Paul Marshall

That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

If you asked typical American citizens to name the world's largest Muslim nation, in terms of population, most would probably pick a land somewhere in the Middle East -- not Indonesia.

However, if there is one fact that many Americans do know about Islam in Indonesia, it is that most Muslims in this sprawling and complex nation practice a "moderate" form of the faith (whatever that "moderate" label means). This has allowed believers in various faith groups to live in peace, for the most part.

Thus, terrorist attacks in Indonesia linked ISIS are big news -- at least in the American news outlets that continue to offer adequate coverage of international news. Sadly, an ominous cluster of attacks this past weekend in Indonesia probably received little if any attention in most American newspapers.

The New York Times, of course, was a notable exception. Here is the lede in its report:

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A wave of deadly bombings on Sunday and Monday and evidence of more planned have shaken Indonesia just ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, with entire families -- including children -- carrying out suicide attacks against Christian worshipers and the police.

The troubling discovery Monday of completed bombs in a housing complex outside Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, came a day after members of a single family carried out three attacks against separate churches in the city around Mass time, killing seven people.

The use of the word "Mass" implies that the attacks focused on Catholic congregations, when the reality was more complex than that -- since Pentecostal and traditional Protestant churches were targeted, along with Catholic sanctuaries. In other words, the attacks were aimed at all Christians (and police), not just Catholics.

But that was not the main issue here. The Times report quickly reminded readers:

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, practices one of the most moderate forms of Islam in the world, but still has a homegrown terrorism problem

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About that Mike Pence speech: Are solid facts available on global persecution of Christians?

About that Mike Pence speech: Are solid facts available on global persecution of Christians?

From time to time, your GetReligionistas pause to remind readers that they should not blame reporters for the headlines that appear with their stories.

Sad, but true: There is nothing unusual about seeing a solid news report that gets messed up, for readers, by an inaccurate or misleading headline.

But what should we say when a story has a solid, focused headline, but the story's actual contents leave much to be desired?

Consider the Washington Post report about the speech last week by Vice President Mike Pence at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. I have no problems with the simple headline here: "Pence: America will prioritize protecting Christians abroad."

The key word is "abroad." And the top of the story -- obviously the source of the headline -- gets straight to some of the basics.

Vice President Pence sought on Thursday to reassure Christian leaders looking for the White House to focus more on the plight of persecuted Christians abroad.
“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration,” the vice president said during a morning address at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians being held this week in Washington. Pence spoke to an audience who are grateful for the Trump administration’s statements of support for that cause but who are starting to question when the administration will take more concrete action.
Advocacy on behalf of people persecuted for being Christian is a topic “of enormous importance to this administration,” Pence said. Turning to speakers at the conference who were there to share their personal stories of persecution abroad, he said: “You have the prayers of the president of the United States. The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred Americans to action, and it brings me here today.”

So far, so good. But if you read the rest of this story its pretty apparent that the Post team thinks that the American political angles in this story are way more important than the evidence that lots of Christians are dying around the world.

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Raise your hand, if you know the definition of 'blasphemy' in modern Pakistan

Raise your hand, if you know the definition of 'blasphemy' in modern Pakistan

One of the toughest issues in reporting about any complex subject -- take religion for example -- is knowing how much background material needs to be included in a story for readers to be able to grasp the basic issues surrounding a piece of news.

So before we get to the actual event covered in this international-desk piece from the New York Times -- "Boy’s Response to Blasphemy Charge Unnerves Many in Pakistan" -- let's jump ahead to the background material. I thought this section of the story was especially strong, since the reporter had very few paragraphs to spare in a relatively short story.

By the way, this passage ends with what I considered a major piece of tech news, one worthy of its own story.

Blasphemy is a toxic subject in Pakistan, where a confusing body of laws has enshrined it as a potentially capital offense but also makes it nearly impossible for the accused to defend themselves in court. Even publicly repeating details of the accusation is tantamount to blasphemy in its own right.
Such cases almost never make it to court, however. The merest accusation that blasphemy has occurred has the power to arouse lynching or mob violence.
The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his own bodyguard in 2011, after Mr. Taseer criticized the country’s blasphemy laws and defended a Christian woman who had been falsely accused under them. The assassin is a national hero to many devout Pakistanis: His jail cell has become a pilgrimage site, and a mosque was renamed to honor him.

And that tech story?

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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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Pod people: Deja vu on global persecution of Christians

As a rule, I don’t discuss the contents of one of my new Scripps Howard News Service columns here at GetReligion. However, from time to time I need to do so in order to describe some of the content of a new podcast in our GetReligion “Crossroads” series with radio host Todd Wilken & Co.

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