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Assad’s Easter and mysterious attacks on Syrian Christians: GetReligion, April 24, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Antiochian Orthodox, Get Religion, Greek Orthodox, Islam, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Why are Syrian Christians being targeted by Islamist rebels?

The Western press cannot agree on a reason, a review of recent reports from Syria reveals.

Can we credit the explanation given by the Wall Street Journal — that the rebels do not trust Christians — as a sufficient explanation? And if so, what does that mean? Are the reports of murders, kidnappings, rapes and overt persecution of Christians in Syria by Islamist rebels motivated by religion, politics, ethnicity, nationalism or is it a lack of trust?

Is the narrative put forward byITAR-TASS, the Russian wire service and successor to the Soviet TASS News Agency — that the rebels are fanatics bent on turning Syria into a Sunni Muslim state governed by Sharia law — the truth?

On this past Monday, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on its front page under this headline:

Christians of Homs Grieve as Battle for City Intensifies

That story examined the plight of Syria’s Christians. The Journal entered into the report by looking at the death of Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, who had been murdered by members of an Islamist militia in the town of Homs.

The well-written article offers extensive quotes from a second Syrian Roman Catholic priest on this tragedy and notes the late priest’s attempt to bridge the divide between Christians and Muslims. In the 10th paragraph, the story opens up into a wider discussion of the plight of Syria’s Christians and recounts Assad’s Easter visit to a monastery — whether Catholic or some variety of Orthodox, that detail is left out.

While the fighting raged in Homs, President Bashar al-Assad showed up unexpectedly on Sunday in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, about 30 miles northeast of the capital Damascus. The town was overrun by Islamist rebels in September and reclaimed by the Syrian army a week ago.

State media released video footage of Mr. Assad surveying smashed icons at the town’s damaged monasteries and quoted him as saying that “no amount of terror can ever erase our history and civilization.”

The fight over Maaloula, like the killing of Father Frans, both reflect the quandary of Syria’s Christians. Many feel an affinity for Mr. Assad. His Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, dominates the regime while the majority of Syrians—and opposition supporters—are Sunni Muslims.

Most Christians have become all the more convinced that only the regime can protect them after some rebels came under the sway of Islamic extremists who have attacked and pillaged their communities and churches and targeted priests and nuns.

Some Christians still seek to build bridges with both sides of the civil war, as Father Frans did. But in a landscape where religious and sectarian affiliations often define and shape the struggle, they find themselves under fire from both sides.

Many rebels say they don’t fully trust Christians, while regime supporters see those who reach out to the opposition as naive or traitors. Father Frans found himself in that position, say some close to him

What are we to make of these assertions — “some rebels” are Islamists, or that “many rebels say they don’t fully trust Christians?” Is that a fair, suffient or accurate statement of affairs?

A look at the Financial Times report on President al-Assad’s visit to Maaloula on Easter Sunday makes the argument that the Assad regime is playing up the Islamist angle for his political benefit. But it assumes the persecution is real.

President Bashar al-Assad made an Easter visit on Sunday to a historic Christian town recaptured by the army, in a rare appearance outside the capital that shows his growing confidence in state control around Damascus.

The visit also aims to portray him as the protector of Syrian minorities against a rebel movement led by Islamist forces.

The wire service stories also connect Christian fear of the rebels with support for Assad. AFP’s account closes with the explanation:

Syria’s large Christian minority has sought neutrality throughout the three-year war, and has viewed the Sunni-led rebels with growing concern as jihadists have flocked to their ranks.

The Los Angeles Times opens its story on the Maaloula visit noting that both Assad and the rebel leadership are courting Syria’s Christians.

But Assad appears to be winning.

DAMASCUS, Syria — President Bashar  Assad made a symbolic Easter visit Sunday to the heavily damaged town of Maaloula, a Christian landmark  enclave recaptured from Islamist rebels last week by government forces. The president’s visit, broadcast on state television, underscored his efforts  to portray himself as a defender of Christians and other minorities as he  prepares for an expected reelection bid in the midst of a devastating war now in  its fourth year.

Maaloula and several of its historic churches sustained significant damage  during heavy fighting and bombardment. Church leaders say priceless icons were  looted or destroyed during the rebel occupation of Maaloula, famous for its  preservation of Aramaic, a version of the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

“No one, no matter the extent of their terrorism, is able to erase our human  and cultural history,” Assad declared in Maaloula while in the company of senior  Christian clerics. “Maaloula will remain steadfast … in the face of the  barbarity and darkness of all who target the homeland.”

Opposition groups seeking Assad’s ouster generally dismissed the trip as a  stunt or faked. The exile-based Syrian National Coalition sent Easter greetings  to Syria’s Christians “at a time when Assad destroyed the country because of a  people who are demanding freedom.”

Comparing the reporting by Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph on the plight of Syria’s Christians to the the Wall Street Journal reveals the shallowness of the WSJ’spiece. Reporting on his visit to Maaloula shortly after it was recapture by government forces, Oborne writes:

Below, the village itself appeared practically deserted; most of its 5,000-strong, mainly Christian, population have fled since it first came under rebel attack, on Sept 4 last year.

According to Samir, a soldier who said he had been born in Maaloula, and joined up to defend his village, the ancient religious centre “will not change hands again because most of the young men in the village have joined the military”.

His friend, Imad, said there had been 32 churches in Maaloula and claimed that “all of them have been destroyed” – although it was clear from the vantage point near the monastery that in fact churches were still standing, albeit with signs of damage and some burning.

Anger among regime supporters at what they claim are the excesses of the rebels – who include radical Islamist insurgent groups – was palpable. “I can’t describe my feelings because the terrorists are destroying the Christian religion,” said Imad, who said he had been an electrician in Maaloula before he joined the military and the rest of his family moved to Damsacus two years ago. Samir claimed that the rebels had behaved brutally to young men of the town when they first arrived, killing many.

However, there have been no documented massacres of Christian inhabitants under the rebels’ rule of Maaloula and a group of nuns who were released last month after being kidnapped by the Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, said they had been treated well.

Oborne’s article allows both sides to speak, while offering facts that put the claims in context. The complexity of the war in Syria is better served by the balanced but nuanced approach taken by the Daily Telegraph, I believe, than the shy style adopted by the WSJ. While I have no firsthand knowledge of the events unfolding in Syria, Oborne’s story just feels right — it is a first-class example of the craft of reporting.

Where does the truth lay in all of this? The WSJ piece doesn’t feel right to me. I am not saying it is incorrect, but it is incomplete.

As a stand-alone piece on the murder of Father van der Lugt, the WSJ article is great. It seems to get into trouble, however, when it moves into a wider discussion of the causes and political-religious currents of Syria’s civil war. Frankly, I am not convinced it is telling the full story. It leaves me wonder why the WSJ is being shy in examining the persecution of Christians by Muslims?

Silence about terrorism and Islam in the Kunming attack: GetReligion, March 5, 2014  April 24, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism, Terrorism.
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What was it about the murder of 29 men, women and children on Saturday at the Kunming train station that does not qualify make it an act of terrorism? And why is the press so shy about connecting the dots on this incident to the wider campaign being waged by Islamist terrorists? Can the word terrorism no longer be used in polite company?

The first news story I saw came from the state-run Xinhua News Agency which announced that on the night of March 1, 2014 a gang invaded the central waiting room of the Kunming train station in China’s Yunnan province. Armed with knives the attackers attacked people waiting for their trains and police officers, killing 28 and in jured 113 (the numbers were later revised to 29 dead and 143 wounded.)

Police shot five of the assailants dead. The identity of the attackers was not given, but the incident was described as:

an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack, according to the authorities.

The report stated the killers were dressed in black and attacked their victims with knives. Xinhua was able to quote eye witness accounts of the attack. saying:

Chen Guizhen, a 50-year-old woman, told Xinhua at the hospital that her husband Xiong Wenguang, 59, was killed in the attack. “Why are the terrorists so cruel? ” moaned Chen, holding her husband’s ID card in blood with her trembling hands.

So we have a group of black clad knife welding assailants rushing into a busy urban train station and randomly maiming and killing 172 people. The government describes it as a terrorist act and a witness calls the attackers terrorists. Let me go out on a limb and say the attackers were likely to have been terrorists.

Xinhua did not identify who the attackers were, but at the close of their story recounted two recent terrorist attacks. While not naming names, Xinhua implied the attack was the work of militants from northwest China’s Xinjiang province — the Muslim Uighar people.

In the first press reports many western news outlets were reticent in describing the attack as terrorism, or they placed the word “terrorist” or “terrorism” in quotes either in the title or in the body of the story.

The New York Times report described the attack in terms usually reserved for a clash between groups. A “group of assailants wielding knives stormed into a railway station” and proceeded to kill and injure scores of travelers. The NY Times identifies the “assailants” as Uighars, citing local government sources, and states:

The attack, in Yunnan Province, was far from Xinjiang, and if carried out by members of the largely Muslim Uighur minority could imply that the volatile tensions between them and the government might be spilling beyond that restive region.

But the language of the story shifts. “The violence erupted …”;  “the attack would be the worst …”; “The latest attack appears …”; “After the slashing attack, President Xi Jinping of China said …” — why the reticence in using the word terror, terrorism, terrorist?

CNN was equally shy,writing:

Members of a separatist group from Xinjiang, in northwest China, are believed to have carried out the assault, authorities said. The report referred to them as “terrorists.”

The mention of Islam is pushed to the last paragraph of the story while CNN plays the trick of having the Chinese government use the word terrorist.

The circumlocutions were such that the People’s Daily — the official Chinese Communist Party newspaper — denounced Western news reports as biased for failing to describe the attack as an act of terrorism.

The international community strongly condemned this cruel attack, but the coverage of the incident by a few Western media organizations, including CNN, Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Washington Post was dishonest and appeared to be directed by ulterior motives. Emanating from such loud advocates of “the fight against terrorism”, the coverage was insulting and has led to widespread resentment in China.

There was extensive evidence at the crime scene to leave no doubt that the Kunming Railway station attack was nothing other than a violent terrorist crime. But regardless of this evidence, some western media organizations were unwilling to use the word “terrorism” in their coverage. CNN’s report on March 3 put the word “terrorists” in quotation marks, and offered the view that “mass knife attacks” are “not unprecedented” in China. The intention here was to associate this terrorist incident with a number of attacks that occurred in 2010 and 2012, all the more disgusting because these attacks happened at schools, they were conducted by individuals who were clearly mentally disturbed, and their victims were children. None of the perpetrators had any political connections, or any political motives. The Associated Press report used the term “described by the authorities as” to qualify their use of the word “terrorists”. The New York Times and the Washington Post called the terrorists “attackers”.

The People’s Daily article is not above reproach, however. It ignores the religious aspect of the attack and argues that the relations between the majority Han Chinese and minority Uighars are good.

In their depictions of the background to the attack, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all ignored the significant social progress that has been made in Xinjing, instead focusing on the problem of “relations between China’s ethnic groups”

Making an editorial decision to omit the t-word by Western press agencies has stirred up the Chinese government. But where is the religion ghost? Is the demographic fact that most Uighars are Muslims sufficient to start the Islamist terrorist theme for this story? No, that is not enough.

However there is evidence of an Islamist terror connection based on how the attack unfolded that many religion reporters would have picked up from the eyewitness accounts. The first day report from the Associated Press reported that one witness saw one of the killers slash at the neck of one victim. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported:

A 20-year-old university student, Wu Yuheng, says the attackers tried to target people’s heads. One had swiped his long knife and just nicked him on the scalp.

“I was terrified … they attacked us like crazy swordsmen, and mostly they went for the head and the shoulders, those parts of the body to kill,” he said, lying on a hospital bed.

In the Spring 2005 issue of the Middle East Quarterly Timothy Furnish published an article entitled “Beheading in the name of Islam”.

Decapitation has become the latest fashion. In many ways, it sends terrorism back to the future. Unlike hijackings and car bombs, ritual beheading has a long precedent in Islamic theology and history.

Furnish argues that decapitation is one of the hallmarks of modern Islamist terrorism. In investigating these attacks, should not reporters have pushed this envelope? In all of the press reports I have read I have not seen any questions about what the killers said when they were on the rampage. Where they silent? Where they screaming unintelligible words? Were they shouting “Allahu Akbar”?

Asking whether the past actions of separatist extremist groups with suspected links to militant Islam and the unique way in which this attack was carried out point to a religion motivation in the attacks?

Perhaps that is asking too much. If the Western press is uncomfortable describing such attacks as terrorism, how can they even begin to be even less politically incorrect and look to the links to militant Islam?

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

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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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.
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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

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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.

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.
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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.

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

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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.
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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.

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.
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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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.
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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.

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

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Charlie Hebdo cartoons 18 Sept 2012 September 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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Foggy Bottom’s ‘pantywaist protocol pussy-footers’: Get Religion, September 13, 2012 September 14, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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.
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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.
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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

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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.
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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.
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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.

‘No reprisals’ Nigerian archbishop tells embattled Christians: The Church of England Newspaper, July 29, 2012 August 4, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Islam, Persecution, Politics.
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The Archbishop of Kaduna has called upon Christians in Northern Nigeria to “stay and pray” in the face of sectarian attacks by Islamist militants and not respond to violence with violence.

In an interview published last week in the Sunday Tribune, Archbishop Edmund Akanya urged Christians “to pray. We are against the issue of reprisal and attacks because that would not lead anybody anywhere. Two wrongs don’t make a right. What we preach is peace; we do not preach violence. We do not encourage it and we are telling our members not to join in that kind of reprisal. That is the stand of the church on this issue.”

On 7-8 July, Muslim Fulani herdsmen reportedly attacked Christian Berom farmers in Plateau state killing more than 100 people including two government officials.  While clashes between migrant herdsmen and farmers have taken place in the past, the Muslim militant group Boko Haram has claimed involvement in the latest clashes.

Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa, told Nigerian reports his group “wants to inform the world of its delight over the success of the attacks we launched…in Plateau State on Christians and security operatives, including members of the National Assembly.  We will continue to hunt government officials wherever they are; they will have no peace again.”

Security experts have questioned the Islamist terrorist group’s involvement in these latest attacks, but former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell writing on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations stated “whether Boko Haram was actually involved or not, Abu Qaqa’s rhetoric looks, indeed, like he is trying to incite all-out religious war.”

Reprisal attacks have also been launched against Muslim targets, and on 17 July a Muslim school was bombed in the state capital of Jos killing a boy.

Archbishop Akanya said churches in Northern Nigeria were taking steps to defend themselves.  “We are encouraging our churches to put fence and gates; they should disallow cars from entering. They should get security men who can man the place. In many churches that I have visited, the bombers were not able to get access because of these barricades that are there.”

Those carrying out reprisal attacks were not true Christians, the archbishop said.  “These boys that even carry out these reprisals do not go to church.  That is the truth. I know what I am saying because those who go church will put their succor and relax their case in the hands of God and not going to fight back because they went to fight outside of the church environment. If it is self-defense, it would not have been outside of the church environment.”

Christians must not take the law into their own hands. “I do not think, by my conviction and the Bible I read that we have that instruction to go and be fighting people as a church or Christian. If anything, we should all cry to God to forgive our iniquities. Who knows if God is using this to warn us and to turn our hearts back to him. We should look at those facets and begin to think of how to cry unto God. We have seen cases that were worse than this in scriptures and how God delivered the people and it is still the same God. He can still do it for us,” Archbishop Akanya said.

Romney on the Palestinian work ethic: Get Religion, July 31, 2012 July 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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The elected Christian is in the world only to increase this glory of God by fulfilling His commandments to the best of his ability. … Brotherly love, … is expressed in the first place in the fulfillment of the daily tasks given. … This makes labor in the service of impersonal social usefulness appear to promote the glory of God and hence to be willed by him.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism (1905/2002),pp. 108-9.

Reporters on the campaign trail have a difficult task. They must report faithfully on the words and actions of their subject — while at the same time rendering these words and actions interesting and intelligible to their readers. The two do not always go hand in hand as campaign handlers works very hard to make sure their candidate does not stray from a script, keeping “on message” at all times. It is a good day then, when a candidate says something new, interesting or controversial for it allows a good reporter to show his command of the craft.

The presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate has been taking some hits for comments made on his latest overseas tour. Some members of the press corp have been putting a bit of stick about in their coverage of Mitt Romney, characterizing his latest comments as insensitive gaffes. Romney is not ready for prime time is the song playing on the campaign radio right now.

A 30 July 2012 story in the Washington Post entitled “Romney faces Palestinian criticism for Jerusalem remarks as he heads to Poland” is representative of this style of reporting. But in their zeal to play gotcha with the Mittster and focus the criticisms, the five WaPo reporters credited on the story have overlooked ethical and religious ghosts that might well have made this a better piece. And what is better? Better is an article that peals away on campaign cant giving a fresh look into the mind of Mitt Romney.

Let me walk you through this story and show you what I mean. The lede begins:

JERUSALEM — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy has outpaced that of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”

Palestinians said that Romney was ignoring long-running Israeli restrictions on crossings from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which are an enormous drag on commerce.

“All I can say is that this man needs a lot of education. He doesn’t know the region, he doesn’t know Israelis, he doesn’t know Palestinians, and to talk about the Palestinians as an inferior culture is really a racist statement,” Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview.

Though this appears in the domestic politics section of the Washington Post, the Post’s reporters have written a story about the opinions of second-tier Palestinian government officials. An accusation of racism is leveled at the top of the story by a Palestinian official in response to Romney’s comments on culture.

The article notes Romney’s  comments on the sharp economic disparity between Israel and Palestine and recounts the words that led to the racism charge. Citing a 1998 book by Harvard economics professor David Landes entitled “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Romney said:

“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from the book, by David Landes. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

A decision was made by the authors of this narrative to enter the story through the door of response to comments. Why? As we go deeper into the article there are signs the Romney campaign were unhelpful. It moves to denials by the Romney campaign of any “attempt to slight the Palestinians.” The article did note that Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, pushed his boss deeper into the mire: “Reporters pressed him to explain what Romney meant by ‘culture,’ but he declined to do so.”

The action shifts to Washington with comments from the Obama campaign and World Bank officials before it moves on to the next leg of Mitt’s overseas adventure. A diagram of the article’s content and perspective would be: Key Sentence: Romney is a racist Palestinian official claims — Palestinian quote — Romney quote — Romney campaign non-explanation — Obama response critical of Romney — Expert voice critical of Romney — Close as scene moves to Poland.

The Romney campaign appears to have been unhelpful and their man comes off badly from their actions. Yet what is also missing is an inquiry by the Post into Prof. David Landes and his book — which would go a long way toward answering the question of “what is culture?”.

And it is here was have the ethical and religious ghosts to this story for Landes’ book places great stress on the role of religion in economic development.

Two avenues of inquiry immediately present themselves — corruption and Islam. Is Mitt Romney saying that the Muslim culture of the Palestinian Authority is less conducive to economic advancement than the Jewish culture of Israel? Sociologists have been debating the role of religion and economic growth for over a century — most famously we have Max Weber’s “Protestant work ethic” thesis. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper last year entitled “Religious Identity and Economic Behavior” that found in the U.S. there were differences between the faith groups/denominations on their attitudes toward work.

We randomly vary religious identity salience in laboratory subjects to test how identity salience contributes to six hypothesized links from prior literature between religious identity and economic behavior. We find that religious identity salience makes Protestants increase contributions to public goods. Catholics decrease contributions to public goods, expect others to contribute less to public goods, and become less risk averse. Jews more strongly reciprocate as an employee in a bilateral labor market gift-exchange game.

While Islam did not play a part in this study, recent academic studies have sought to include the attitudes toward work in the Muslim world and define an  Islamic work ethic. Is the economic success of Israel due to its Jewish culture — and are the economic failures of the surrounding states tied to their Muslim cultures?

And then there is corruption. It is odd the Washington Post article would stress the economic disadvantages of the security check points and trot out an expert to say this is a cause of the problem — some commentators have taken this idea and rather foolishly run with it even further. Why I saw it is odd is that the World section of the Post has featured articles discussing the problem of corruption for the economic, social and political development of the Palestinian Authority. A March 2012 Palestine Public Opinion Poll identified corruption as a significant problem in the PA.

73% say there is corruption in the PA institutions in the West Bank while only 62% say there is corruption in the institutions of the dismissed government in the Gaza Strip. These percentages are similar to those obtained three months ago. In the context of the recent step by the PA in the West Bank to submit corruption cases to courts, we asked the public if it thinks the PA is serious about fighting corruption: 53% said it was serious and 43% said it was not serious.

Is corruption a Muslim problem or a Palestinian problem? I don’t think so. In my own work I have reported on the problems of corruption within the Christian churches of the Palestinian Authority, and have written dozens of stories over the years about corrupt and crooked bishops from the U.S. to Africa.

Also, please hear what I am not saying — I am not saying Israeli security measures do not have some degree of harm for the Palestinian Authority’s economy — I am saying that there are other factors involved that may play as great or a greater role.

And, I am also saying the Washington Post story missed an opportunity to tell us more about Mitt Romney. There is a hundred years of sharply contested scholarship on the intersection of religion and economic advancement. Given Romney’s Mormon faith and its pronounced views on this topic I would have thought that this area would be explored in any story on culture and the economy emanating from the campaign. What we have is a rather tired and predictable story that advances a silly claim by a Palestinian functionary and partisan campaign officials. It is not really worth the time it takes to read.

What say you Get Religion readers? Did the Post miss the story? Was it justified in playing “gotcha” in light of the apparent unhelpful Romney campaign? With five reporters on the story should it have cracked open the covers of the book that formed Romney’s thinking on nations and culture? Or, because I write about religion, do I see it everywhere? Was this really just a Romney gaffe story? Or, has the press decided the trip was a failure and hence everything that arose from it must be deemed a failure?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. First published in Get Religion.

Pray for conversion of the Middle East, Jerusalem conference urges: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2012 p 6. June 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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The Altar of Christ Church, Jerusalem

A conference of Middle Eastern Christians and Messianic Jews meeting in Jerusalem has pledged to work and pray for  the conversion of the Middle East through building the “kingdom of God” in the Middle East and fostering peace and harmony amongst Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Meeting from 7-12 May 2012 at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem with a grant of support from the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church – a ministry of the CMJ — the “At the Crossroads” conference brought together more than seventy delegates from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Armenia, Turkey, Europe and North America with worship and presentations in Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Hebrew and English.

While the bulk of the conference was closed due to security concerns over Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) protests, two talks were opened to the public.

The Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White and Pastor Ali Pektash spoke to the power of conversion and reconciliation.   Pastor Pektash shared his conversion story also, stating that he had been a Muslim and while on pilgrimage to Mecca he had a dream where Jesus spoke to him – sparking his conversion to Christianity and a road that led to the ordained ministry.

The second public address was given by Taysir Abu Saada, author of Once an Arafat Man, who spoke to the power of Christ to reconcile enemies.  The love of God, he told the conference, allowed believers to rake risks crossing ethnic, political and religious divides “to work together to expand God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in this troubled and unstable region,” a statement from the conference reported.

Delegates adopted a six point statement that sought to evangelize the region, work towards piece between Christians, Muslims and Jews, to protect and advocate for persecuted Christian groups, to foster communications amongst the churches, and to “proclaim that ‘Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’ will indeed become a blessing in the midst of the earth.”

“It is all too easy for Christians in the Middle East to become ghettoized due to their minority status and the many ethnic and political divisions,” one conference organizer noted in an email to The Church of England Newspaper.

“Consequently we often fail to see how God is working in our midst. Our focus must extend beyond these conflicts and only the survival of existing Christian communities. Without ignoring the suffering and injustice in so many parts of our region, we should focus on the call of Jesus to expand God’s sovereignty by making disciples, recognizing the crucial role Jewish believers in Israel have in the Great Commission to bless their neighbors with the Good News,” the organizer said.

“ And equally so, the followers of Jesus in the surrounding nations have a unique role in helping Israel become part of the blessing that God intends for this region,” he added.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Jihad fears for Zanzibar: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 p 5. June 18, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution, Terrorism.
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Church leaders in Tanzania report the government has cracked down on Islamist extremists following two days of rioting in Zanzibar.

Members of the Islamist militant group Uamsho — the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation – took to the streets on 28-29 May 2012 in protest to the arrest their leaders by police.  Emails received from clergy in Zanzibar report that militants clashed with police and burned two Christian churches, shutting down Stone Town — the central business and tourist district of Zanzibar.

In a letter printed on 2 June 2012 in the Guardian of Dar es Salaam, three Zanzibari Christian leaders, Bishop Augustino Shayo of the Catholic Church, Bishop Michael Hafidh of the Anglican Church and Pentecostal Pastor Timothy Philemon of the Pentecostal Church, warned that Muslim fanatics were plotting to destroy all churches and church related buildings – schools, convents, cemeteries and heath centers on the island.  Members of their churches were receiving mobile text messages warning them to leave the island or face death.

The Indian Ocean archipelago of about 1 million people merged with mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form the modern Tanzania, but Zanzibar retains its own president and parliament. Tanzania is set to introduce a new constitution in 2014, and Uamsho has urged voters to push for dissolution of the union with Tanganyika.

After meeting with government ministers on 31 May 2012, Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa read a statement to the press on behalf of the country’s Christian leaders.  “Our followers are living in fear, because of what happened to our churches some few days,” the Anglican archbishop said, adding “there is also displeasure, on the part [of Christians] over government inaction and failure to take those responsible to court,” he said.

“This is not the first time” he noted, stating that “25 churches have been burned so far in different parts of Zanzibar, and the government is quiet, despite the initiatives taken to report the incidents to the police. We don’t know who should bear the blame.”

The archbishop, who is also chairman of the Tanzanian council of churches, added that government inaction had created the “impression that these acts have government blessing.”

“The government is duty-bound to extensively trace them and bring them to book – in order to restore public trust and confidence in the government,” he said.

Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein responded on 1 June saying his government was “conducting a thorough assessment before taking necessary measures, including the possibility of compensation.”

Speaking to the press, Dr. Shein said the government had banned unauthorized religious meetings, assemblies and demonstrations as a threat to public order.  “We will not allow the peace and harmony created by the National Unity Government to be threatened by a few individuals who are using a religious umbrella” to shelter their political ambitions.

An Anglican clergyman who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from extremists told CEN the dispute appears to have died down. Zanzibar “is always fragile and relations between the ruling Muslims and religious minorities touchy,” he said.

“It doesn’t help for the media in general to exaggerate and sensationalize” as it “puts more pressure on the Christians” which “can really cause problems.”

The roots of the current dispute, he said were political.  Opposition leaders want an independent Zanzibar.   “They’re being particularly problematic during this time of constitutional review,” he clergyman said, adding that at present “Christian leaders are asking for the protections promised by the president” of Zanzibar.

Dr. Shein “has always been a public advocate for religious freedom and was very gracious in his speech last month at the consecration of the new Anglican bishop.”

However, the “situation generally is stable now everything is calm [with] things moving as usual” sources in Zanzibar report.  The government has intervened “and they are dealing accordingly with the Muslim group which caused the riot.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Akinola warns of a Nigerian jihad from Boko Haram: The Church of England Newspaper, June 10, 2012 p 7. June 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution, Terrorism.
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The former Primate of Nigeria has rejected claims that the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria is driven by economic deprivation or tribal jealousies.

Speaking to a congregation that included the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, and its political elites, Archbishop Peter Akinola lambasted the country’s parlous political state. Human sin, tribal passions and Britain’s determination to get out of Africa before it had prepared the new nation for independence had led to the present state of affairs.

“Shun all political claims that Boko Haram is not against Christianity. It is,” Archbishop Akinola said on 27 May 2012 in a sermon at the National Christian Centre in Abuja in celebration of Democracy Day.

The war has been “going on since 1966. They are committed to Jihad. You can’t stop them it is their religious obligations. They have been doing it for 36 years; they have not stopped and they won’t stop,” Archbishop Akinola said.

Recent press reports in the West have argued that the Boko Haram insurgency is not, at heart, a religious war.  On 24 May 2012 the Voice of America reported that a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch claimed that while the conflict may be along ethnic and religious lines, but the “root of the fighting is often political and economic.”

“We have ignored the truth. Boko Haram must be seen in the right context. It is a continuation of the past,” the archbishop said.

“Boko Haram means Jews and Christians are abomination. They have been unleashing terror since 1966 and they have a mandate. This problem is not peculiar to Nigeria, many other stakeholders are disenchanted but waiting for their time. They want to eliminate infidels which includes you Mr. President,” the archbishop said to the congregation, which included Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan.

Archbishop Akinola warned the country’s leaders gathered for the Democracy Day service that Nigeria had lost its way.  “We are still disunited.  Leaders are interested in their own, no national identity. We are blood thirty and bloodletting society with no regards for sanctity of life. Nigeria is at war against itself. Selfish politicians are doing all things on basis of political exigency.”

Nigeria’s former colonial master had done the country no favours by its hasty grant of independence, the archbishop said.  “A word of truth about our past amalgamation, there was no consent from the South and North. It was done for political and economic gains of the colonials. Our leaders failed to gather the authentic representatives of Nigerians to seek the kind of independent Nigeria they want.”

“This would have led to a new Nigeria,” the archbishop said according to accounts of his speech published in the Nigeria press.

“The euphoria of independence was consequently short-lived,” he said and the “political atmospheres” were now “full of acrimony. There is tribal war. The country has been fragmented with inhibitions to progress.”

The general election of first republic was based on a “faulty census leading to blood-letting that led to the [Biafran Civil War],” he said, as national unity cannot be maintained by “military fiat.”

The 1970s and 1980s in Nigeria were “characterised by unrest, military rule, coup, and armed robbery.” The year 1999 saw the “return of democracy,” but since that time “rather than dealing with the causes, successive governments have been hiding from the truth putting new wine in old bottle.”

“Insecurity has been with us. About 30 crises so far has occurred in the country leading to religious and ethnic cleansing. In 1980 another religious riot with Christians killing took place. In all cases, we have failed to address the causes,” the archbishop warned.

Nigeria’s structural problems were also coupled with the moral failings of its people. “Corruption, the hydra-headed monster, has taken over the soul of Nigeria,” Archbishop Akinola said.

“Officials are stealing us blind,” he said, and they scavenge the country’s “carcass” for their own ends.  Government anti-corruption campaigns were “selective” and short lived. The police and judiciary did not have “clean hands” while the country’s universities had become diploma mills giving honours and “questionable titles” to the powerful.  All of this “will continue because government pays lip service to the fight against corruption,” the archbishop said.

In his address to the gathering, President Jonathan disputed the predictions of further chaos made by Archbishop Akinola. “Even though people are predicting the disintegration of Nigeria, let me assure you that Nigeria will not disintegrate. Though we have these challenges, but we will succeed,” he said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

USA Today’s Islam-free 9/11: Get Religion, May 29, 2012 May 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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She was dead.

Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell, was dead.

Her little bird — a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed — was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever.

Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)

The Anglo-Irish playwright and bon vivant, Oscar Wilde, once observed that “one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.”

On the surface, Wilde’s aphorism is wicked. Laughing at the death of an impossibly good child is a heartless act. Yet the strength of Wilde’s remarks — and their repetition to this day — comes not from the discovery that Little Nell’s death was funny. Rather it is the realization that Dicken’s depiction of Little Nell’s death was aesthetically flawed. So over the top, so one-dimensional that the power of the narrative collapsed under the weight of its treacly sentiment. It was bad art.

Reading an article in USA Today entitled: “Mosque projects face resistance in some U.S. communities” elicited the same response from me as Little Nell’s death did for Wilde.

One must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the persecution of Muslims in America as depicted by USA Today. This article is so bad, so one-sided, so inept that its ham-handed attempt to elicit sympathy by condemning prejudice felt by some Muslims in America brought me to tears — of laughter.

The article begins:

CHICAGO – Mohammed Labadi has a lot at stake when the DeKalb City Council votes Tuesday on a request from the Islamic Society of Northern Illinois University to build a two-story mosque.

Labadi, a businessman and Islamic Society board member, wants a bigger mosque to replace the small house where local Muslims now worship. He also hopes for affirmation that his neighbors and city officials have no fear of the Muslim community.

The article offers a protestation by Mr. Labadi of his American credentials — and then notes the zoning commission has approved the request for a new mosque. An inaspicious beginning for an article on prejudice against Muslims — but USA Today has a narrative arc in mind that will not be deflected by the facts in its lede.

The article then takes a bizarre turn. Starting with the plea by Mr. Labadi not to “look at me just as a Muslim, look at me as an American” and to “take the unfortunate stereotypes about Muslims out of the picture” the article then removes Islam from 9/11. It states:

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which were carried out by hijackers from Arab countries, animosity toward Muslims sometimes has taken the form of opposition to construction of mosques and other Islamic facilities.

What is the author trying to say? Is it that 9/11 was really an Arab affair that has spawned unfortunate repercussions against Muslims? That Islam has nothing to do with it?

The article reports on “anti-mosque activity” in more than 25 states since 9/11, citing the ACLU as its source of information, and then quotes the director of the ACLU’s freedom of religion program as saying that some mosque opponents raise concerns about traffic and parking.

A lawyer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) then enters the story, claiming prejudice — not zoning issues — lay behind the decision by DuPage County, Ill., to block a construction permit for a mosque.

Some DuPage County residents who objected to the permit “raised allegations of terrorism,” Vodak says. “The post-9/11 atmosphere has created a lot of fear and hysteria about Muslim institutions.”

The article does offer the voice of a neighbor to the proposed mosque, objecting to the building being located in a residential area — and then offers anecdotes of zoning concerns over proposed mosques in Connecticut and a successful zoning application in Wisconsin. The article then ends with comments from two Muslims a la Rodney King — “Why can’t we all get along”.

Still, says Othman Atta, the Islamic Society’s executive director, some opponents said the mosque would teach violence and impose Islamic law. “The level of knowledge about Muslims is pretty abysmal,” he says. “People, if they don’t understand something, they tend to fear it.”

Ebrahim Moosa, a Duke University professor of religion and Islamic studies, worries that discrimination against Muslims is growing. “Opposition to mosques,” he says, “is not a misunderstanding, because reasonable people can talk and mutually educate.”

Why the laughter? Why the sniggering? Because this is a mess of an article.

The news reported in this story is that two mosques have received zoning approval and two mosques have been denied zoning approval. The expert commentary offered in this story, however, comes only from those condemning anti-Muslim prejudice and ignorance — nothing from experts on religion and zoning.

A further problem with the story structure is that the article fails to offer any proven examples of prejudice and ignorance. We are offered a few factual crumbs courtesy of the ACLU, but they are not placed in any sort of context. How many mosques have been vandalized? Are Muslim hate crimes on the increase or decrease? Are hate crimes against Jews, Sikhs, Buddhist, Christians on the increase or decrease as well? What sort of Muslims are we talking about? Sunni, Shia, Ismaili, Ahmadiyya? Are mosques backed by Saudi money being built, but not those of other schools?

And CAIR? In an article complaining about the linkage between Islam and terrorism it is a bit much to have a group some members of Congress believe is a terrorist front organization put forward as a source without having any sort of context explaining from whom we are hearing.

This article is full of cliches and stock metaphors and uses these trite devices as well as an appeal to sentiment to advance an argument that it does neglects to support with facts.

Which takes me back to the death of Little Nell.  The Old Curiosity Shop presented an unrealistic picture of death. Dickens offered the reader a child who on its death bed is uncomplaining — who as death approaches only increases in earnestness and gratitude for the little she has received in this life. There is no suffering, no pain, no loss. The only action found in the pages describing the death of Little Nell is the fluttering of an innocent bird hoping about its cage as life slips away.

Dickens depiction of death was so unconvincing, so trite and contrived that it was funny. Wilde’s bon mot was not heartless but an apt judgment on aesthetic failure — on the failure of Dickens as an artist in this passage from The Old Curiosity Shop.

While I concede that this article has no pretensions to being art, it too is an aesthetic failure. It is also a professional (journalistic) failure and a moral failure. It seeks not to establish the truth but to prove a point. All it succeeds in doing, however, is to glorify sentiment.

Oscar Wilde in a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas described the sentimentalist as one who

desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it … Even the finest and most self-sacrificing emotions have to be paid for. Strangely enough, that is what makes them fine. The intellectual and emotional life of ordinary people is a very contemptible affair …. And remember that the sentimentalist is always a cynic at heart. Indeed sentimentality is merely the bank holiday of cynicism.

By crafting the story on a foundation of sentiment rather than fact, USA Today fell short in its reporting. There is a story to be told on the acculturation of Muslims in America in the wake of 9/11. What say you GetReligion readers, does this article help tell this story?

Mosque image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

When worlds collide – Scientology and the Nation of Islam: Get Religion, May 26, 2012 May 26, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Education, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism, Scientology.
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The Tampa Bay Times reports the Pinellas County Florida Board of Education has revoked the license of a charter school that uses a religion-based curriculum after its students test poorly in the state-wide FCAT exams (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test).

By itself this summary is not likely to generate more than local or even parental interest. However the title of the article contains a noun that perked my interest; “FCAT scores at Pinellas charter school that used Scientology ‘study tech’ are among lowest in Tampa Bay”, while the lede pulled me into the story.

DUNEDIN — When Hanan Islam and her management company took control of the struggling Life Force Arts and Technology charter school here last summer, she passed out lesson plans based on the work of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

She said Hubbard’s “study technology” would enlighten children and help save the school. But grades from Florida’s standardized FCAT test released Thursday show that, in one year under Islam’s management, Life Force students’ education suffered.

The article did an excellent job in outlining the local issues involved and was able to pull strong quotes from supporters of the school, teachers and the school district. This comment from school district —

“It’s a classic case of how a management company mismanaged this school, was paid an extraordinarily large fee for dismal services, and the ultimate victims were those poor children,” said Dot Clark, the Pinellas County school district’s coordinator of partnership schools.

Islam’s company, Clark added, “promised the world and gave them nothing. … It breaks my heart.”

— is nicely paired with this one from a teacher:

Some blamed students’ poor marks on instability due to Islam’s repeated firings of, as third-grade teacher Lynne Kittredge said, “good, certified teachers, because they wouldn’t accept her Scientology stuff.”

“We worked our butts off. We did after-school, we did tutoring; we weren’t even being paid. But I’m not a miracle worker,” said Kittredge, who was hired in February. “By the time we came in, the best we could do was damage control.”

And stands well with these comments from the school:

Life Force board chairman Louis Muhammad, appointed by Islam in January, defended her management of the school, saying students’ scores would have drastically improved if study tech had been given more of a chance.

He also blamed the low scores on the Tampa Bay Times, saying the newspaper’s coverage of Life Force’s problems “caused confusion and, in other words, hindered the school.”

“You all put out this confusion on religion, and we’re not talking religion: we’re talking technology,” Muhammad said. “If you all had left the school alone, it would have been better.”

This aspect of the article is very well done. I applaud reporter Drew Harwell for doing a thorough job.

But I stopped short of giving full marks as the religion ghosts in this story were rattling their chains. For the casual reader two screamed out for attention: What is a Scientology-based curriculum and are we dealing with Muslim Scientologists?

I have no idea what a Scientology-based curriculum might be. The Washington DC Fox affiliate in 2010 ran a brief story over parent concerns over “study technology” after the DC school district approved the Scientology-based education program. The Tampa Bay Times article reports the school board chairman says this dispute is not over religion but technology. What does Mr. Muhammad mean by that?

And, the names in this story, Mr. Muhammad, Ms. Islam — to my eyes do not seem to belong to a Scientology story.

I checked Mr. Harwell’s past articles for the Tampa Bay Times and learned the failing was not the newspaper’s, but mine. I had come late into the game and had not read his February story that reported on parents complaining about the takeover of the school by the Nation of Islam and Scientologists.

Linking on its website or mentioning its past stories in the body of the article would have helped bring me (and I assume other readers) up to speed on the story. But I should say the Tampa Bay Times has done a superior job in reporting on Scientology and this article is further evidence of their fine work.

I have seldom reported on Scientology as it has not appeared on the radar that frequently in Europe. Reporting on the foibles of the Church of England is also a full time job. But when it does enter into a story my editors have always cautioned me to take special care as the group has a reputation for resorting to litigation when displeased.

What I have not seen before is a practical link between the Nation of Islam and Scientology. The Chicago Tribune reported last year on a speech given by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakahan that touted its benefits for “white people”.

He praised Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Farrakhan extolled the virtues of Scientology and its auditing process, which is considered spiritual counseling by its members.

“L. Ron Hubbard is so exceedingly valuable to every Caucasian person on this Earth,” Farrakhan said.

“L. Ron Hubbard himself was and is trying to civilize white people and make them better human beings and take away from them their reactive minds. … Mr. Hubbard recognized that his people have to be civilized,” Farrakhan said to a cheering crowd.

The Nation of Islam is a black-nationalist or empowerment movement that does not allow for white members. Is Minister Farrakhan saying that those unable or unwilling to join the Nation of Islam consider Scientology? Is the Life Force Arts and Technology Charter School dispute a practical working out of this meeting of minds between the Nation of Islam and Scientology? How should reporters develop this story? Or is there even a story to develop?

Setting to one side the controversial public image of the two groups, the Nation of Islam and Scientology do share some common tenets including the place of UFOs in the great scheme of things.

The LA Times states that Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard taught that:

Seventy-five million years ago a tyrant named Xenu (pronounced Zee-new) ruled the Galactic Confederation, an alliance of 76 planets, including Earth, then called Teegeeack.

To control overpopulation and solidify his power, Xenu instructed his loyal officers to capture beings of all shapes and sizes from the various planets, freeze them in a compound of alcohol and glycol and fly them by the billions to Earth in planes resembling DC-8s. Some of the beings were captured after they were duped into showing up for a phony tax investigation.

The beings were deposited or chained near 10 volcanoes scattered around the planet. After hydrogen bombs were dropped on them, their thetans were captured by Xenu’s forces and implanted with sexual perversion, religion and other notions to obscure their memory of what Xenu had done.

Soon after, a revolt erupted. Xenu was imprisoned in a wire cage within a mountain, where he remains today.

But the damage was done.

During the last 75 million years, these implanted thetans have affixed themselves by the thousands to people on Earth. Called “body thetans,” they overwhelm the main thetan who resides within a person, causing confusion and internal conflict.

In the Operating Thetan III course, Scientologists are taught to scan their bodies for “pressure points,” indicating the presence of these bad thetans. Using techniques prescribed by Hubbard, church members make telepathic contact with these thetans and remind them of Xenu’s treachery. With that, Hubbard said, the thetans detach themselves.

In the Chicago Tribune report of Minister Farrakhan’s 2011 speech we find this statement:

The keynote address, titled “God Will Send Saviours,” capped a weekend of workshops focused on health, preparing for natural disasters and unidentified flying objects. The Nation of Islam believes in a UFO called “the wheel” or “the Mother Plane.”

Farrakhan has described a 1985 religious experience in which he ascended into a flying saucer and heard the voice of Elijah Muhammad predicting events that came to pass.

A speech by Minister Farrakhan printed in the Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, develops this theme:

The final thing is the destruction. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us of a giant Mother Plane that is made like the universe, spheres within spheres. White people call them unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Ezekiel, in the Old Testament, saw a wheel that looked like a cloud by day, but a pillar of fire by night. The Hon. Elijah Muhammad said that that wheel was built on the island of Nippon, which is now called Japan, by some of the original scientists. It took 15 billion dollars in gold at that time to build it. It is made of the toughest steel. America does not yet know the composition of the steel used to make an instrument like it. It is a circular plane, and the Bible says that it never makes turns. Because of its circular nature it can stop and travel in all directions at speeds of thousands of miles per hour. He said there are 1,500 small wheels in this Mother Wheel, which is a half mile by-a-half-mile. This Mother Wheel is like a small human built planet. Each one of these small planes carry three bombs.

What say you GetReligion readers? Are we seeing a meeting of minds? Or is this a local issue whose religious connotations can be exploited for sensationalist purposes? Or is this news?

First printed in GetReligion.

Iranian truths, Iranian lies: Get Religion April 19, 2012 April 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Bahá’í, Get Religion, Iran, Islam, Press criticism.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon Iran last week not to proceed with its nuclear weapons program, warning that deployment of atomic weapons by Teheran would destabilize the Middle East, a story prepared by AFP reported.

Speaking at a dinner in Norfolk, Virginia Mrs. Clinton was quoted as saying:

There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A conflict arising out of their program would also be very destabilizing

The story continues in this vein: further warnings from the West, denials from Iran and so forth. It is rather a snooze in that this story has been written several dozen times before. I wrote a few of these for the Jerusalem Post at one time — but the Secretary of State was Condoleezaa Rice. Times, words and speakers change, but the same messages have been offered up by Obama and Bush Administration speakers.

What has this to do with GetReligion’s mandate? Where’s the hook, you ask? It comes towards the close of the story which the Telegraph entitled “Hillary Clinton warns nuclear-armed Iran would be ‘destabilising’.”

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that possession of a nuclear bomb “constitutes a major sin” for Iran, reiterating a fatwa – or religious edict – that he made in 2005.

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalised,” Clinton said in Norfolk.

As this was a wire service story that reported a speech given by the Secretary of State, the opportunities for AFP to develop the leads offered by Mrs. Clinton’s words are slight. However, I would have expected the Telegraph to have investigated this fatwa, which Commentary magazine called a “ruse” that had bought the Iranians five more weeks to develop the bomb.

Neither was the editor-in-chief of the London-based Arab newspaper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat,  impressed by the U.S. government’s study of the fatwa. In an editorial entitled “The Security Council for Fatwas,” Tariq Alhomayed hammered Iran and stated Mrs. Clinton was naive and out of her depth —- not knowing that in Islam a believer may follow the principle of taqiyya to lie when facing danger.

it is absurd to talk about an Iranian fatwa when negotiating with Tehran, for countries – like individuals – have reputations and histories that cannot be ignored, therefore the reputation of a bad country, like the reputation of a bad individual, is not based on statements or fatwas, but rather past deeds! Therefore, when US Secretary of State Clinton talks about the Iranian fatwa, we can be certain that she has not heard about Iranian taqiyya [the practice of precautionary dissimulation emphasized in Shiite Islam whereby adherents may conceal their religion when under threat]!

… the claim that we can rely on a fatwa that prohibits the possession of nuclear weapons, reminds us of the famous Arab proverb: “the thief was asked to swear [his innocence], and he swore [falsely] and said “yes, this is the way out [of the predicament]!” If this fatwa is one of the merits of dialogue with Iran, then by God we are truly facing a disaster in the region!

I’ve written about the practice of taqiyya in GetReligion before, and have noted the Western press’s seeming inability to comprehend this practice. It may not matter in the great scheme of things if the Telegraph or the New York Times is unaware, or loathe to report on taqiyya. But when governments are clueless — that spells trouble.

As an aside, I had been thinking about the general question of fatwas before I read this article — and perhaps I chose it for that reason. A contact in Pakistan sent me a copy of a fatwa released by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that called upon Muslims to combat the Baha’i faith. My friend (an Anglican bishop in Pakistan) translated the letter, written on stationary from Khamenei’s office, as saying:

In the name of God All members of the Baha’i cult are guilty as being infidels and are regarded as “Najes” (an Islamic term for being inherently unclean/dirty), thus people are advised to avoid proximity in food and other things because of their contagious nature and it is paramount that the believers combat the schemes and devious nature of this misled cult.

I mention this in that the author of this Baha’i fatwa is the author of the no-nukes fatwa.

A wire service story is almost always limited by space and written for a general audience. I cannot fault AFP for not developing Mrs. Clinton’s remarks. But it would have improved the story tremendously, changing it from just another in a list of worthy diplomatic stories (a polite phrase for tedious) if the press had asked some questions. Mrs. Clinton consulted religious scholars: which ones? She spoke with the prime minister of Turkey: what did he, an Islamist, tell her? What is the weight of a fatwa from Khamenei? Is he credible? Is it comparable to a papal encyclical that must be followed, or is it an earnest wish? What is the implication of a London-based Saudi-backed newspaper saying taqiyya is something “those Shi’ites” do?

It is a shame that these angles were not addressed in the news sections, but only picked up in opinion pieces.

This a classical example of a religion ghost. The outward subject is nuclear proliferation. But the DNA of this story is one of religious restraint over the production and use of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the author was a aware of the concept of taqiyya, but chose not to address the subject? In Western eyes taqiyya is inherently dishonorable. Yet how does one report upon this subject through Western eyes in a Western newspaper without loosing sight of the cultural and religious environment that produced a moral teaching that holds that the ends justify the means and that lying can be a moral good? Is this even a fair question?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Addendum: MEMRI reports that the no-nukes fatwa never existed — it was a propaganda ruse by the Iranian government. Curiouser and curiouser.

First printed in GetReligion.

Koran-Offensive in Die Welt: Get Religion, April 18, 2012 April 18, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism, Terrorism.
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Who says the Germans don’t do comedy well? An article in a recent issue of Die Welt — “Koran-Offensive alarmiert Deutschlands Parteien” shows this not to be so. As I read the article, which tip-toes round the issue of radical Islam in Germany, my mind harkened back to an episode of the television series Seinfeld.

In the “Koran-Offensive” we know what Die Welt is talking about when it mentions Salafists or radical Muslims, but the paper will not say what it means. It sidles around the issue, performing a verbal silly walk that implies radical Islam is un-German, small minded, uncultured and a generally bad thing.  Die Welt knows that we know, but is reluctant to say this aloud.

What we do have is a story about the distribution of Korans that is slightly strange. The story arc tells us that freedom of religion and expression is a good thing, freedom to distribute Korans during Holy Week is a bad thing. Or, is it that those doing the distribution are the bad thing? The article is not quite sure.

It is like “The Outing” episode of Seinfeld. Whilst seated at a cafe, Jerry, George and Elaine notice that a young woman in a nearby booth eavesdropping. In a spirit of fun, Elaine speaks to Jerry and George intimating that they are a secret gay couple. The woman reappears shortly thereafter when she arrives at Jerry’s apartment on assignment from her student newspaper. During the interview, the interplay between Jerry and George strengthens her belief the two are a gay couple. They then recognize her from the coffee shop and deny they are gay, closing each of their denials with the catch phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The humor in this episode came from the interplay between George’s and Jerry’s fear of being taken for homosexuals against their fear of being homophobic. The audience knows the truth about Jerry and George, but takes pleasure in their panic.

The Die Welt article follows the same line in its Good Muslim/Bad Muslim story.

Here is the lede, taken from the English translation provided from Worldcrunch.

After more than 300,000 copies of the Muslim holy book were reportedly distributed in German cities during Christian holy week, major political parties have announced that they will push for closer monitoring of Salafist groups advocating fundamentalist Islam.

The Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, known as the Union parties, and Alliance ‘90/The Greens, have all declared their concern about the massive free distribution of the Koran launched by Ibrahim Abou Nagie, a Cologne-based businessman and preacher with Palestinian roots. According to Abou Nagie, the 300,000 copies were distributed at information booths and over the Internet, with the purchase of one copy entitling the buyer to another Koran free.

The timing of the action is thought to be a particular provocation for Christians, as thousands of the copies of the Koran were distributed around Good Friday and Easter.

Abou Nagie — one of Germany’s most influential Salafist leaders — has been charged in Cologne with inciting the public to commit illegal acts and disturbing the “religious peace.” The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been monitoring Salafist groups, which is why this distribution of religious literature – normally not a cause for concern – is being seen in another light.

The article then shifts to comments from spokesmen from the major political parties, each of whom offered a version of “Not that there’s anything wrong with that (Islam).”

“I view the distribution campaign of free copies of the Koran by Salafists with great concern,” said an SDP spokesman, but added she had “fundamentally nothing against the distribution of religious literature as long as this is not associated with encouraging criminal acts or defamation.” The Green party spokesman told Die Welt. “Distributing the Koran is certainly not forbidden by the law, but this should be monitored very carefully by the police.” And a spokesman for the governing CDU/CSU parties called for “an urgent stop” to be placed on the “machinations of the growing radical Salafist movement in Germany.”

Germany’s churches were described as “maintaining a low profile”. An EKD spokesman stated that “Fortunately, in Germany it is not forbidden to distribute religious literature,”but “Of course I hope that in countries where Islam is the religion of the majority that the distribution of Bibles were allowed.” While a Catholic spokesman said the Salafists were not interested in dialogue, and view tolerance and any form of integration for Muslims as toxic.

Only the Greens seemed prepared to speak up. Its spokesman answered the question I had — why was this a problem — by saying:

the Koran campaign was “very worrisome, because calls to violence and terror have repeatedly risen from these radical Muslim splinter groups, which is why it is entirely justified for them to be watched by security authorities.”

A Green politician of Turkish descent, Cem Özdemir, added that he had a:

“problem with any religious group that puts their vision of the world above basic law, the Constitution and human rights. So that also goes for the Salafists, who do encourage violence, and whose ideology is a front for Islamic terrorism.” It was apparent, he said, “that the strategy underlying this campaign is to represent themselves as the mouthpiece of Muslims and to propagate what they would claim is the true Islam. The Salafists can’t be allowed to get away with this.”

Moderate Muslim groups said the right things in Die Welt’s narrative.

“The Koran is not some PR flyer to be handed out like mass merchandise,” Ayman Mazyek, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims, told the Catholic News Agency. Kenan Kolat, the chair of Germany’s Turkish community, said the action reminded him of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While it was not forbidden to distribute the Koran, Kolat told Die Welt that “the question to be asked are: Are the Salafists acting aggressively? Are they disturbing people?”

And a spokesman for the group giving out 300,000 Korans said?

We don’t know as their voice does not appear.

On its face the idea that distributing 300,000 Korans is a threat to public order in an open democracy seems ludicrous. The article asserts those handing out the books are not good, or acculturated westernized Muslims, but does not say what it is about the Koran getting into the hands of Germans that makes it a danger to public order.

This question is made even more curious by the Seinfeld answer given by those opposed to its distribution. “We’re against giving out the Koran, not that there is anything wrong with that.”

The answer is not the Koran, of course, but the people handing it out. But there is a reticence to make this clear save for the Greens. The BBC’s coverage of this story managed to include the objections voiced by political leaders but offered a few words of context that cleared away the absurdist Die Welt story structure.

Last summer, the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Heinz Fromm, said: “Not all Salafists are terrorists.  “But almost all the terrorists we know about had contacts with Salafists or are Salafists themselves.”

Is this part of the cultural cringe we see in some quarters — an ease at criticizing Western norms and culture, but a reticence to speak out about the “other”? Should Die Welt have made it clear at the top of its story the suspected link between Koran distribution and terrorism? Or would that have vilified Muslims as a whole, for the actions of a radicalized minority?

How should the press handle this? Who speaks for Islam?

What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

Anger over Saudi anti-Christian fatwah: The Church of England Newspaper, April 13, 2012 p 7. April 18, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution.
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Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah

Church leaders in India have joined the call made by Catholic and Orthodox leaders in Europe to condemn the call to tear down all Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula made by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia.

The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) said the comments made by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah were “bigoted” and “dangerous” for the millions of Christians living Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states.

Last month the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia told a group of Kuwaiti clerics that it was “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.”  His remarks came as Kuwait’s parliament began debate over legislation banning the construction of new Christian churches.  Over 3.5 million Christians live in the Arabian Peninsula including one million Filipino Roman Catholics and several hundred thousand members of the Church of South India along with members of other orthodox churches and protestant denominations.

Saudi Arabia forbids Christian worship and its rigorous anti-Christian policing has drawn condemnation from Western governments.  The AICC’s general secretary, John Dayal, called on the Indian government to protect its citizens and for other “civilized countries to ensure that the nations of the Arabian Peninsula clearly reject the Wahhabi imam’s bigoted statement.”

Archbishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for overseas churches called the Saudi sheikh’s statement “alarming, while the Roman Catholic bishops’ conferences of Germany and Austria said the statement by the Saudi sheikh was an unacceptable denial of human rights for the millions of “overseas foreign workers” in the region.

See no evil, report no evil: Get Religion, February 2, 2012 February 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism, Religion Reporting.
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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If an Muslim radical makes death threats against a university audience in London, and the BBC does not report it, did it really happen?

There is a sense of unreality about the reporting of militant Islam in the U.K. The BBC is regularly chastised for its biases and omissions in reporting on Islamic militancy — while some tabloids are taken to task for whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria. However, one can usually count on the corporation making mention of an incident.

Maybe not.

While I was researching background materials for an article, I happened to page through the website of the National Secular Society (NSS) — a humanist group in the U.K. I came across a 17 January 2012 press release entitled “Islamist stops university debate with threats of violence.” I had not heard about this incident, and when I googled the name of the lead actor in this drama I imagine you did not hear about this either as the Independent was the sole broadsheet to cover the story — and they buried the article in the crime section.

According to the NSS press release:

A talk on sharia and human rights by NSS Council Member Anne Marie Waters’ at Queen Mary University of London was cancelled at the last moment because of an Islamist who made serious threats against everyone there.

Ms Waters was due to give a talk on behalf of the One Law for All campaign on 16 January but before it started, a man entered the lecture theatre, stood at the front with a camera and filmed the audience. He then said that he knew who everyone was, where they lived and if he heard anything negative about the Prophet, he would track them down.

The man also filmed students in the foyer and threatened to murder them and their families. On leaving the building, he joined a large group of men, apparently there to support him. Students were told by security to stay in the lecture theatre for their own safety.

The Independent reported the same set of facts and interviewed a number of witnesses and Ms. Waters. The headline fairy seems to have been at work that evening at the Independent as the title of the story was sanitized. “Man threatens students at debate” is not likely to pull many readers interested to learn more.

The police are investigating the incident we learn, and the university is appalled by the incidence. Ms. Waters is made of sterner stuff, telling the Independent:

“This is the first time this has happened, it’s really very frightening and you don’t know what else it’s going to turn into,” she said. “I’m not worried about repercussions, but I’m worried about it happening again.”

While the head of the British Humanist Association stated:

“Free expression, the free exchange of ideas and free debate are hallmarks of an open society; violence and the threat of violence should never be allowed to compromise that, especially in our universities.”

No comments from Islamist groups, or from experts on censorship was appropriate, or an exploration of why someone would commit a criminal act in the name of Islam. Yet, I am not that worried about the brevity of the Independent story and am pleased that something made it into print that reported on this assault on free speech and civil liberties.

Let’s look at this another way — imagine if a professed Christian activist entered the Queen Mary University lecture hall and threatened death to those attending a lecture disparaging the Christian faith.  Do you think that this would not be spread across the British press? How many column inches would Polly Toynbee or Richard Dawkins take to denounce the incident and the belief system behind it?

But this is Islam — so we have silence.

In Peter Godwin’s wonderful memoir of life in Zimbabwe, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, he cites a phrase of Winston Churchill’s that speaks to this moral cowardice:

… appeasement is feeding the crocodile, hoping it will eat you last.

Perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps it was a cringing, craven self-censorship, perhaps the A-team of reporters was not back from the Christmas holidays. Whatever it may be, I can see no reason to spike this story.

Crocodile photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First published in GetReligion.

Sharia court orders expulsion of Christian clergy from Kashmir: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2012, p 6. February 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Islam, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Two priests convicted of blasphemy by an Indian sharia law court have been expelled from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

On 19 January 2012 the Deputy Grand Mufti of Srinigar, Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam held a press conference to report that a sharia court had decided that the Rev. C.M. Khanna of the Church of North India’s All Saint’s Church in Srinigar, Roman Catholic Mill Hill missionary Fr. Jim Borst and two lay catechists, Gavoor Massi and Chandra Kanta must be expelled from J&K – the only Muslim majority state in India.

The four Anglican and Roman Catholics were “guilty of luring the Muslims especially young boys and girls to Christianity by exploiting their financial conditions, promoting immorality and moral degradation, exploiting serious health ailments by facilitating different kind of help to Muslims against the conversion from Islam to Christianity,” Nasir-ul Islam told the press conference according to the Kashmir newspaper the Rising Kashmir Daily.

The sharia court had “imposed a life time ban” on entering J&K, he said, adding that the state government had agreed to enforce the sharia court verdict.

Mr. Khanna, who has left Srinigar for the safety of the state’s winter capital Jammu, told UCANews the sharia court’s actions had put his life in peril, and the “government has not done anything to protect us.”

On 20 January the Greater Kashmir – the state’s largest circulation English language newspaper — published an article allegedly written by one of Mr. Khanna’s converts that offered a lurid account of his conversion.  Mr. Khanna and his wife were accused of plying the young man with alcohol, narcotics, sex, money and the opportunity of moving to California if he became a Christian.  The article entitled “Apostasy Unveiled” culminates with the fantastical passage:

“There were candles and an empty glass on the table. As the prayers went on, someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. It was swine blood which we all had to drink. Khanna took some sips, then his daughter and I joined the others.”

The 64 year old Anglican minister has denied the charges proffered by the Sharia court, but has had to leave Srinigar after 24 years of service.

The Church of North India’s Bishop in Amritsar, the Rt. Rev. P K Samantaroy denounced the sharia court’s order saying “nobody has the right to expel us from the state or country.”

He told UCANews that it was “unfair” to question the integrity of Christians who “have played a major role in building peace and harmony in the state.”

However, Mufti Nasir warned Christians from trying to return to the state.  He called upon the government to take over the administration of Srinigar’s Anglican and Roman Catholic mission schools and to combat the “dirty and sinister designs” of Christian missionaries.

The mufti appealed to his “fellow Muslims to remain vigilant and guard that such elements don’t reappear in the state.”

Canadian honor killing and Islam: Get Religion, January 31, 2012 January 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Multiculturalism, Press criticism.
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An Ontario jury has convicted three members of the Shafia family — father, mother and son of an Afghan family living in Quebec — of murder in what has become Canada’s most notorious “honor killings” case. There has been some great crime and court reporting in the Shafia case, and the articles in the major newspapers are really quite good

But some of the analyses have fallen short and in a few cases come across as special pleading that there is only one legitimate view in Islam on these issues, when experience tells us that there is not a single view on the morality of honor killings in Islam — just as there is no single Islam.

“Pay no attention to the facts in these cases, trust our experts” is the line taken by CNN on this issue. 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.

Lets look at the news reports from Canada and then the piece from CNN.

The lede sentences in the article entitled “Judge condemns ‘sick notion of honour’” in the Globe & Mail sets the scene nicely:

The murder trial of three Afghan-Canadians accused of drowning four relatives in a so-called “honour killing” came to a cathartic end Sunday afternoon as the defendants were convicted on all charges.

Before the trio were led away in handcuffs and shackles to begin automatic sentences of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 25 years, each proclaimed their innocence, and they were visibly upset.

Mr. Justice Robert Maranger of Superior Court was unmoved. Their crimes stemmed from “a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society,” he told the packed courtroom.

… “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime. The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour, a notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

Staring hard at the defendants, the judge said: “There is nothing more honourless than the deliberate murder” of the three teenaged girls and their step-mother.

Other Canadian press accounts are equally spirited. The Toronto Star opened its account, entitled “Shafia family members guilty of first-degree murder,” with:

This is blessed Canada. They won’t be “hoisted onto the gallows,’’ But they’re going to prison for life.

Mohammad Shafia: Guilty on four counts of first-degree murder. Tooba Mohammad Yahya: Guilty on four counts of first-degree murder. Hamed Shafia: Guilty on four counts of first degree murder.

In our country, men and women are equal. A female’s life is worth as much as a male’s. In our country, femicide is homicide.

The National Post’s columnists took an even stronger line:

By using the words “honourless” and “shameless”, [Judge] Maranger was tossing back at Shafia some of the very epithets he used so often when speaking about his dead daughters.

The mass honour slaying of Zainab, Sahar and Geeti — respectively 19, 17 and 13 — and 52-year-old Mohammad, Shafia’s other, and sadly barren, wife, ranks among the worst in the sordid history of honour crimes.

Let me set the terms of the debate for this post. What I am not saying is that honor killings occur only in Islam. They occur in other religions as well.

Nor am I saying that all Muslims support honor killings. They do not, as CNN has reported.

Nor am I saying the question of religion was ignored. The major newspapers for the most part bit the bullet and mentioned the I-word — how the killers’ interpretation of their faith shaped by the cultural mileau in which they were formed could have provided a sanction for their crimes.

My question is how religion was used to explain motive in this story and whether a blanket denial that Islam supports honor killings is sufficient when the Star reported during the trial that a wiretap recorded the killer justifying his deeds by reference to his faith.

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.”

Some articles rule out of bounds any discussion the influence Islam may have on honor killings. In other words, an appearance of unequal treatment is created where Islam is given a pass that reporters would not give to other faiths.

GetReligion reader Ray McCalla directed my attention to an article in CNN entitled “Islam doesn’t justify ‘honor murders,’ experts insist” as an example of this tendency. Mr. McCalla wrote that he kept waiting for CNN:

to find a voice who does think that honor killings are justified by Islam. But no, it was just an apologetic piece, defending “true,” moderate Islam. The subtext seems to be that the perpetrators are acting on a perverted version of Islam or just backwards culture. But is that true, or just what the Western media want to be true?

His point is well taken. The CNN story states:

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.

This is a a good strong quote and the rest of the CNN story continues similar statements and assertions. But which constituencies do these CNN-selected Muslim scholars represent? Do all Muslim scholars share these views? What is the difference in authority between a scholar, a sheik, an imam, a mufti, a kadi? How do their views, teachings or fatwas influence the faith of Muslims?

In a 4 Dec 2008 interview with Al-Hayat TV, Wafa 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 and was profiled by Time magazine in 2006 as one of the “100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming our world.”

How about Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Writing in the Huffington Post Canada about the Shafia case, Ms. Ali stated:

The experiences of the Shafia sisters are becoming all too familiar. A recent spate of honour violence perpetrated in the United States exemplifies the tragic incompatibility between Western liberties and radical Islam.

Can we assume that there is a common moral code across faiths? If the reporting does not lay out why these killers interpreted their faith as allowing them to kill their children, the reader is left to conclude that the killers are moral monsters, are fanatics or insane. Radical Islam, though repellent to Western sensibilities, appears to justify honor crimes, Ms. Ali argues — should not reporters attempt to explain why this is so?

First published in GetReligion.

Christians targeted in Christmas bombing campaign in Nigeria: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2011 p 7. December 29, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Islam, Persecution.
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Archbishop Ben Kwashi

Islamist militants are suspected of being behind a pre-Christmas terror campaign in the Northern Nigerian city of Jos.  Boko Haram – a militant Muslim group that has pledged to convert all of Nigeria to Islam – has threatened to disrupt the Christmas holidays, the Nigerian media reports.

On 10 Dec 2011, three bombs exploded as crowds gathered to watch a Real Madrid – Barcelona football match at a public television viewing centre.  One man was killed and 11 injured, while a fourth bomb was defused by police.

In the early hours of the following morning, a woman was killed and two others were wounded when gunmen attacked a Christian village in Kagora.

Speaking on the persecution of Christians in Nigeria at a conference sponsored by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Jos observed that sectarian violence was unknown in the city until 1987.

In that year a Hausa militant group was organized and the administration of the city divided in two, with a Muslim majority area created for the north of the city.  By 1997 tensions between the majority Christian population and the Muslim minority – who wielded political power through the support of the military government – began to erupt and fighting ensued.

Over 2000 people were killed in sectarian fighting in 2001, the archbishop said, and 2010 saw a “huge massacre” of Christians at the hands of Islamist militants.  The Boko Haram insurrection saw the introduction of terror bombings of Christian sites in the city, with the first attack launched over Christmas 2010.

Archbishop Kwashi stated there has “never been an arrest” in the attacks on Christians in Jos, while the results of government investigations into the violence have been kept secret.

“If the killing of Christians is not called by its name,” he told the CSW meeting, this “crime will continue to go on under the name of religion.”

“If it is declared criminal” by the government, the “persecution will be reduced,” he said.

Speaking in response to last week’s bombings, CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “The security situation in both Plateau and Kaduna States are of great concern. Security services must remain vigilant regarding threats to disrupt Christmas celebrations in Jos, and take proactive steps to secure areas in both Plateau and Kaduna States where attacks are likely to occur. ”

Acceptable lies and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 23, 2011 December 24, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Press criticism.
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The New York Times has an extraordinary article that extols the virtues of lying and doublespeak in a recent “Memo from Jerusalem.” Well, you might ask, what of it? How does a dodgy story on the Arab-Israeli conflict fall within the ambit of GetReligion? What is the religion/journalism hook you ask?

To which I respond: lying is a sin or bad manners or ethically challenged behavior from a Western perspective. Lying is not always a sin in Islam — that is to say lying to non-Muslims is not a sin, bad manners or ethically challenged behavior. The Times ties itself in knots trying to excuse lying by the Palestinians, even going so far as to raise instances of Israelis behaving badly. However, the moral equivalence argument expressed in the Times-patented insouciant world-weary tone, which holds that as both sides are dissemblers we should not cast aspersions, does not work here.

Ignorance of Islamic moral standards, or perhaps the reluctance to raise the precept of taqiyya has placed the Times in the position of endorsing cant.

Take a look at this 20 Dec 2011 article entitled “Finding Fault in the Palestinian Messages That Aren’t So Public.” The editorial voice of the story states that news agencies that translate into English the statements made in Arabic by Palestinian leaders are doing a disservice to the cause of peace.

The Times argues that statements in English that are tailored to a Western audience by Palestinian leaders that speak of peace and reconciliation should not be juxtaposed against by statements made in Arabic by the same Palestinian leaders to their constituencies that call for the destruction of Israel and death to Jews.

The article begins by observing that:

A new book by an Israeli watchdog group catalogs dozens of examples of messages broadcast by the Palestinian Authority for its domestic audience that would seem at odds with the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution.

This claim is “not new” the Times notes. As:

For years, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts have said that what Palestinian leaders tell their own people in their own language — as opposed to English-language statements tailored to opinion in the rest of the world — is the truest reflection of their actual beliefs. This has had the effect of further entrenching the sides to the conflict and undermining confidence that it can ever be resolved.

Let’s stop and think about what the Times has just said. It is true, the article concedes, that Palestinian political leaders are saying one thing to the West and another to their own people. The lede sentence in the story soft peddles the results of this lying: it “would seem at odds” with the peace process. However, the follow up sentence states this explicitly: it has had “the effect of further entrenching” Palestinian revanchist views.

The article quotes one of the lead authors of the study on Palestinian media doublespeak on why this is problematic, but the story then pivots with a sentence that sets the theme and context of the article.

Some Israelis struggle with the practice of monitoring the Palestinian news media, acknowledging the importance of knowing what is being said in Arabic, yet disturbed by how its dissemination is exploited by those not eager to see Israel make concessions.

The article offers examples of this doublespeak, but then introduces contrary Israeli and Palestinian voices that criticize the book. This criticism, however, is not that the results of the study are untrue, but that these truths are inconvenient to the political agenda of the Israeli left, which the Times also conflates as being co-equal to the cause of peace.

The Times then offers its critque.

Some of the examples publicized by the Israeli monitoring group are old ones that have been repeated over the years, and some of its interpretations are arguable.

A Palestinian critique is offered.

“This is not a serious attempt to solve the problem of incitement,” said Ghassan Khatib, the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank. Mr. Khatib said that the authority had significantly reduced the level of incitement on the Palestinian side in recent years. “The question is,” he said, “are the Israelis improving or reversing in this regard?”

And the story concludes with voices from the Israeli left.

“There is peace making and there is peace building,” said Itamar Rabinovich, who served as Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria and as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, explaining why the contentious messages in Arabic are so damaging. The lack of peace building, he said, is part of the failure of the Oslo peace process that began with accords signed in 1993 but has not yet produced a Palestinian state.

In one of the most egregious examples of Palestinian doublespeak, Yasir Arafat spoke in a mosque in South Africa in May 1994, only months after the signing of the Oslo accords, and called on the worshipers “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”

As the ambassador to Washington at the time, Mr. Rabinovich said he found himself in the awkward position of having to explain to anyone who would listen that jihad, usually translated as holy war, could also mean a spiritual struggle, in order to justify continuing the peace process.

Still, he said, it is not by chance that those focusing on Palestinian incitement and publicizing it are “rightist groups who use it as ammunition.”

Where is the religion hook then? It comes in the form of a religion ghost — meaning that there is a religion element to this story that is omitted. And this omission is crucial, I believe, in understanding the story.

As it is written, the Times piece is a defense of sophistry and comes across as being morally dubious at best. By excusing the doublespeak the Times engages in the “soft bigotry of low expectations” — to quote a favorite of its editorial board, President George W. Bush. It belittles those who expose this duplicity by arguing that truth telling will block a two-state solution.

Are the Palestinians masters of moral duplicity then, as the Times would have us believe? Or are they acting according to the lights of their own moral and ethical system?

Writing in the Winter edition of the Middle East Quarterly, Raymond Ibrahim discusses the concept of dissimulation [taqiyya] in Shia and Sunni ethics.

While the Qur’an is against believers deceiving other believers—for “surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar”— deception directed at non-Muslims, generally known in Arabic as taqiyya, also has Qur’anic support and falls within the legal category of things that are permissible for Muslims.

Ibrahim explains that Shia communities living as minorities in Sunni areas were permitted to dissemble about their religion in order to avoid persecution. But among the Sunni community,

… far from suffering persecution have, whenever capability allowed, waged jihad against the realm of unbelief; and it is here that they have deployed taqiyya—not as dissimulation but as active deceit. In fact, deceit, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, is often depicted as being equal—sometimes superior—to other universal military virtues, such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice.

Palestinian leaders have used taqiyya in their war with Israel. In an incident dismissed in the Times article as being “old” news, Ibrahim reports on a speech by Yasser Arafat that offers an example of this strategy.

More recently, and of great significance for Western leaders advocating cooperation with Islamists, Yasser Arafat, soon after negotiating a peace treaty criticized as conceding too much to Israel, addressed an assembly of Muslims in a mosque in Johannesburg where he justified his actions: “I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca.”  In other words, like Muhammad, Arafat gave his word only to annul it once “something better” came along—that is, once the Palestinians became strong enough to renew the offensive and continue on the road to Jerusalem.

The implications of this way of thinking offend Western sensibilities, Ibrahim writes.

Yet most Westerners continue to think that Muslim mores, laws, and ethical constraints are near identical to those of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Naively or arrogantly, today’s multiculturalist leaders project their own worldview onto Islamists, thinking a handshake and smiles across a cup of coffee, as well as numerous concessions, are enough to dismantle the power of God’s word and centuries of unchanging tradition. The fact remains: Right and wrong in Islam have little to do with universal standards but only with what Islam itself teaches—much of which is antithetical to Western norms.

What then are we to make of this story about Palestinian doublespeak? The Times concedes it exists, but down plays its importance and gives prominence of place in its article to those who see the exposure of lies as being harmful to the cause of peace.

Would ascribing all divergence between what the Palestinian leaders say to the West and what they tell their own people to taqiyya answer the questions raised in this story? Or does cant play a role in any of this? What say you GetReligion readers?

But where ever the line may be found between lying to advance the faith and cant, the omission of this religion element to the story by the Times does a disservice to its readers.

First printed in GetReligion.

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