Salafists

Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

Primer on Sunni terrorists includes helpful advice on the perennial labels game in news

For the foreseeable future, journalists will be covering Muslim zealots who terrorize innocent civilians in God’s name, fellow Muslims included, hoping that violence will force the creation of  a truly Islamic society. Their revolutionary  bloodshed spans the globe -- and spurns centuries of moderate teaching by Islamic authorities.

Journalists remain uncertain on how best to name these groups, which is among matters explored in “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” by Robert Manne, an Australian media personality and emeritus professor at La Trobe University. Though publisher Prometheus Books is known for partisan and sometimes supercilious attacks on religious faiths, The Religion Guy finds this title even-tempered, as well as brisk and valuable (though Prometheus deserves brickbats for providing no index).

This readable background will help guide journalism about a complex scourge that mainstream Islam is unable to eliminate. The book covers only Sunni extremists, not the rival radicals in the faith’s minority Shi’a branch centered on  Iran. Here’s Manne’s advice on common terms and labels seen in the news.

Islamo-Fascism. This label is “quite misleading” due to fascism’s historical fusion with nationalism (Muslim radicals spurn existing nation-states and  simply divide humanity into believers vs. “infidels”), and with racism (the movement’s hatreds lie elsewhere).

Islamic Fundamentalism. Also a misnomer, this borrows a term for strict textual literalism among Protestant Christians (see the Associated Press Stylebook). Problem: Such Protestants are non-violent, and so are many of the Muslims who favor that approach to holy writ. Rather, we need to label a terroristic political faction.

Islamists. This term designates believers who seek to reshape politics in accordance with religious law (sharia). Here again, such Muslim activists do not necessarily embrace terror.

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After New York City terror, once more: How can Islam overcome its violent faction?

After New York City terror, once more: How can Islam overcome its violent faction?

The worst church massacre in U.S. history has all but overshadowed the prior New York City murder spree by a Muslim proclaiming "God is greatest."

But as a news theme, the earlier atrocity certainly carries long-term significance. Oddly, it occurred on the exact date the Reformation began 500 years ago, and some Muslims and non-Muslims muse that Islam needs its own Martin Luther to launch sweeping change.

The big Protestant anniversary is behind us, but for years to come the news media will be covering the moral tragedy of a faction's religiously inspired terrorism. As many pundits observe, western outsiders cannot solve Islam's internal problems. The latest insider proposal:

Writing on Reformation Day, Mustafa Akyol rejected the idea of replicating Luther in a piece titled “The Islamic World Doesn’t Need a Reformation.” (This was posted by www.theatlantic.com, which holds first rank among magazine websites for timely and provocative news analysis about religion.)  

Akyol, a Turkish journalist, TV talker and New York Times op-ed contributor, was named a fellow at Wellesley College’s Freedom Project last January. His books include the pertinent “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty” (2011). Significantly, the book is also available in Turkish, Malay and Indonesian translations.

Though Aykol rejects the “Reformation” label, he does seek to renew his faith’s less violent mainstream tradition and foster tolerance. If so, what’s the matter with the Luther paradigm? For one thing, today’s conflict-ridden Muslim countries do not resemble Luther’s original protest but the later religious bloodshed between Catholic and Protestant armies.

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Attacks on Egypt's Coptic churches: AP focuses on politics, more than suffering people

Attacks on Egypt's Coptic churches: AP focuses on politics, more than suffering people

Readers who know their history realize that the Coptic believers in Egypt are the largest surviving body of Christians in the Middle East, making up about 10 percent of the population of the land that has been their home since the birth of Christianity.

As a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, I have never understood why the plight of the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church, as well as other religious minorities in Egypt, has not received more mainstream press attention in America. I realize that we are talking about a somewhat mysterious church, for many news consumers, but I think most people know where Egypt is located and grasp that it's a major player in that troubled region.

Thus, I want to thank the Associated Press for its unusually long -- more than 1,000 words -- news report on the passage of a glass-half-full piece of legislation in Egypt that may, repeat MAY, help the Coptic Orthodox and others build churches and repair the ones that they have.

I do have a complaint, however, which I will explain in a moment. Basically, I think the editors who sent this out buried the lede, in part because they saw this as a political-process story rather than a story about human rights and the harsh realities of life in Egypt. Here is the overture:

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's lawmakers on Tuesday passed the country's first law spelling out the rules for building a church, a step Christians have long hoped would free up construction that was often blocked by authorities. But angry critics in the community say the law will only enshrine the restrictions.
Church building has for decades been one of the most sensitive sectarian issues in Egypt, where 10 percent of the population of 90 million are Christians but where Muslim hardliners sharply oppose anything they see as undermining what they call the country's "Islamic character."

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A study Quran in English? The Daily Beast details this surprising new book

A study Quran in English? The Daily Beast details this surprising new book

Study Bibles were all the rage when they first became popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Evangelical Protestants popularized this trend, but it wasn’t long before there was an Orthodox Study Bible, a Catholic Study Bible and a Jewish Study Bible.

But a study Quran?

How do you study a work said to have been dictated by the Angel Gabriel to Mohammed between AD 610 and AD 632 and passed along to his followers who, it’s assumed, memorized his words perfectly? Judaism and Christianity have survived critical scholarship about their holy books, but Islam has resisted such questions.

And so I was intrigued by a recent Daily Beast piece about why a new Study Quran is riling the Islamic world. It starts thus:

A new translation of the Quran, with commentary, is causing a stir—and maybe something of a revolution -- in the world of English-speaking Muslims.

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National Geographic offers a unified theory showing news media take on radical Islam?

National Geographic offers a unified theory showing news media take on radical Islam?

If you follow coverage of international news, then you have probably noticed that many mainstream journalists -- for a variety of reasons -- have struggled to find consistent language to use when covering events linked to terrorism and Islam.

The word "Islamists" had its day. Some journalists simply use phrases such as "radicalized forms of Islam." Some say "militant."

Use of the term "Jihadists" is complicated by the fact that the spiritual term "jihad" has been redefined in many ways by thinkers within different streams of this massive and complex world religion. There are also journalists and experts who focus on parts of Islam that can be viewed, together, as a political "ideology" -- as opposed to part of a system that is both theological AND political.

This may seem like a picky issue, but words matter in journalism. Also, it's impossible to write about divisions inside Islam, many of them bitter and deadly, without having some understanding of who is who and what is what. If the goal is to separate the beliefs and actions of "moderate" or "mainstream" Muslims from those of the radicals -- clearly a task journalists should attempt -- then you need to have some language to use in public media for people on both sides of these conflicts.

Recently, The National Geographic jumped into this debate with material describing the role of the Salafist movement within the Islamic world, and Egypt in particular.

I think this is really interesting stuff, in part because National Geographic editors -- whether they intended to do this or not -- may have come produced a kind of unified theory or a grand statement of what the mainstream press thinks is happening with radical forms of Islam.

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Ah! It's easier to cover 'religious liberty' stories when they are not about sex?

Ah! It's easier to cover 'religious liberty' stories when they are not about sex?

Ah, good times. Today we get to praise some mainstream news reports about a major religious liberty story -- as opposed to a news story that is about "religious liberty."

Why is this the case? It would appear that it is much easier to see religious liberty conflicts as religious liberty conflicts when they are not the result of collisions between the doctrines of the Sexual Revolution and the moral doctrines claimed (and, of course, to a lesser degree practiced) by most religious believers on Planet Earth.

In other words, take clashes between sex and most traditional forms of religion out of the equation and, it appears, mainstream journalists are able to listen to people on both sides of issues linked to basic First Amendment rights.

So, want to see some interesting, informed, coverage of a religious liberty case at the U.S. Supreme Court? Click here for the Religion News Service coverage of Abdul Maalik Muhammad and his right to grow a beard after his conversion to Islam. During court testimony, the justices pushed back on this case for an interesting reason -- the case was too easy.

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There's more to Egypt's pain than secularism vs. religion

Many GetReligion readers have, I am sure, spent some time today following the urgent news bulletins out of Egypt, where some of the largest protests in the history of the world have been taking place.

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Some journalists waking up to Egyptian realities?

Day after day the news from Egypt seems to get darker and more confusing. This morning, in The Los Angeles Times, things were summed up like this:

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Are Salafis the most orthodox among Muslims?

The New York Times published a riveting piece about Salafism in Tunisia. From the beginning, the reader is transported to Kairouan:

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