Islamic terrorism

New York Times explains Saudi Wahhabism in depth (What's Uber got to do with it?)

New York Times explains Saudi Wahhabism in depth (What's Uber got to do with it?)

The New York Times has published another in its "Secrets of the Kingdom" series on Saudi Arabia, this time delving into the Saudi monarchy's complicated political/religious pact with Wahhabi Islam.

The ultra-conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam has had quite a widespread impact on global Islam, and by extension, the non-Muslim world -- as I've noted here before.

This installment of the intermittent series -- which I've touted previously -- offers up no real secrets to those who pay serious attention to the Middle East. Still, the piece and the series in general -- a package of in-depth backgrounders picking apart different aspects of Saudi domestic policy and external influences -- strikes me as akin to a public service.

It's a highly readable primer for the uninitiated, and a detailed reminder for those of us who think we know something about the Saudi leadership's duplicitous ways. While not written by religion journalists, the series provides material every religion journalist should know.

Just how pervasive has the Saudi influence been? Here's a block from the new Times piece addressing this:

Thomas Hegghammer, a Norwegian terrorism expert who has advised the United States government, said the most important effect of Saudi proselytizing might have been to slow the evolution of Islam, blocking its natural accommodation to a diverse and globalized world. “If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out literalism,” he said.
The reach of the Saudis has been stunning, touching nearly every country with a Muslim population, from the Gothenburg Mosque in Sweden to the King Faisal Mosque in Chad, from the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles to the Seoul Central Mosque in South Korea. Support has come from the Saudi government; the royal family; Saudi charities; and Saudi-sponsored organizations including the World Muslim League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the International Islamic Relief Organization, providing the hardware of impressive edifices and the software of preaching and teaching.

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Targeting churches: Fox News produces ominous report on threats in America

Targeting churches: Fox News produces ominous report on threats in America

No one is saying, yet, that terrorists are ready to attack American churches the way they have in the Middle East or, more recently, against the Rev. Jacques Hamel in France. But as Fox News reports, the threats are already looming.

And before you say, "What else would Fox say?", consider the examples in the article: hate speech, death threats and aborted attack plans of the type that would be familiar to Jewish leaders.

This is how ominous it can get -- and how some police are slow to address the situation, according to Fox:

As Father Josiah Trenham prepared to read the Gospel, several parishioners discreetly scooped up their babies, retreated up the aisles of St. Andrew Orthodox Church and out into the spring air, so as not to allow the crying of little ones to disturb the divine liturgy.
The time-honored tradition was shattered when a car passed by the Riverside, Calif., church, slowing down as the front passenger leaned out of his window and bellowed menacingly through a bullhorn, according to witnesses.
"Allahu Akbar!" the unidentified man repeated several times as the unnerved parents drew their infants close and exchanged worried glances.
Witnesses were able to give Riverside police a description of the green Honda Civic, but not of the three occupants. Some told police they believed one or more of the men may have been taking photographs, according to Officer Ryan Railsback. Although Trenham insisted multiple congregants heard the Arabic phrase, Railsback noted no mention of it was in the police report. 
Whatever the case, no law was broken – even if an unmistakable message was sent and received.

Fox, of course, is hardly the only news outfit to notice the hatred of jihadis against Christians. As The Guardian reports, more and more voices are calling for branding the "genocide" label onto the brutalizing of Christians in the Middle East.

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Muslims and the GOP: Charlotte Observer shuns real questions for public relations

Muslims and the GOP: Charlotte Observer shuns real questions for public relations

Good hustle, Charlotte Observer. You knew Rose Hamid staged a one-woman protest at Donald Trump's rally in South Carolina. So when she showed up in a hijab in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, you  pounced with a profile and indepth on Muslim-American relations

But why the lame, propagandistic headline -- "Charlotte Muslim leader brings message of love to Republican convention"? You could have written "Triteness Alert!" in fewer words.

And the top of the story ain't no model of fresh reporting either:

Red flower pen in hand, Charlotte’s Rose Hamid spoke in Cleveland’s Public Square Monday, delivering the message she hopes to bring to a larger audience at this week’s Republican National Convention: that Islam is not a violent religion to be feared.
"It doesn’t have to be us versus them," she told a few dozen listeners. "These terrorist groups are not following the Islamic doctrine."

Hamid may be telegenic and articulate, as when she talked to the BBC after being tossed out of the rally in Rock Hill, S.C. But that doesn't make it a good idea to recycle clichés that could have been written by, say, Nihad Awad.

Especially because in this story, we heard directly from Awad, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He was in Cleveland the same day, saying, "We all have the same love for and commitment to America." Triteness by association, I guess.

Only in paragraph four does the Observer spell out its thesis: the contrast between loving, patriotic American Muslims and a political party that is turning against them:

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

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:

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Gay Hispanics: Miami Herald stumbles in spinoff story from Orlando shootings

Gay Hispanics: Miami Herald stumbles in spinoff story from Orlando shootings

After gay rights, gun control and (more gingerly) Islamic terrorism, coverage of the mass shooting in Orlando gets subdivided in a weekend story in The Miami Herald, which examines the atrocity from the standpoint of gay Hispanics.

It's an interesting angle -- especially in Florida, the port of entry for many from Central and Latin America -- but it has some flaws. For one, it misses some religious "ghosts." The article brings up the topic of religion, then bounces off. Instead, it emphasizes twin themes:

Some want to make sure one fact is not forgotten: The vast majority of victims were Hispanics.
"This was not just an LGBT community," said Zoe Colon, director of Florida and southeast operations for the Hispanic Federation. "This was a Latino LGBT community."

Not that the tragedy doesn't call for a sensitive treatment. The newspaper appropriately tells the reactions of Orlando resident Edwin Lopez as he learned that 12 of the 49 people killed in the Pulse nightclub were personal friends.

Then the story launches rather blithely into a connection with a more general issue:

A difficult conversation has started about the struggle of being an LGBT person of color. For many Hispanics, a traditionally Christian culture laced with machismo and traditional gender roles could foster fear of rejection from one’s own family. That fear can prevent young people from coming out to their loved ones.
"You don’t want to be judged by your family. Those are the only people who have really been supportive of you your entire life," said Dominique Sanchez. The 19-year-old said she’s known people close to her who are reluctant to be open about their sexuality. "Your friends come and go. So if [your family doesn’t] accept you, then you don’t accept yourself."

We'll just note a few things in passing. One is whether Hispanics are people of color. I've met Cubans, Nicaraguans and others with skin lighter than my own, and I'm a white Anglo.

The Herald also offers no estimates on the number of gay Hispanics. Hence, we don't know the size of the social issue that’s the heart of this story.

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Orlando shooting: Florida media scrambling to decide what it was about

Orlando shooting: Florida media scrambling to decide what it was about

Was it Islamic terrorism? Just regular terrorism? A hate crime? A wake-up call for gay rights and gun control?

Like a dropped glass, the Orlando shooting has already shattered into many stories, less than 48 hours after the event.  Activists for various causes have filled in a few details of the tragedy into scripts that seem otherwise pre-written. And many news media have been helping them.

The coverage has been overwhelming -- local and national alike -- and the cash-strapped newspapers have often borrowed from national news outlets. But here's what jumped out during my look at Florida media.

The Orlando Sentinel has done outstanding -- though not flawless -- coverage, with multiple updates. By 1:02 p.m. Sunday, it had produced an impressive profile of Omar Mateen, named by police as the man who stormed the Pulse nightclub and killed 49 people. Building partly on work by the Washington Post, the profile includes:

Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, the 29-year-old gunman accused of killing dozens of people in Orlando on Sunday, was a security guard, the divorced father of a 3-year-old and, in school, someone who acted "dorky."
He also was an extremist whose outspoken interest in terrorism twice put him on the FBI’s radar screen.
On Sunday morning, he became something far larger: a lone gunman who authorities say was responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
He called 911 from outside a gay nightclub just south of downtown Orlando, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, authorities said, then began his assault.

For comparison, check out the Tampa Bay Times' version, which came out at 12:13 p.m. today.

The Sentinel also reveals that Mateen grew up in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and bought two guns legally; worked for a security firm; been investigated by the FBI at least twice since 2013; made reference to the Tsarnaev brothers, the brothers who bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon; and was married for two years to a woman who left because of his abusiveness. All of those elements have become part of the standard narrative in other media.

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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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London elects its first Muslim mayor and the journalism world rightly notes its importance

London elects its first Muslim mayor and the journalism world rightly notes its importance

If you keep up with international news at all, you should know by now that London has a uniquely newsworthy new mayor, a Sunni Muslim of Pakistani heritage.

Its a first. But on the chance you don't, let me introduce you to Sadiq Khan, a second-generation Brit.

His connections to Islam are strong but clearly on the social liberal side. He supports same-sex marriage and has questioned the wearing of face coverings by Muslim women in public situations.

The mainstream international media has welcomed his election as proof positive that Muslims can, just as members of any non-Western religious or ethnic immigrant group, embrace Western-style democratic politics.

Khan's victory last week makes him the West's highest-profile Muslim politician, which means he'll be under a media microscope for the foreseeable future. Here's a selection of international media reports on Khan's election pulled together by Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Further spiking interest in Khan's election is the strong effort he made to reach out to London's Jewish voters. That's all the more noteworthy because he is a member of the UK's leftwing Labour Party, which has been wracked of late by the purging from its ranks of some 50 leading members -- including Khan's predecessor as London mayor -- for making anti-Israel comments understood by their own party to be anti-Semitic.

Khan's first official action as London mayor was to attend a city Holocaust commemoration event

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