New York Times writer: The most sympathetic sources may lie -- even Rohingya refugees

New York Times writer: The most sympathetic sources may lie -- even Rohingya refugees

One of journalism’s abiding truisms is that you’re only as good as your sources. Here’s exhibit A from the dawn of my own career, which is to say the mid-1960s.

My first newspaper job was as a glorified copy boy at Newsday, then headquartered in the New York City suburb of Garden City, Long Island. I say glorified because in addition to doing a lot of fetching I also wrote a spate of local obits when no one else was available.

I worked the overnight shift and it was on one such occasion that I called the home of a local man that a funeral home reported had died of natural causes.

Yeah, we did that, ignoring the intrusiveness of it all.

If we were lucky a relative or friend of the deceased would answer. To my surprise, the widow picked up the phone. She not only agreed to provide a few details of her husband’s life but sounded cheerful in the process. I took that to be odd but did not ask her why she sounded as she did out of my newbie reticence.

The following day, instead of running my three- or four-graph obit, the paper ran a lengthier piece on its prime news pages that carried the byline of a police beat reporter. My ebullient widow had been arrested on suspicion of murdering her husband.

Oh well, live and learn. Not every source is reliable.

I relate this (at the time, highly embarrassing) personal story as a lead in to a remarkable New York Times piece written by its Southeast Asia bureau chief Hannah Beech, who I've praised before.

In addition to filing the expected stories on Buddhist Myanmar’s genocidal attacks on it's Rohingya Muslim minority, Beech ably provides keen insight into how the media influences the conflict. She does so with great sensitivity. That makes her the perfect GetReligion subject, in my book.

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And now this: Bangladesh, the latest Muslim nation to reach terrorism tipping point?

And now this: Bangladesh, the latest Muslim nation to reach terrorism tipping point?

You know that sinking feeling that grabs you just when you're all snugly in bed and about to fall asleep, thankful another challenging day is over, when -- suddenly -- an unsettling drip, drip, drip sound undermines your peace?

Now what? A bathroom faucet in need of tightening? Hopefully it's just that. But it's still disturbing. Haven't you dealt with enough for one day?

Forgive me for the imperfect analogy, but this image crossed my mind while pondering the exploding situation in Bangladesh. The steady drip of ongoing Islamic violence in the South Asian nation, one of the world's most densely populated, has officially become a gusher -- not least of all thanks to government inaction and incompetence.

To my mind, that equals failing to get out of bed to check, and deal with, the drip before the problem gets worse. That's what happened in Bangladesh, the latest Muslim nation to gain increased American media attention for all the wrong but not surprising reasons.

Read this Wall Street Journal article to catch up with the news from Bangladesh. Note the skepticism it displays toward the government's decision to handle its terrorism problem by rounding up what may be termed the usual suspects (an incredible 5,000 individuals have been taken into custody, as of this writing).

Time magazine reported Monday that just 85 of the 5,000 are suspected Islamists -- which begs the question of who the other 4,900-plus happen to be and what good arresting them will achieve. (Later in the day, Religion News Service moved a story that said 8,000 had been arrested, 119 of them "suspected Islamist radicals.")

The slow drip of one-victim-at-a-time Islamic violence in Bangladesh has been on the international media radar screen, though mostly in a piecemeal fashion, for some time.

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Christian lives matter: The Guardian reports Catholic murder in Bangladesh -- NY Times shrugs

Christian lives matter: The Guardian reports Catholic murder in Bangladesh -- NY Times shrugs

Bangladesh, with its new wave of atrocities over the last half-week, has gotten fresh attention -- but not necessarily balanced attention.

"Christian murdered in latest Bangladesh attack," says The Guardian of the Catholic grocer who was hacked to death outside his store.

And the New York Times reports the throat-slashing murder of a Hindu priest in Bangladesh on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the two stories are not equally good. The Guardian ran the better one, for its sweep and for connecting religious and political facets.  

The narrative of the death of Sunil Gomes as brutally efficiently as the crime itself:

A Christian was knifed to death after Sunday prayers near a church in northwest Bangladesh in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
Police said unidentified attackers murdered the 65-year-old in the village of Bonpara, home to one of the oldest Christian communities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. "Sunil Gomes was hacked to death at his grocery store just near a church at Bonpara village," said Shafiqul Islam, deputy police chief of Natore district.

And the paper doesn't just stop with the police-blotter facts. It interviews Father Bikash Hubert Rebeiro of the Bonpara Catholic church. He says Gomes attended Sunday prayers, used to work as a gardener at the church and was "known for his humility."

"I can’t imagine how anyone can kill such an innocent man," the priest says.

We also learn of other recent victims in Bangladesh. One was Mahmuda Begum,  stabbed and shot in the head in front of her young son -- apparently because her husband is a police commissioner who has helped track down terrorists. The others are a Hindu trader and a Buddhist monk, both killed last week. 

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Slashing at freedom: New York Times Magazine targets attacks on Bangladesh 'freethinkers'

Slashing at freedom: New York Times Magazine targets attacks on Bangladesh 'freethinkers'

While liberals carp about the religious right allegedly chipping away at freedom in America, some Muslim extremists are hacking away -- literally -- at dissenters. So it's a grimly welcome surprise when the New York Times, the Gray Lady of liberalism, spotlights jihadi atrocities in Bangladesh.

The massive magazine feature, nearly 5,300 words strong, tells of the "freethinker" movement of secularist bloggers who have been stabbed and slashed by extremists in that south Asian land. In particular, the story centers on Asif Mohiuddin, a secular atheist journalist who fled to Germany after being stabbed several times.

And he's just one of more than a half-dozen victims, most murdered, some mangled. The attacks have leaked into western media for years, but retelling them in a single story carries its own visceral punch. The bottom line: It's good to see coverage of the rights of religious liberals, agnostics and atheists in troubled lands.

Some examples:

* Ahmed Rajib Haider was stalked by a five-man team, who "studied his movements over a period of days" and even played cricket outside his home. When he ventured out alone at night, the men pulled machetes and killed him.

* Avijit Roy and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, were attacked after a book fair. Two men with machetes "struck him three times on the head, penetrating his brain and killing him. His wife lost a thumb trying to protect him."

* "Weeks after Roy’s killing, two men armed with meat cleavers struck down the satirical blogger Rhaman."

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