Al-Jazeera

A 'yeah, right!' story? Try Macron wanting French Muslims to change their faith, on his terms

A 'yeah, right!' story? Try Macron wanting French Muslims to change their faith, on his terms

When was the last time you read a story quoting some political figure’s simplistic solution to a complex situation that struck you as so absurd that your reaction was a bewildered, and sarcastic, “Yeah, right! That’ll work.”

For me -- ignoring, for now, my many head-slapping reactions to the ludicrous ideas emanating from Washington these days -- it was when I read this Washington Post piece detailing French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reshape Islam in his nation as an antidote to the faith’s jihadist fringe.

Yeah, right! That’ll work. Does anyone in Macron's inner circle study history?

[Macron] has said that in the coming months he will announce “a blueprint for the whole organization” of Islam. And those trying to anticipate what that will look like are turning their attention to Hakim El Karoui, a leading voice on how Islamic traditions fit within French culture.

It is hard to miss that the man who appears to have Macron’s ear on this most sensitive of subjects cuts a similar figure. Like the president, El Karoui is an ex-Rothschild investment banker with an elite social pedigree who favors well-tailored suits, crisp white shirts and the lofty province of big ideas.

The latest of those ideas is this -- that the best way to integrate Islam within French society is to promote a version of the religion “practiced in peace by believers who will not have the need to loudly proclaim their faith.”

But if El Karoui is the model for how Macron envisions merging Islamic traditions and French values, the effort may end up stumbling along a rough road.

“He’s disconnected from everyday Muslims, and he has legitimacy on the question only because he happens to be named Hakim El Karoui, and that’s it,” said Yasser Louati, a French civil liberties advocate and Muslim community organizer.

Reorganize? Like reconfiguring the whole wine drinking thing to help French Muslims loosen up, perhaps?

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Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Qatar: Making sense of the latest focus for news in the befuddling Middle East

Is there any region of the world more confounding and irritating, no matter what your worldview, than the Middle East -- ground zero for some of the world's nastiest, religion-steeped political conflicts?

Well, yeah. There's also Washington, D.C.

But let's put that latter mess aside for a moment -- though political decisions made there undoubtedly impact capitals from North Africa to the Persian/Arab Gulf, and beyond.

We should never minimize the tragic and ongoing death and destruction in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Lebanon and now even Iran following the successful ISIS attack there. They're a terrible indictment of humanity's penchant for cruelty and the pain that unfortunate folks are forced to endure by others.

For now, however, let's focus on Qatar, the natural gas-rich Gulf monarchy that until recent days managed to steer a middle -- if duplicitous -- course between the United States and its Sunni Arab quasi-allies on the one-hand, and Shiite Muslim Iran and its proxy militias, such as the Palestinian terror group cum Gaza government Hamas.

(Let's not forget that Qatar is also a major international media player, thanks to its financial backing of Al-Jazeera.)

You're probably aware that Qatar burst anew into the American political conscious when several of its Sunni Arab neighbors cut diplomatic ties and closed their borders with Qatar in retribution for its ties to Islamist terrorist groups and their supporters.

The situation escalated when President Donald Trump -- there's the D.C. connection -- took credit for the action and piled additional opprobrium on Qatar, which is situated on a thumb-shaped peninsula protruding into the Gulf directly opposite Iran. This, despite efforts by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson -- no doubt mindful that Qatar hosts America's largest Middle East military base -- to lessen the diplomatic confrontation.

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Attacks in Lebanon: The New York Times gets it right -- the targets were Christians

Attacks in Lebanon: The New York Times gets it right -- the targets were Christians

The recent multiple suicide attacks on a Christian town in Lebanon -- including a crowd that preparing for a funeral -- have gotten well-deserved attention from mainstream media like the New York Times and the Associated Press. But the Times' eye is sharper than AP's.

On a single day, eight men fired shots and blew themselves up in Al Qaa for no apparent reason than the faith of most of the residents. The Times' report on the attack aptly conveys the dismay and desperation of the townspeople.

The story also spells out two dilemmas -- questions that also plague people in Europe, Turkey and the United States:

In many ways, the questions in Al Qaa echo those that followed attacks in Orlando, Fla.; Paris; and Istanbul: How can a community protect itself from a lone assailant or a small team of attackers with guns or bombs? And local leaders are struggling with the same issue facing Europe as it deals with its own influx of migrants: How to balance the desire to help with fears that the newcomers could harbor a threat?
"It is not easy for people, when their sons have died or are in critical condition, to differentiate between terrorists and refugees," the Rev. Elian Nasrallah, the Roman Catholic priest who oversees Al Qaa’s churches, said during an interview in his home. He had coordinated aid for refugees and would help lead the funeral for the town’s dead.

Although the shooting war is in Syria, across the border from Al Qaa's home in the Bekaa Valley, the fight has severely impacted the residents. As the Times reports, 20,000 refugees from the war have flooded into the area, overwhelming the local populace of 3,000.

The newspaper gives a taut, brutal narrative of the violence. It began early June 27 -- first striking one of the few Muslim resident families in Al Qaa, the paper notes.  A father and son saw a man in their garden; "When they confronted him, he blew himself up, wounding them both."

From there, it gets much worse:

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Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

The Times of Israel and the Israeli government went GetReligion on two networks -- BBC and Al-Jazeera -- for their mishandling of an attack on Jews in Jerusalem and the counterattack by Israeli police.

The drama began on Saturday evening, when a teen stabbed three people in Jerusalem, killing two and wounding the third.  Police shot the attacker at the scene. BBC then outraged many Israelis, including Israeli media, with its headline: "Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two." Sounded like the shooting had nothing to do with the attack. And that it mattered that the shooting victim was Palestinian but not that the stabbing victims were Jews.

After a public outcry, the news network changed its headline several times, but only drew more ire. The headlines weren’t cited in the Times, but they were by a group called BBC Watch, to which the article gave a link.

BBC's second headline was better but still tone deaf: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City 'by Palestinian.' " Looked like sarcasm quotes, meant to cast doubt.

Third try: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City by Palestinian," no quote marks.

Fourth try was the charm: "Jerusalem: Palestinian kills two Israelis in Old City."

BBC Watch still expressed ire: "In other words, professional journalists supposedly fluent in the English language had to make three changes to the article’s headline in not much more than an hour." The organization also faults BBC for not reporting that Hamas and Fatah praised the dead stabber, Mahannad Halabi. (Then again, neither does the Times of Israel in the story above.)

At least the article appears to get the facts straight:

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Un-hampered reporting: Al-Jazeera runs sensitive feature on laundry ministries

Un-hampered reporting: Al-Jazeera runs sensitive feature on laundry ministries

"Washing your sins away" is a common phrase, but a church coalition has taken that a step further -- by doing laundry for the poor. The project, Laundry Love, is told in a sensitive, multisourced story in, of all places, Al-Jazeera.

The story is rich in quotes and atmosphere, allowing many of the principals tell their own story. It even pulls the curtain back from an area we thought we knew:

HARBOR CITY, Calif. — From the Pacific Coast Highway exit off the freeway in Harbor City, it is impossible to miss the towering exhaust stacks of the Phillips 66 petroleum refinery and the mammoth cranes of the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. This is working-class L.A., 21 miles away and a world apart from the velvet-roped wonder of Tinseltown.
Across PCH from a payday loan shop and next door to a trailer park, King’s Laundry seems an unlikely vessel for hope in difficult times. But on a Thursday night in December, as a cheerful crowd of more than 100 men, women and children gathered in a parking lot to enjoy hot dogs, hearty soup and Christmas tunes played live by a church band, hope was exactly the thing on offer — in the form of free loads of laundry, courtesy of the volunteers who donate money, labor and laundry soap at Harbor City’s twice-monthly Laundry Love event.

Al-Jazeera neatly explains the genesis of Laundry Love: an appeal from a homeless man for clean clothes. “If I had clean clothes I think people would treat me like a human being," he said. It says the scheme works by partnering local churches with local Laundromats for the periodic wash-ups.

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