Lebanon

New York Times covers Lebanon, where people actually marry to conceive kids (#ImagineThat)

New York Times covers Lebanon, where people actually marry to conceive kids (#ImagineThat)

We’ve run bunches and bunches of stories about the slowly creeping demographics crisis in America’s blue states, where the aging population is not replacing itself fast enough. Not long ago, tmatt linked high fertility rates to religious belief and low rates to lack of belief.

Where in the world, then, is the opposite happening? Where civic leaders seem to be aware that this is happening?

Lebanon, it turns out, which is where people can’t get married fast enough so they can procreate more. Children are considered an asset, not a liability. For one thing, this complex land’s many religious groups know that they need children to retain their clout — and their military options — in the future.

But there’s a problem. The expense of weddings keeps many people from marrying.

The New York Times’ recent story on this phenomenon told how several religious communities have come up with an answer: Mass weddings.

BKERKE, Lebanon — Classical music swelled as the bride stepped from a white sedan onto a red carpet, took the arm of her tuxedoed groom and walked down the aisle, both grinning as their relatives cheered nearby.

The next bride did the same. And the next. And the next. And the next.

Once the couples — 34 that day — reached their seats, the patriarch of the Maronite Church, dressed in crimson robes and gripping a scepter topped with a golden cross, led Mass and declared the whole lot husbands and wives.

No, this was not the Unification Church, which pioneered mass weddings. This is now the new normal for the Middle East.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The New York Times wishes us a Merry Hezbollah Christmas

The New York Times wishes us a Merry Hezbollah Christmas

Well, it sounded good on paper.

A New York Times article showing us a kinder, gentler, even interfaith Hezbollah was just one of a bunch of Christmas-themed pieces that ran in the paper this past week. One standout was this depressing piece on China’s holiday crackdown on churches, orchestrated by President Xi (the Grinch) Jinping.

It was just another day for China’s 30 million underground Christians with more people tossed in jail, sanctuaries and seminaries closed for the holiday and online Bible sales prohibited. There was also this piece on the Women’s March fragmenting due to anti-Semitism.

But the strangest article was this overseas dispatch with the headline: “Christmas in Lebanon: Jesus isn’t only for the Christians.” As I will explain in a bit, the piece didn’t get the greatest reception.

BEIRUT — The Iranian cultural attaché stepped up to the microphone on a stage flanked by banners bearing the faces of Iran’s two foremost religious authorities: Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, and Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader.

To the left of Ayatollah Khomeini stood a twinkling Christmas tree, a gold star gilding its tip. Angel ornaments and miniature Santa hats nestled among its branches. Fake snow dusted fake pine needles.

“Today, we’re celebrating the birth of Christ,” the cultural attaché, Mohamed Mehdi Shari’tamdar, announced into the microphone, “and also the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.”

“Hallelujah!” boomed another speaker, Elias Hachem, reciting a poem he had written for the event. “Jesus the savior is born. The king of peace, the son of Mary. He frees the slaves. He heals. The angels protect him. The Bible and the Quran embrace.”

“We’re celebrating a rebel,” proclaimed a third speaker, the new mufti of the Shiite Muslims of Lebanon, the rebel in question being Jesus.

This being Lebanon, one can say something positive about Christianity; a luxury that Iran doesn’t allow Christians within its borders, as I wrote about recently. The audience at this event was mainly Shi’ite and an Iranian band was playing Assyrian and Persian Christmas carols; again, a luxury not allowed to Christians in Persia itself.

Nearly 30 years after the end of a civil war in which Beirut was cloven into Muslim and Christian halves connected only by a gutted buffer zone, Lebanese from all different sects now commonly mingle every day at home, at work and in public.

But few seasons frame the everyday give-and-take of religious coexistence quite like Christmastime in Lebanon.

Half the women snapping selfies with the colossal Christmas tree that stands across a downtown street from Beirut’s even more colossal blue mosque wear hijabs.

Children with veiled and unveiled mothers wait in line at the City Center mall to whisper wish lists to the mall’s Santa, and schoolchildren of all sects exchange Secret Santa gifts in class.

I wish the writer would clarify that Santa Claus isn’t a Christian concept and that the jolly Bearded One’s presence worldwide this time of year has more to do with shopping free-for-alls than religion.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Media watchdog catches a whopper in New York Times feature on gay life in Lebanon

Media watchdog catches a whopper in New York Times feature on gay life in Lebanon

Sometimes you just have to wonder whether someone’s simply asleep at the wheel.

Yes, even at The New York Times, which I consider journalism's preeminent global-news operation.

I say that, despite the Times many imperfections. To which I'd add this ambitious but seriously flawed story about gays, lesbians and transsexuals trying to survive in Lebanon. Here’s its opening paragraphs.

Throughout the Middle East, gay, lesbian and transgender people face formidable obstacles to living a life of openness and acceptance in conservative societies.
Although Jordan decriminalized same-sex behavior in 1951, the gay community remains marginalized. Qatar, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen all outlaw same-sex relations. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality can be punished by flogging or death.
In Egypt, at least 76 people have been arrested in a crackdown since September, when a fan waved a rainbow flag during a concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band with an openly gay singer.
If there is one exception, it has been Lebanon. While the law can still penalize homosexual acts, Lebanese society has slowly grown more tolerant as activists have worked for more rights and visibility.

What’s that, you say? You clicked on the link to the story provided above and that’s not how the lede actually reads? Instead of “Middle East,” the story now refers to the “Arab world”?

Well, you're correct. Let me explain.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Crux reports from Lebanon-Syria border, where Western ideals clash with deadly local realities

Crux reports from Lebanon-Syria border, where Western ideals clash with deadly local realities

One of the greatest gifts I’ve derived from being a journalist has been to repeatedly face situations in which what seemed obvious to me made no sense to someone else. This helped me understand that's it's an enormously complicated world that requires empathy toward others to comprehend it at any depth.

This can happen when you're fortunate enough to mix with people who have a world view that’s quite different than you're own. You learn that preconceived notions about “the facts” of a story can be a barrier to grokking the heart of the story.

Crux, the online Roman Catholic journal, reminded me of this last week via a series of stories it published about besieged Christian villages in the Lebanese-Syrian border region.

That's a pretty tough neighborhood. In such places, simple survival -- particularly for religious and ethnic minorities -- can mean assuming positions that seem morally unthinkable for those of us fortunate enough to live in far gentler environs.

Take the case of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for example. Who of us thinks him to be anything less than a brutal murderer with little -- “none” might be the better word -- regard for anything but his own survival? Who of us would be willing to live under his leadership?

As part of the series, Crux editor John L. Allen, Jr., in a piece labeled analysis, wrote that what seems apparent about Assad to most of us in the West holds little sway for Christians living in Lebanon and Syrian. His piece ran under the following headline: “Meeting Middle East Christians is where Western stereotypes go to die.”

 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

There is a piercing cry from click-bait hungry editors that you know is being heard this week in newsrooms everywhere: "OK PEOPLE! I need Wonder Woman-angle stories and I need them now! With as much art as possible."

If you do an online search, for example, for the terms "Wonder Woman" and "feminist" you get a mere 680,000 hits in Google NEWS, as opposed to the whole WWW. That was last night. 

With the whole Amazon meets Greek mythology thing going on, there have been a few stories sort of chasing that religion angle.

However, we can celebrate the fact that The Washington Post dedicated a large amount of digital space (I would appreciate knowing how much of this copy ran in the dead-treepulp analog edition) to an "Acts of Faith" feature that offered a great deal of information about the Jewish faith and Israeli identity of the actress with the iconic sword, shield, wrist armor and, well, form-fitting battle garb -- Gal Gadot.

The headline: "How the Jewish identity of ‘Wonder Woman’s’ star is causing a stir." Just about the only thing negative I can say about this report was that, for logical reasons, it needed to include quite a bit of material from other media sources. Oh, and this story also requires me -- once again -- to praise the work of this reporter, none other than former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey. Awkward.

In addition to soaring box-office numbers and feminist and post-feminist arguments about cleavage, there is actual news linked to the popularity of this movie and its star. Right up top, readers learn:

Ahead of the film’s international release, Lebanon banned the film because of Gadot, who, like most Israeli citizens, served a mandatory two-year stint in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat trainer. (Jordan is also reportedly considering a ban on the film.)
In 2014, Gadot posted on Facebook support of the Israeli army’s actions in Gaza while lighting candles with her daughter and writing “Shabbat Shalom,” the common greeting Jews say to one another on the Sabbath.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

At first glance, there would seem to be little connection between the two items that I want to spotlight in this post. The connecting thread is that, every now and then, people in the public square (including journalists) need to be more careful when assigning labels to some of the key players.

So what happened in the Breitbart headline pictured above -- since taken down -- linked to the speech by Sen. Ted Cruz at the recent "In Defense of Christians" conference, an event focusing, in particular, on the brutally oppressed ancient churches of the Holy Land. Surf a few links in this online search to catch up on this media storm on the political and cultural right.

It's a complicated news story, one that hits home for me because of the years I spent in a majority-Arab Eastern Orthodox parish. Trust me when I say that I understand that some Arab Christians are anti-Israel and I have met some who sometimes veer all the way into anti-Semitism. I understand that some focus their anger on Israel, since it's hopeless to curse the radical forms of Islam that have, over decades and centuries, have inflicted so much pain on their families and communities. I understand that some of the Christians who heard Cruz praise Israel, in the bluntest possible terms, were offended. Read the details and make up your own mind.

Now look at that headline. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy