Massacre in France: RNS promises debate on Islam and terrorism, but doesn't deliver

"Bastille Day attack reignites terrorism and religion debate," trumpets a headline at Religion News Service. Big over-promise there. The article has less debating than intoning -- with one leader after another denouncing terrorism in the name of Islam.

Details are still emerging about the murderous drive of a 19-ton truck that killed at least 84 and injured 202 in Nice, France. Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the driver, left no note or video, as do many suicidal terrorists. 

Still, supporters of ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State have been “celebrating the massacre,” as the Washington Post reports. It notes also that five years ago, Al-Qaida's online magazine recommended using vehicles to “mow down” victims.

The possibility that Bouhlel was a jihadi prompted a range of religious leaders -- from Pope Francis to Shawqi Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt -- to condemn the attack. Here's a sample from the RNS piece:

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, took to social media to comment on the killings: "As the French rejoice in their liberty, human evil kills the innocent cruelly. Let us weep with them, let us stand with them #PrayForNice."
Sheikh Salman al-Auda, a Saudi cleric, said the attacker would be cursed by "God, his angels and all human beings," according to The Guardian.
Allam, the Egyptian grand mufti, who is the country’s official interpreter of Islamic law, said people who commit such ugly crimes "are corrupt of the earth and follow in the footsteps of the devil … and are cursed in life and in the hereafter," according to Egypt’s Ahram Online newspaper.
And Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, issued a statement saying such "vile terrorist attacks contradict Islamic teachings,"  Ahram reported.

The sheer range of top Islamic authorities damning the attack is remarkable for RNS' enterprise in collecting them. I hope they're quoted widely -- both to Muslims who cloak terrorism with religion, and to people who keep saying that Muslims never condemn terrorism.

But where is the debate part of this article? I see only two such items, one of them kissed off in a single sentence: 

While world leaders condemned the attack, President Barack Obama and others received criticism from political conservatives for not being as explicit as French President Francois Hollande was when he said: "All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism."

The other debate? That's about Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, who said that only Muslims who disavow Shariah, or Islamic law, should have the right to U.S. citizenship. That matter takes up half the RNS story.

But before he gets to make his case, we get a rebuttal from Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations:

"When Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggests that American Muslims be subjected to an Inquisition-style religious test and then expelled from their homes and nation, he plays into the hands of terror recruiters and betrays the American values he purports to uphold," Awad said.
According to CNN Politics, Gingrich had said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity: "Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported."
"Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia, glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door," he added.

Why is that? What is there in Shariah that would disqualify a believer for citizenship? We're not told. Maybe Gingrich didn’t tell Hannity, of course. In that case, a phone call or email or tweet to his office would have helped. 

Because RNS does pay attention to Newt's tweets: "However, on his Twitter account Gingrich said his words had gone through 'amazing distortions' in the media."

Distortions like what? We're not told that either. Incredibly, the article ends there. We're left with Awad attacking and Gingrich not defending. 

What else could this story have brought up? How about the religious rationale for Islamic terrorism?  RNS' sources may disavow any, but a think piece in The Telegraph may make you think twice.

Writer Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens examines two schools of thought on jihadi violence: one saying that it uses religion for political ends, another saying it's using religion to reject modern life.  He concludes that it's both religion and politics, not one or the other:

Today, Isil is fighting to realise a political goal, namely the establishment of God’s rule on earth represented by a form of government which draws its laws from the primary texts of Islam. The political message is that Islam, as a religion, is under attack and must be defended and then spread across the globe as the sole form of governance.

He hastens to add that the terrorists use one particular interpretation of Islam, "which, thankfully, is and always be only followed by a small minority of the world’s Muslim population." But he stresses also that it follows a school of thought developed by "formally trained and knowledgeable Sunni Sheikhs." 

I'm sure that many Islamic scholars would disagree vehemently with that analysis. And that would be a debate worth exploring. Precisely what texts and studies do jihadi groups use to defend shooting, stabbing, blowing up and driving trucks the innocent? And what sources do mainline Islamic leaders quote to refute the jihadis -- even to say they're hellbound?  

RNS could go deeper into those matters as we gain time for a little perspective. It would be nice to read some actual debate in a story that promises it.

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