Discrimination

Sikhs imprisoned in Oregon: How a national scandal hit a small farming town

Sikhs imprisoned in Oregon: How a national scandal hit a small farming town

Oregon is a diverse state and one in which I did lots of religion coverage during the my early reporting years. There are generous concentrations of Jews, Christians and Muslims and sprinklings of other groups — but Sikhism are one faith that isn’t heard about often.

This 2013 Oregonian piece estimates there are probably less than 1,000 Sikhs in the entire state, which may explain why officials at a local prison knew nothing about this 500-year-old faith when a load of Sikh immigrants was dumped at their door.

The mistreatment of these Sikhs –- and the number of Oregonians who volunteered to help them -- led to an Associated Press story that ran last week.

We’re going to be looking at several interesting stories, because this is — sadly — a story that isn’t going away anytime soon.

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — With the sun bearing down, Norm and Kathy Daviess stood in the shade of a prison wall topped with coiled razor wire, waiting for three immigrants to come out.

It’s become an oddly familiar routine for the Air Force veteran and his wife, part of an ad hoc group of volunteers that formed in recent months after the Trump administration transferred 124 immigrants to the federal prison in rural Oregon, a first for the facility.

The detainees were among approximately 1,600 immigrants apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border and then transferred to federal prisons in five states after President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy left the usual facilities short of space.

Almost half of those sent to the prison outside Sheridan, an economically struggling town 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Portland, on May 31 are from India, many of them Sikhs — part of an influx of Indian nationals entering the U.S. in recent years...

The story is not new.

In June the Portland-based Willamette Week covered a demonstration of religious leaders railing against the detaining of so many religious refugees at this prison.

Religious leaders from the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice today denounced the treatment of the 123 immigrants detained in a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., saying many of the men are religious refugees fleeing persecution in their home nations.

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Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

OK, readers, it’s pop quiz time. My question: What do the following political players have in common; Franklin Graham, George Soros and the Koch brothers?

Did I hear you mumble “nothing,” other than gender and the aforementioned political-player designations?

Not a bad guess. But not the answer I’m looking for at the moment.

The commonality I have in mind is that they all serve as public boogeyman — names to be tossed around to convey a suitcase of despised qualities that need not be unpacked for opponents skilled in the art of in-group rhetoric.

Those on the left tend to think of Graham and the Kochs as despicable actors poisoning the political well with hypocritical religious justifications (Graham) or by employing their vast wealth to back libertarian, hyper pro-business, anti-tax, anti-regulatory agendas (the Kochs).

Those on the right tend to view Soros as an atheist billionaire, internationalist busy-body set on destroying what they view as rightful national norms for the sake of unrealistic democratic (note that’s with a small “d”) fantasies. In America, many conservatives see him as a fierce enemy of the religious liberty side of the First Amendment.

If you paid close attention to the soul-numbing Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation fight you may know that, unlike Graham and the Kochs, Soros’ name popped up at the tail end of that scorched-earth display political bloodletting — which is why I bring him up now. (President Donald Trump, as he has before, first mentioned Soros; Sen. Chuck Grassley disparaged Soros when asked about Trump’s comment.)

But first.

My point here is not to convince you of the rightness or wrongness of Soros or the others mentioned above. Frankly, I have strong disagreements with them all. Besides, love them or hate them, I’m guessing your minds are already pretty well made up about what level of heaven or hell they’re headed for come judgement day. So what chance at changing minds do I really have anyway?

Also, they're all entitled, under current American law, to throw their weight around in accordance with their viewpoints — again, whether you or I like it or not.

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Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

“Who gets to define a nation?,” journalist Anne Applebaum asks in a piece she wrote for the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine. “And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation?

For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled — but why should they ever be?”

Newspaper, magazine and broadcast reports attempting to explain the moves toward nationalist-tinged political populism in a host of European nations, and certainly the United States as well, have become a journalistic staple, which makes sense given the subject’s importance.

Here’s one recent example worth reading produced by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat  that looks at the issue in light of the recent Swedish national election. His focus is whether the political center can continue to hold, and for how long?

So why single out this magazine essay by Applebaum, who is also a columnist for The Washington Post?

Because it’s a good example of how a writer’s deep personal experience of living within a culture for many years can produce an understanding that’s difficult to find in copy produced by the average correspondent who, at best, spends a few years in a region before moving on to a new assignment.

Granted, the American-born Applebaum has the advantage of being married to a Polish politician and writer. She herself has become a dual citizen of the U.S. and Poland, and is raising her children in Poland.

As a Jew, however, she retains her outsider status in Polish society. It's from this vantage point that she conveys how Poland’s shift toward right-wing populism has impacted the nation, and her. (Her piece is one of several published by The Atlantic grouped together under the ominous rubric, “Is Democracy Dying?”)

If it is dying, at least in the short run, she argues that in large measure it’s due to the sweeping demographic changes in Europe triggered by the large number of Muslim refugees and immigrants fleeing war, poverty and general chaos in Syria, Iraq, North Africa and elsewhere who have moved there.

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Australia's new Pentecostal prime minister: Try to guess how the press is receiving him

Australia's new Pentecostal prime minister: Try to guess how the press is receiving him

Australia has a new prime minister, which is certainly news. Reading the story’s domestic and international coverage makes clear that its newsiest angle -- for journalists, at least -- is its compelling religion twist.

That’s because the new prime minister, Scott Morrison, is an outspoken, politically conservative Pentecostal Christian. This mixing of religion and politics may be old-hat at this point for Americans. But it's an entirely new experience for Australians.

Morrison’s selection as PM is, for this American, something of a surprise, as Australia is among those Western nations in which Christianity is, by and large, gradually losing steam. However, it’s also a place where conservative politics is steadily on the rise, giving Morrison, a compromise candidate for the prime minister’s job, a leg up.

The coverage of his ascendancy to his nation’s top political post has also noted that his political style is “pragmatic,” meaning that while he’s clear about his values, he’s generally been willing to stand down when it's clear his traditional views on issues such as gay marriage are a bit much for the majority of Australian voters.

Here’s a chunk of a The New York Times story on his selection. 

Mr. Morrison and his faith represent a break with tradition in Australia, where politics has long been ardently secular. He is the first prime minister to come from one of the country’s growing evangelical Christian movements, leading many experts and voters to wonder how his Christianity might affect various issues, from foreign policy to social policy.

“The question is whether Morrison will choose to make his faith part of his political persona or to what extent he will,” said Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University. “At this point, he doesn’t seem to have shoved it in people’s faces.”

In many ways, Mr. Morrison cuts a markedly different figure than evangelical Christian politicians in the United States.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what The Washington Post reported last week.

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


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Cultural or doctrinal conflicts: What's the difference and does it matter to journalists?

Cultural or doctrinal conflicts: What's the difference and does it matter to journalists?

Here’s my question for the week. Which is the stronger glue -- tribal, meaning culturally reactive, religious expectations or religion rooted in deeply and thought-out transpersonal conviction?

I ask because it seems to me that these days, and maybe this has alway been the case, tribal religious affiliation is at the root of many, if not most, of the religiously-colored conflicts in the world today.

For journalists, the question becomes, how do you tell the difference between the two, and does it really matter if you're only trying to report body counts and similar traditional journalistic metrics for measuring conflict severity?

My take? I think it does matter because it can mean the difference between labeling the institution of religion itself as the cause of human conflict. Or, as I believe, recognizing that humanity's myriad shortcomings as a specie is the better explanation so many of our institutions, including religious one, become fatally corrupted over time.

Walt Kelly nailed it when his cartoon character Pogo famously exclaimed, slightly abbreviated here, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I can’t reword it any more succinctly.

I started considering these questions — again — while sloshing my way through yet another week of international, religion-linked, depressing news.

This is the initial story I hold responsible for my current state of mind.


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Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

The world is inundated with sad examples of persecuted religious, ethnic and racial minorities. Journalistically speaking, however, each case may be reduced to a “story,” each competing for press attention at a time when shrinking industry resources and an ominous uptick in American political chaos make grabbing international media coverage increasingly difficult.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is one such religious minority. The Kremlin has come down on Russian members of the faith like a ton of bricks.

The situation, from time to time, gains some coverage from western media elites. That attention soon fades, however, which prompts the following question: Why do some persecuted minorities trigger persistent journalistic attention while others do not?

I’ll try to answer that question below. First, though, let’s get current on the plight of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses.

This Los Angeles Times piece about their seeking refuge in neighboring Finland is a good place to start. Here’s a snippet from it:

In the 16 months since Russia’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group on par with Islamic State, raids and arrests of the religion’s estimated 175,000 members in the country have increased rapidly. The ruling criminalized practicing the religion and ordered its 395 branches closed. Members face prosecution for doing missionary work, a fundamental part of the faith.

There are now an estimated 250 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum in Finland. They wait out their asylum applications in several refugee centers across the country, including the Joutseno refugee center outside Lappeenranta in southeastern Finland.

How has this impacted individual Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Read on.

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China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

China and its creepy facial recognition technology targets Uighur Muslims

The title of the article seemed to be a joke: “A Summer Vacation in China’s Muslim Gulag.”

Appearing in ForeignPolicy.com, the piece was about a Uighur student, called Iman, who was studying in the United States. He knew his homeland was a dangerous place to visit, but he had a mother he’d not seen in years.

So, he had no sooner stepped off the plane in eastern China than he was thrown into jail for nine days, then -– still shackled -– put on a 50-hour train ride to Xinjiang, his homeland in western China. He got to the city of Turpan.

The stress intensified as he was taken to the detention center, or kanshousuo. “I was terrified as we approached.” (As we talked, for the first time Iman directed his gaze at the ground, avoiding eye contact.) “The compound was surrounded by towering walls. Military guards patrolled the metal gate. Inside, there was little light. It was so dark,” he continued.

He was immediately processed. An officer took his photograph, measured his height and weight, and told him to strip down to his underwear. They also shaved his head. Less than two weeks before, Iman was an aspiring graduate at one of the top research universities in the United States. Now, he was a prisoner in an extrajudicial detention center.

Still in his underwear, Iman was assigned to a room with 19 other Uighur men. Upon entering the quarters, lit by a single light bulb, a guard issued Iman a bright yellow vest. An inmate then offered the young man a pair of shorts. Iman began scanning the cell. The tiled room was equipped with one toilet, a faucet, and one large kang-style platform bed -- supa in Uighur -- where all of the inmates slept. He was provided with simple eating utensils: a thin metal bowl and a spoon.

He endured 17 days of imprisonment for crimes he did not commit and then, unexpectedly, was released and allowed to go home and eventually to return to the United States to finish his studies. Not surprisingly, he’s not planning to return to China any time soon, plus his mother herself is imprisoned in the same kind of “re-education center.”

China’s barbaric treatment of its Muslim minority (represented by the blue flag with a crescent and star with this piece) doesn’t get any protests from the worldwide Muslim community, unlike the anger that’s released toward Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Foreign Policy makes that point in a piece published last week. A sample:

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Swimming while Muslim: A Delaware newspaper dives in and tries to explain it all

Swimming while Muslim: A Delaware newspaper dives in and tries to explain it all

Explaining the intricacies of Islamic law and custom when intermixed with American mores and practice is not an easy thing, especially when the two clash in a place like a public swimming pool.

Yet, I must say the Delaware News Journal does a pretty good job in two articles (which have gotten lots of national play) on what happens when Muslim school kids hop into a local pool wearing street clothes -- that are Muslim garb.

This is not a totally new issue, as we can see from this newscast of a similar incident that happened back in 2014 in a Denver pool. But this Delaware incident has gotten more play.

In this drama, you have nervous pool personnel who jump the gun on whether or not to order the kids out; a principal who sweeps about in a full black abaya and niqab covering all but her eyes; and critical Muslims from elsewhere in the state who note how badly Muslims are often treated when they simply want to swim. Here is a sample from the first piece

It's the fourth year Tahsiyn A. Ismaa’eel has taken children, participants in her summer Arabic enrichment program, to the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington. 

But this year marked the first time some of her elementary schoolers were asked to leave the pool, Ismaa’eel said -- supposedly because they were wearing cotton shirts; shorts; and hijabs, or headscarves. 

The pool manager said it's against city policy to wear cotton in public pools, according to Ismaa’eel. If it's a rule, Ismaa’eel said, "it's never been enforced."

To pick on her group is discrimination, she said. 

"There’s nothing posted that says you can’t swim in cotton," said Ismaa’eel, owner and principal of the Darul-Amaanah Academy and director of its summer program. "At the same time, there are other kids with cotton on. … I asked, 'Why are my kids being treated differently?'"

The problem is that kids are jumping into the pool with their street clothes on, which causes a nightmare in terms of keeping the pool clean. 


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