Arabs

Saudi Arabia: Journalistic whiplash follows a crown prince's political crackdown

Saudi Arabia: Journalistic whiplash follows a crown prince's political crackdown

What now, Saudi Arabia? Any more surprises ahead for the media elite?

Barely a week ago, international media outlets were playing up what they interpreted as the beginning of genuine religious reform in Riyadh and the uprooting of corrupt privilege.

But that was then. This week the narrative has shifted dramatically.

That Western applause over Saudi Arabia's signaling that women will finally be allowed to drive in the desert kingdom, unabashedly received as a sign of religious reform, or at the least, a sign of moderation?

Now it's just as likely that it was mere religious window dressing meant as international cover for the wholesale purging of key political rivals by the royal household -- which is to say by Saudi Arabia’s young and ambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, acting with the apparent approval of his father King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Click here for a refresher on current events in the oil-rich desert kingdom -- though keep in mind that by the time you read this events may quite possibly have moved on.

Not to be minimized is that all this comes at a time of escalating tensions between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shiite Muslim Iran that are capable of destroying whatever semblance of peace remains in the Middle East.

Care to read an Arab take on what's happening?

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Que sera, sera: It's Trump's turn to deal with Middle East. Let the guesswork begin in earnest

Que sera, sera: It's Trump's turn to deal with Middle East. Let the guesswork begin in earnest

The presidential election is finally over and according to the rules of the American electoral system Donald Trump will be our next president (my bias is showing). That means it's that time in the journalistic election cycle to guess at what the president-elect may or may not actually do once sworn in.

Yes, guess work Is pretty much the state of affairs, at least as of my writing this post. We may soon have a better understanding, but for now candidate Trump's steady stream of contradictory, conniving, condescending and cockamamie pronouncements makes it hard for his opponents and supporters alike to know just what he plans with much certainty.

So sit back and watch as aspirational, personal projection and shot-in-the-dark journalism swarms the field.

Oh, wait.

It appears that aspirational, personal projection and shot-in-the-dark journalism have been on the field all along, given what the majority of political polls predicted, and what some of our best journalistic minds (seriously) said before being proved wrong.

Others at GetReligion have written extensively about the domestic side of Trump's victory. So as this column's title suggests, I'm going international, starting with the Middle East. I'll begin with Israel before getting on to the Arab and Muslim Middle East actors. (I'm skipping the Syria-Iraq situation in this post; it's a post itself.)

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Tunisia bucks the Islamist narrative. Why can't journalists tell its story more broadly?

Tunisia bucks the Islamist narrative. Why can't journalists tell its story more broadly?

The Arab Spring has been an unmitigated disaster, right? Sure it has, because isn't that the primary message you've learned from wherever you get your news?

Well, yes, that's mostly true. Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, the Arab Middle East in general; they've all gone from bad to worse. And because that which bleeds leads, media coverage of the series of national uprisings known collectively as the Arab Spring has focused by a wide margin on the news of disaster.

(Journalists take note: Try to avoid premature optimism when coming up with catch phrase-labels, particularly if you're dealing with the Middle East.)

But, in fact, the Arab Spring has not been across the board bad news. There's also Tunisia, where it all started more than five years ago, but which gets far less American media attention because, by regional standards, the violence there has been relatively-- and I emphasize "relatively" -- light.

Tunisia is often cited -- and properly so, from a liberal Western standpoint -- as the Arab Spring's lone success story.

Here's the top of a New York Times piece that lays out the Tunisian reality.

TUNIS -- The leader of Tunisia’s main Islamic political party was re-elected on Monday, winning endorsement for his effort to move the party away from its Islamist roots and stay in tune with the country’s five-year-old democratic revolution.

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When reporting on the Islamic State, try reporting on more than its ties to Islam

When reporting on the Islamic State, try reporting on more than its ties to Islam

We're told that on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, ISIS is consistently losing ground, thanks in the main to air strikes led by Russia and the United States. But here's something else, perhaps even more important.

Poll results released last week said that ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and, in Arabic, Daesh) is also losing ground in the battle for popular support among Arab Muslims

This piece from The Washington Post details the poll in question. Here's the nut of it:

The new poll, based on face-to-face interviews with 3,500 respondents ages 18 to 24, suggests that young Arabs are both increasingly fearful of the terrorist group and less swayed by its propaganda, compared with previous years. More than half the participants ranked the Islamic State as the No. 1 problem facing the Middle East, and 3 out of 4 said they believed that the group would ultimately fail in its quest to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The survey suggests that religious fervor plays a secondary role, at best, when young Arabs do decide to sign up with the Islamic State. When asked why Middle Easterners join the group, the participants listed joblessness or poor economic prospects as the top reason. Only 18 percent cited religious views — a “belief that their interpretation of Islam is superior to others” — and nearly as many picked sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites as the chief motivating factor.
Young Arabs from countries with high unemployment rates were more likely to list economic hardship as a top reason for wanting to join the Islamic State, the survey found. The results align with the findings of other researchers who have noted that many recruits use religion mostly as a rationalization.

Now that's interesting. Economics is said to be the driving factor; not religious radicalization but religious rationalization. Which is to say that there's more to the problem of ISIS than its version of Islam, as some on the anti-Muslim right -- including you-know-which-presidential-wannabes -- loudly exclaim.

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Associated Press finds debates about Syrian refugee crisis -- among former refugees

Associated Press finds debates about Syrian refugee crisis -- among former refugees

The following is a public service announcement to mainstream journalists who are frantically trying to cover all of the different political angles of the current Syrian refugee debates: Please remember that the word "Syrian" does not equal "Muslim."

This is, of course, a variation on another equation that causes trouble for some journalists who are not used to covering religion: "Arab" does not equal "Muslim."

Thus, if and when you seek the viewpoints of Arab refugees who are already settled in America, including those who came here during previous waves of bloodshed in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, please strive to interview a few Syrian Christians and members of other religious minorities.

This is especially important when covering tensions in the declining industrial cities of the Midwest and Northeast, where Arabs of all kinds have been settling for generations. You will often find that many of these tensions are, literally, ancient.

This is a rather personal issue for me, since my family was part of an Orthodox parish for four years in South Florida (including 9/11) in which most of the families had Syrian and Lebanese roots. It also helps to remember that many people who come to America from Lebanon were driven into Lebanon by persecution in Syria, much earlier in the 20th Century.

To see these factors at work, check out this recent Associated Press "Big Story" feature that took the time to talk to a variety of voices on both sides of some of these divides.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- A few days ago, a pastor asked Syrian-born restaurant owner Marie Jarrah to donate food to a welcoming event for recently arrived Syrian refugees. Jarrah, who said she regularly helps people in need, declined.

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The controversial mind and Lebanese soul of Helen Thomas

As I have mentioned before here at GetReligion, at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks I was a member of a largely Lebanese and Syrian Orthodox parish in West Palm Beach, Fla. Our priest, as an Arab Christian, volunteered to be a grief counselor at the still-smoking ruins of the World Trade Center. A few members of the parish had their grandchildren punched around on school playgrounds because they were Arabs, even with their gold baptism crosses hanging around their necks.

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