discussion of the importance of virginity for women. It states:

… the company’s advertising strategy has attracted criticism from some doctors, women’s groups and social media users, who say the product reinforces the widely held view in India that pre-marital sex is something to be frowned upon, a taboo which is even seen as sinful by some.

The clause that ends this paragraph frames the rest of the story: “which is even seen as sinful by some.”

The BBC then lines up critics of 18 Again: doctors, activists and bloggers whose objections are that the add campaign reinforces a taboo on pre-marital sex.

Objection one comes from Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women who says “this kind of cream is utter nonsense, and could give some women an inferiority complex,” as it reaffirms

a patriarchal view that is held by many here – the notion that men want all women to be virgins until their wedding night. “Why should women remain a virgin until marriage? It is a woman’s right to have sexual relations with a man, but society here still says they should not until they are brides.”

Second comes the doctor with the sex-advice column in the newspapers.

“Being a virgin is still prized, and I don’t think attitudes will change in this century,” says Dr Mahinda Watsa, a gynaecologist who writes a popular sexual advice column in the Mumbai Mirror and Bangalore Mirror newspaper. … Men still hope they’re marrying a virgin, but more girls in India, at least in the towns and cities, are having sex before.”

And then we move to the internet. Man (woman) in the street comments followed by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, “a GP who advises on sexual health for the medical website MDhil” who questions the science behind the product, and observes:

The young generation wants to be hip and cool and try out sex before marriage, but they’re still brought up in the traditional set up where it’s taboo to have sex before marriage. This leads to a lot of confusion in many teenagers. On one hand you’re supposed to be the traditional demure Indian bride, but on the other hand, you don’t want to have to wait for sex because people are marrying later. Temptations are coming their way and people are no longer resisting,” says Dr Nakhoda.

Any comment representing a voice in support of the traditional view? No, but the BBC does provides a sidebar which begins with this questionable statement:

Ancient India has always been celebrated for its openness and lack of hypocrisy, for its modernity and inclusive attitude; but in one aspect, it has remained rigid: the need for women to be virgins.

But closes with the admission that virginity is a religious issue and is:

Considered to be a spiritual obligation, Hindu wedding ceremonies even today centre round the Kanyadaan, which literally translates as the gift of a virgin.

From the start the BBC has framed this story in a faith-free atmosphere.  We see this in the line about some “even” seeing pre-marital sex as being sinful. Who might these people be? Answer: India’s Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis to name but a few.

Were India a fiercely secular society, such an omission might be justified. But it is not — nor are the rates of pre-marital sex comparable to the West. A study by the International Institute for Population Studies estimated that 3 per cent of women had engaged in pre-marital sex.

Why? Perhaps it is because sexuality for a woman in the Vedic tradition of Hindu culture is controlled by her age and marital status. It frames virginity, chastity and celibacy as being appropriate for distinct periods of life. Virginity is expected of a woman before marriage and chastity is expected within marriage. Celibacy, as signaled by an ascetic withdrawal from the obligations of marriage and family life, takes place at the end of life with abstinence being a liberation of the self from worldly attachments. While Tantric cults exalted women in worship, their sexual mores did not extend to a modern notion of female sexual autonomy. While the ideal seldom governs the real, it must be stated that pre-marital sex simply does not work within the Hindu worldview.

From what I have read, discussions of sexuality in India often turn to a mythologized past where it is claimed “openness and a lack of hypocrisy” ruled. This is the Kama Sutra narrative, but it is not history. It is more a product of the nationalist aspirations of the rising middle classes of the Twentieth century, mixed with anti-colonialism, coupled with a dash of “Orientalism” — a belief in repressed Westerners and liberated Orientals. However the Kama Sutra narrative of Indian sexuality is largely irrelevant to an understanding of its modern manifestations and as sociologist Sanjay Srivastava of the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi writes:

is best confined to expensive coffee table books of our ‘glorious’ past that was supposedly destroyed by foreign invaders.

Does the BBC truly believe that it is not necessary to note the objections that might come from religious scruples? I do not believe I am being too harsh. Though an off color topic, the story was not treated in a light tone. It was given the full BBC treatment — 1400 words including an analysis side bar. Yet the final result was one-sided and woefully incomplete.

Bottom line — a poor outing once again for the BBC.

First printed at GetReligion.

Church leaders urge Egypt’s new president to support religious tolerance: The Church of England Newspaper, September 2, 2012 p 6. September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Persecution.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

The sacking of the country’s top generals puts an end to 52 years of military rule and restores the rule of law to Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi told a gathering of Christian leaders this week, the Bishop of Egypt Dr. Mouneer Anis writes.

On 22 August, Dr. Anis along with 12 other bishops and ministers representing Egypt’s  Coptic Orthodox Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches met for two hours at the presidential palace with the new president.

“I, and all my colleagues, appreciated the fact that the President called us twice in less than two months to talk and listen to us. This never happened in the last 30 years,” Dr. Anis said.

“The President shared with us the reasons behind his recent decisions to dismiss the military chiefs and the cancelling of the constitutional declarations they made. By these decisions the President put an end to the military ruling of the country which started since 1952. He also shared his hopes that the new Constitution would represent the hopes and views of all Egyptian regardless of their religion, ethnic background and political views. This will guarantee the support of the vast majority of people to the new constitution,” the bishop reported.

Asked to share with him the concerns of Egypt’s Christian minority, the church leaders urged the president to clamp down on sectarian violence.  “Ignorance and wrong teaching are behind such congestion,” they told the president and urged him to support the “sound and moderate religious teaching of Islam as taught by Al Azhar.”

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood before his run for office, President Morsi has supported the introduction of Shari’a law in Egypt. At a 13 May rally broadcast by Misr-25 TV, he told supporters the Koran would be the true constitution of Egypt.

“Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari'a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts,” he proclaimed.

The Christian leaders urged the president to improve the quality of Egypt’s schools to “care for the education of the new generations so that they become more tolerant and good citizens. We suggested that common values should be taught in schools,” Dr Anis said.

They also asked the president to ensure non-partisan policy and that the security services apply the “rule of law on everyone, especially when sectarian clashes” as well as take steps to improve public order across the country.

“We told the President that we are aware that he received a heavy responsibility at a very difficult time in Egypt’s history and we all need to be patient and hard-working in order to see the desired fruits,” the bishop reported, adding the president “assured us that he is working to achieve the dream of Egypt: to be a democratic and modern country where the rights of citizenship and the constitution are held up high.”

“In the end, we came out of the meeting very encouraged and determined to do our best in order to see the Egypt that we dream of,” said Dr. Anis.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Is it Race or Religion at Issue in Burma: Get Religion, September 5, 2012 September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution, Press criticism.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

What is driving the violence in Burma? Race or religion? And can the two be distinguished from one another. Reports from the South East Asian nation have framed the conflict in terms of sectarian violence — but is religion really the issue here?

The English-language service of France 24 reported that Buddhist monks had staged a mass political rally in the streets of Burma’s second largest city Mandalay. But unlike the 2007 anti-government protests that sparked the unsuccessful “Saffron Revolution”, France 24 reported this week’s rally was in support of the government and against Muslims.

Drawn from an AFP wire service report, France 24‘s headline read: “Buddhist monks stage anti-Rohingya rally”. The subtitle firmly anchored the story to the theme of sectarian Buddhist-Muslim clashes.

Hundreds of Buddhist monks marched in the Burmese city of Mandalay on Sunday to back President Thein Sein’s proposal to deport members of the Rohingya Muslim minority group. Fighting between the two sides has left almost 90 people dead since June.

The article stated:

“Protect Mother Myanmar by supporting the President,” read one banner, while others criticised United Nations human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana, who has faced accusations that he is biased in favour of the Rohingya, following deadly unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine state.

This article is the best I have seen so far on the disturbances. Written from Burma, it offered comments from a leader of the monks as well as concerns from international rights groups. But the title and subtitles given by France 24 do not quite match the story written by AFP.

The leader of the protest march did not use religion as a reason for his march, but race.

Wirathu, the 45-year-old monk who led the march, claimed that as many as 5,000 monks had joined the procession, with another several thousand people taking to the streets to watch.

He told AFP the protest was to “let the world know that Rohingya are not among Myanmar’s ethnic groups at all”.

The monk, who goes by one name, said the aim was also to condemn “terrorism of Rohingya Bengalis who cruelly killed ethnic Rakhines”.

Speaking a dialect similar to one in neighbouring Bangladesh, the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants and the violence has stoked a wave of anger across the Buddhist-majority country.

The video accompanying the France 24 story along with the text of the article quoted the leader of the monks as stressing a clash of peoples who happen to be of different faiths, than a clash of faiths. In the video Wirathu tells the camera that all Burmese “religions, sects and political parties” are united against the Rohingya.

A second AFP story from Burma suggested that race and religion may not be divisible. In an article entitled “Myanmar Christians forced to convert: rights group” a spokesman for the Chin, a predominantly Christian minority group in Burma, stated:

Rachel Fleming, another member of the [Chin] group, said Christianity does not fit with the national view that “to be Burmese, you should be Buddhist”.

Where then should the emphasis be in the phrase “Rohingya Muslim minority group”? On the ethnic — Rohingya — or religious — Muslim — descriptors for this minority group? It may well be argued that this is a meaningless distinction, that the reasons for the Rohinga’s suffering are of secondary consequence to the fact of their suffering. I have some sympathy for this argument, but it is a journalist’s duty to split these hairs and dig into a story. The bottom  line is that what AFP reported is not so straight forward as the France 24 title suggested.

To paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, Burma is a far away country that we know little about — and hence care little about. Why would balancing race versus religion matter? One consequence of the Rohingya conflict is that it has become a political football in the Islamic world, with some extremist groups calling for jihad against Buddhists.

The anti-Buddhist rhetoric became so bad the Central Tibetan Administration — the Dhali Lama’s government in exile — issued a press statement denouncing the use of misleading photos to whip up anti-Buddhist sentiment in the Muslim world.

The Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamsala is deeply disturbed and concerned over the circulation of a misleading photograph in some section of the media showing Tibetan monks in their reports on the recent violence in Myanmar involving Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

A photograph of Tibetan monks standing in front of a pile of dead bodies appeared in  many websites in the Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. This photo of Tibetan monks was actually taken during their relief work in Kyegudo (Yushul), eastern Tibet, after a devastating earthquake hit the region on 14 April 2010. The Tibetan monks extended remarkable service in the rescue and relief operations at the time.

The relevant department of the Central Tibetan Administration wrote a letter to a website in Pakistan (ColumPk.com, Urdu Current Affairs Portal) on 30 July to remove the photo from its website, which it did so the next day. But the photo is still in circulation, as some Muslims carrying the photo during their recent protest in Mumbai on 11 August 2012, appeared in Zee News, a leading news channel in India.

We strongly appeal to the media across the world not to use this photo, which is being circulated by miscreants to provoke conflict between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Pakistani pro-democracy bloggers have chronicled the use of the fake atrocity photo by Islamist extremist groups to inflame public sentiment, while retaliatory attacks on Buddhist temples in Indonesia by Muslim extremist groups in the wake of the Burmese conflict have been reported. Would these attacks have taken place if the Muslim angle were downplayed and the ethnic angle stressed? Does it make any difference? Should the press dig deeper into this story and find out what is really going on in Burma?

What say you GetReligion readers? How should this story be played out? Should reporters worry about the consequences of their stories if fanatics seize upon them for their own ends?

First printed in GetReligion.

Boko Haram violence a threat to the “Nigerian project”: The Church of England Newspaper, August 26, 2012 p 6. August 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Islam.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

The Archbishop of Nigeria has called upon the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to stop the drift towards anarchy as more Christians were killed last week by Islamist terrorists.  Attacks on churches and Christians were reported across Northern and Central Nigeria, with 19 worshipers attending a Pentecostal service in Okene in the central Kogi state murdered by gunmen.

In an interview with Punch, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh said that at the “rate we are going, the country is drifting fast into anarchy and if people now capitalise on that situation, it will degenerate to dog eat dog.”

Anti-Christian violence has prompted some Christians to flee the North, while many churches report sharp decreases in worship attendance.  The Bishop of Kaduna, the Rt. Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon told his synod last week that the latest outbreak of violence had caused a 30 per cent drop in attendance.

On 6 August 2012, gunmen attacked a Bible Study held at the Deeper Life Bible Church in Okene.  Local press accounts of the attack say that the attackers shut off the generator plunging the church into darkness and then sprayed the building with machine gun fire.  Nineteen were killed in the attack, and two soldiers were killed in a firefight the following morning with the suspected gunmen.

In a communique released at the close of the 19th Kaduna Synod, the diocese warned Nigeria was sliding towards anarchy. Nigeria could soon see its own version of the Rwandan and Bosnian “ethnic cleansing” of recent years.

The Muslim militant group Boko Haram posed a threat to the “98 year old Nigerian project”  the synod warned by its “acts of bombing, shooting and other forms of destructive attack on the Nigerian state.”

First posted in The Church of England Newspaper.

Are There Muslim Evangelists? Get Religion, August 28, 2012 August 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Persecution, Press criticism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

How far should the press go to acculturate their overseas news stories — to make them palatable to an American audience while also being true to the underlying facts? NPR Morning Edition reporter Lauren Frayer had a great story last week that “gets religion”, but also brought this issue to mind.

Her report broadcast on Pakistan’s Aamir Liaquat was an example of solid reporting. Her story entitled “Pakistani Televangelist Is Back On Air, Raising Fears” meets the Orwell test for journalism as it is free from cant, has a moral compass, is well researched and well crafted. But were the correct nouns used?

Here is the lede:

Pakistan’s most famous, and infamous, TV evangelist has been rehired by a top station. In 2008, Aamir Liaquat made on-air threats against a religious minority, the Ahmadis. Those comments were followed by widespread violence against the group. Liaquat’s return to the airwaves has rekindled the controversy.

As Pakistan’s media has expanded in recent years, there’s been a rise in Islamic preachers with popular TV call-in talk shows. And they’ve had their share of scandal. One famous TV host fled the country after embezzlement allegations. Others are accused of spewing hate speech

That’s the case for Pakistan’s most popular televangelist, Aamir Liaquat, who’s just been rehired by the country’s top TV channel despite accusations that he provoked deadly attacks in 2008.

I have some small knowledge of the political and religious culture of Pakistan and can say she knows what she is talking about. I encourage you to listen to the broadcast. To often Western reporters are parachuted into overseas hotspots and report on issues they know nothing about — either mangling the facts or mouthing a script written by others. My colleague at GetReligion M.Z. Heminway reported on a particularly egregious howler along these lines committed by the New York Times.

I applaud NPR for bringing this story to an American audience. Given the growing U.S. involvement in the Muslim word, it behooves the American press to cover these stories and not confine them to the ghetto of specialist publications.

In writing about the Muslim world, however, I wonder how appropriate it is to use Christian terminology. Terms such as “fundamentalist Muslim” are often dropped into stories to give Western readers some context or equivalence. In the headline of this story, and in the opening paragraphs the term evangelist and televangelist are used to describe Liaquat. Is that right?

Using the Associated Press style book as a guide, using this terminology is not wrong — but it is not quite right either. It states:

evangelist

Capitalize only in reference to the men credited with writing the Gospels. The four Evangelists were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In lowercase, it means a preacher who makes a profession of seeking conversions.

Conversions to what? To proselytize is the verb that means to attempt to convert someone to another faith or point of view, while a Muslim evangelist traditionally has been someone who seeks to convert Muslims to the Christian faith. Turning to Wikipedia provides little clarity as it defines an evangelist as one who practices Christian evangelism, while the Merriam-Webster‘s dictionary further refines evangelist as a:

Protestant minister or layman who preaches at special services [or] an enthusiastic advocate <an evangelist for physical fitness>

On one level it may well be appropriate to use terms familiar to readers to illustrate a story. That is after all the purpose of an analogy. But is this appropriate when language is available to describe the same fact set in the terms of the culture being described?

A Muslim preacher who seeks to evangelize is called a sheikh or imam. Da‘wah, meaning the issuing of a summons, call or invitation, is the duty of every Muslim to invite people to their faith or to recall lapsed or nominal Muslims to a deeper faith.  A Muslim who practices da‘wah, either as a preacher, religious worker or someone engaged in a faith-building community activity is called a da‘i, plural du‘at.

To a Muslim audience, Aamir Liaquat is a da‘i — someone who seeks to renew the Muslim faith, proselytize non-Muslims, and combat false teaching. Yes, he is an enthusiastic advocate for Islam, but should Christian terms be used to describe this activity when then are Muslim terms to describe such actions?

At the same time there is a danger in taking this too far.

A Saturday Night Live skit that aired on 10 November 1990 and can be viewed here made fun of the mock Spanish some television reporters used on air. Entitled “NBC News Employees”, the skit starred Latino actor Jimmy Smits and the shows regular cast.  The scene opens with a reporter speaking on air from Nicaragua, who says the word Nicaragua in a hyper-Spanish phonology.  The skit progresses with the Anglo characters pronouncing Spanish place names (Los Angeles, San Diego, Honduras), foods (enchilada, burrito), and even sports teams (Denver Broncos) in a ridiculous Spanish accent.

Jimmy Smits’ character, Antonio Mendoza, is introduced to the Anglo reporters and says his name with an American English accent.  The other actors respond by saying his name with an excessive accent and Smit’s character becomes more and more uncomfortable as the skit progresses. He finally states:

If you don’t mind my saying, sometimes when you take Spanish words and kind of over pronounce them, well its kind of annoying.

So, GetReligion readers, is it kind of annoying to Muslim terms for Muslim religious leaders in news stories? Is it too politically correct, or effete — perhaps pretentious? Unnecessary? Ridiculous? A tele-sheikh? Or is it demeaning to the non-Western world to subsume all things into an American milieu? What say you?

First published in GetReligion.

BBC Bias? Sharia law and Egypt: Get Religion, August 24, 2012 August 24, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari'a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…

Mohammed Mursi: Jihad Is Our Path, Death for the Sake of Allah Is Our Most Lofty Aspiration, the Shari’a Is Our Constitution. Misr-25 TV, 13 May 2012. Video clip and translation provided by MEMRI.

From time to time it is important to remind readers (and me) about GetReligion‘s mandate. This site does not seek to discuss religious issues of the moment and their intersection with politics, culture, the arts, economics and the like. It critiques press coverage of religion. The underlying issues are not central to a GetReligion story line.

Nor is this a “gotcha” site. I have made mistakes as a writer and have suffered from the deprivations sub-editors pruning and mis-titling my work. An example of a religion article that is not a proper GetReligion story is this article from the Seattle Times entitled: “Pakistani Christians flee after girl, 12, is accused of blasphemy”.

The subheading states: “A 12-year-old Muslim girl is in jail while Pakistani police investigate allegations that she burned a Quran, a crime that, if she is convicted, carries a life sentence.”

Now this is a dumb mistake. The girl is described as Christian in the article but called a Muslim in the subheading. This is not a question of the Seattle Times not getting religion, but a sub-editor’s mistake.

The mission of GetReligion is to point out what our editor TMatt calls “religion ghosts” — examples of an article misunderstanding, omitting or denigrating the role religion plays in a story. A classic example of this sort of religion ghost appears in a BBC story printed today entitled “Egypt requests $4.8bn loan from visiting IMF chief”.

The story opens:

Egypt has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8bn (£3bn) loan to help revive its struggling economy. The request was made during talks in Cairo between President Mohammed Mursi and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

Ms Lagarde said the IMF would respond quickly, while Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said he hoped the deal could be finalised before the end of the year. It is needed to cover budget deficits resulting from shrinking tourism and foreign investment revenues.

The article unfolds as a straight forward international finance story, discussing Egypt’s parlous economy, its “balance-of-payments crisis and high borrowing costs”, summarizing negotiations with the IMF, exploring possible U.S., Qatari and Saudi aid, and describing the terms of the loan:

After meeting [IMF chief Christine] Lagarde on Wednesday, Prime Minister Qandil said he expected the IMF loan would be for five years, with a grace period of 39 months and an interest rate of 1.1%.

Perhaps you are asking yourself where the GetReligion angle lies? Is this not a straight forward, somewhat dull, international economics story? Yes — but go back to the top of the article and look at the comments made by candidate Mohammed Mursi to the Muslim Brotherhood. If elected he would govern Egypt under the dictates of Shari’a law — which means a banking system without interest.

Throughout its time in opposition and underground, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced Western banking as being contrary to Shari’a. Sayyid Qutb, the ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood interpreted the Koran’s verses on riba (interest or usury) to apply to commercial banking.  He accused banks of “eating the flesh and bones” of the poor and “drinking their sweat and blood” through the charging of interest. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, in 1947 wrote to the leaders of Muslim state calling for them to repudiate Western banking practices in favor of interest-free Islamic banking.

The religion ghost in this story is whether Mohammed Mursi will jettison his protestations about Sharia law being the cornerstone of his administration in exchange for cheap interest loans from the West to keep his economy afloat.

Reuters and the Telegraph made no mention of the religion angle in their stories also, while the AP noted that past negotiations had been stalled by opposition from the Islamists.  The Financial Times reported:

Analysts say the IMF’s loan terms could impede its acceptance by an Islamist government with populist pretences and a rhetorical commitment to thinning the gap between rich and poor.

The religious ramifications of the interest bearing loans were not omitted in the Egyptian press however. The Egypt Independent reported:

The government should not borrow from the International Monetary Fund to boost the country’s cash reserve, the Salafi Nour Party stated on Wednesday.  “Borrowing from abroad is usury,” said Younis Makhyoun, a member of the party’s supreme committee. “God will never bless an economy based on usury.”

Mahkyoun called on Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to find other ways to raise funds instead of “allowing foreigners to interfere in our affairs.” The government should reduce spending, apply an austerity policy, set a maximum wage, apply Islamic regultations to stock exchange speculations and repatriate funds siphoned abroad, Makhyoun added.

Al-Ahram reported the left was outraged too by the prospect of IMF loans.

Dozens of demonstrators, meanwhile, protested outside the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo during Lagarde’s visit. Protestors, consisting mainly of leftist and revolutionaries, called on Egypt to reject the loan.

They chanted slogans and held signs against the proposed loan –and capitalism in general – such as “No to crony capitalism,” “Down with capitalism,” and “Reject the loans.”

“Why did we have a revolution? Wasn’t it to improve the living conditions of the people? We know that the money from these loans is pilfered by the authorities and will only lead to the further impoverishment of the people,” protest organiser Mary Daniel told Ahram Online.

IMF and World Bank loans are notorious among leftist activists in Egypt, as in the rest of the world, as they are generally seen as a means of spreading capitalism throughout the world.

The state-run daily, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Egypt, also noted that  Islamists had been quiet.

Notably, Islamist political forces – which rejected a similar IMF loan offer last April – were nowhere to be seen in Wednesday’s protest.

In April, Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament said that the government’s economic programme failed to provide details on how the key problems facing Egypt’s economy – namely, unemployment and security – would be solved.

Some Islamists went so far as to say that such loans were haram (religiously proscribed) since they relied on interest, which is forbidden according to the tenets of Islam.

Let me offer a historical analogy. In the Fall of 1932 Adolf Hitler toned back his anti-Semitic tirades and played the bourgeois, President Paul von Hindenburg, the army and Germany’s wealthy industrialists. When he was appointed chancellor in 1933 some expected the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitism would dry up as he had achieved his goal of power.

The liberal German-Jewish playwright Carl Zuckmayer wrote at that time:

… even many Jews considered the savage anti-Semitic rantings of the Nazis merely a propaganda device, a line the Nazis would drop as soon as they reached power.

At that time it seemed reasonable that Hitler would drop the anti-Semitic rantings that had helped bring him to power as it no longer served a rational political or economic purpose. Are we seeing something similar happening in Egypt?

Is the Morsi government shedding its ideology, its fundamental commitment to a state governed by the dictates of Sharia law in return for cheap Western loans? Now that the army has been neutered, parliament dissolved and the opposition broken Mohammed Morsi can do as he likes. It would seem to make rational sense that he would drop his anti-modernist religious views now that he has a modern state to run — but will he?

Is there a religious ghost in the IMF story? Is the BBC bringing a Western secular worldview to this story that misses its inherent non-Western faith-driven elements?

Should these two stories be kept separate? Keep financial news in the business section and religion in the Saturday lifestyle supplement? Or, is there a religion angle in this finance story that must be explored in order for the reader to understand? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

Newcastle inter-faith talks ended over EAPPI vote: The Church of England Newspaper, August 19, 2012 p 6. August 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Judaism.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

While formal relations between the Anglican Communion and Judaism appear unaffected by last month’s General Synod vote to endorse the work of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the 9 July vote has seen a breakdown in some local ecumenical relationships with the Church of England.

The Representative Council of North-East Jewry has broken off relations with Bishop Martin Wharton of the Diocese of Newcastle in response to his support for the EAPPI motion.  However, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office reports that a two-day meeting held after the synod vote of the Anglican-Jewish Commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel  had been cordial.

Meeting from 31 July to 1 August at Mansfield College, Oxford, the Anglican-Jewish Commission received papers Dr Jane Clements on “Anglicanism and the Secular State” and Rabbi Rasson Arousi on “Democracy in Judaism’s Political Vision”.

A communique from the gathering stated the commission also discussed “various matters of concern, including the recent Private Member’s Motion that related to Israel/Palestine at the Church of England’s General Synod.”

The commission acknowledged the strain imposed on Anglican-Jewish relations by the Synod vote stating “there was acknowledgement that this had caused much distress within the Jewish community in Britain and also within the Christian community as well as in Israel and beyond.”

However, it also noted there was “appreciation” for the “efforts of all those who were engaged on the issue to introduce greater understanding and a wider perspective. The Commission discussed steps that could be taken to address the complexities of the challenges raised.”

Last week the Jewish Chronicle reported that the presidents of the Representative Council of North-East Jewry, Brian Mark and Eric Joseph, had written to Bishop Wharton about his vote in favour of the EAPPI motion.  They were perturbed he had endorsed EAPPI “despite…our grave concerns about that proposal, especially that it would encourage anti-Semitism.”

The bishop also aroused their ire by agreeing to attend a meeting sponsored by EAPPI “in Gateshead in November, which plans to include a session on boycotts and divestment by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.”

These actions make “any further contact with the Jewish community in the North-East impossible,” they said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Hindu state prayers draw protests from church leaders: The Church of England Newspaper, August 19, 2012 August 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Hinduism, Politics.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

A Hindu priest in Karnataka performing an abhishekha by pouring libations on the image of the deity being worshiped, amidst the chanting of mantras.

Government plans to pay Hindu temples to offer prayers to propitiate the gods and ask for rain for the drought stricken Karnataka State in Southern India have prompted outrage by Church leaders and secularists. The BJP-led state government’s funding for Hindu rituals violates India’s secular constitution, critics charge, and will inflame sectarian tensions.

Last month the Karnataka Department of Revenue released a circular to 34,000 Hindu temples asking it to conduct “abhishekha”, “varuna mantra”, “jalabhishekha and other rituals on 27 July and 2 August as it was “convinced” that it was necessary to conduct these rituals in view of the seveare drought, and “for the welfare of people and cattle”. Upon performing the prayers, the government led by Jagadish Shettar would give each temple Rs 5000.

India’s monsoon June to September monsoon season began late this year and has so far provided inadequate rains, leading to fears of famine. The northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, which produce over 60 per cent of India’s grain crop has seen 65 per cent less rain this year than the long-term average, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in New Delhi reports.

Nation-wide, the monsoon has been more than 20 percent below its average, sparking fears of drought. “Lack of rain is a worry for everyone … Let everyone pray for rain. But we cannot approve of the government spending money to conduct prayers in temples,” the Rt. Rev. John S. Sadananda, Bishop in the Karnataka Southern Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI), told ENI.

“The government should have spent that money to help farmers” affected by the drought the bishop said.

Writing in Mainstream magazine, Fr. Ambrose Pinto SJ of St Joseph’s College in Bangalore said the state’s support of one religious faith violates the Indian constitution.

Article 27 of the Indian Constitution “rules out public funding of religion,” he noted, but the Karnataka government “has extensively funded religious groups.”

Fr. Pinto added the constitution’s “Article 15(1) states that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion. With the grant of money to temples and issue of circular to conduct rituals there to bring down rain from heavens, the State has violated all these norms.”

Indian secularism is committed to the idea of “principled distance” from all religions and strict neutrality in matters of religious practices, he argued. “It is only when the state maintains an equal distance from all religions, the state can put an end to inhuman practices of religions like untouchability, child marriages and devadasi system and initiate progressive changes by framing laws towards communities oppressed and suppressed sometimes with the legitimacy derived from religion.”

The BJP government in Karnataka has abandoned the progressive principles of a modern democratic society and was “taking people back into superstitions, encouraging beliefs and myths. It is in the interest of the secular state therefore citizens irrespective of religions may have to come together to defeat the sinister designs of the State Government,” Fr. Pinto said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,309 other followers