Taliban

New York Times avoids moral judgement in Afghan cultural pedophilia story. What's up with that?

New York Times avoids moral judgement in Afghan cultural pedophilia story. What's up with that?

The news out of Afghanistan was brutal last week, as is too often the case. At week’s end, a Taliban suicide bomber driving an ambulance in Kabul killed at least 95 (a figure bound to climb) and injured another 158 or so persons.

One wonders just how much pain a population can endure before it utterly falls apart. And also, just how fortunate we who live in a nation such as ours -- despite all it's political pains, mass shootings and occasional terror attack -- truly are.

Despite more than 16 years of American military involvement in Afghanistan -- our longest foreign conflict ever -- our elite news operations continue to devote a great deal of coverage to Afghanistan. That’s as it should be, even more so given that President Donald Trump has upped our current involvement there, which is also sure to lengthen our stay for years to come.

Earlier last week, another story concerning Afghanistan broke in The New York Times that, I believe, was just as horrific, in its own way, as the Kabul bombing. This one, however, received far less elite media attention -- even as it underscored the extraordinary cultural compromises associated with America’s involvement in Afghanistan, a land as different from our own as to seem at times situated on another planet.

The story, a Times exclusive, ran below the following headline: “Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military, Report Says.”

Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Well, it is. Here’s how it begins:

On 5,753 occasions from 2010 to 2016, the United States military asked to review Afghan military units to see if there were any instances of “gross human rights abuses.” If there were, American law required military aid to be cut off to the offending unit.
Not once did that happen.
That was among the findings in an investigation into child sexual abuse by the Afghan security forces and the supposed indifference of the American military to the problem, according to a report released on Monday by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, known as Sigar.

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Omar Mateen's 911 call answered big question; reporters seeking more info around the world

Omar Mateen's 911 call answered big question; reporters seeking more info around the world

While there remain some mysteries linked to the hellish massacre at the Pulse gay bar in Orlando, one thing was clear -- the man who kept pulling the trigger wanted to make sure that it was impossible for journalists around the world to avoid putting religion in the lede.

In the past, journalists have often had to wrestle with vague allusions to the names or nationalities of the terrorists involved in this kind of incident, while cautiously searching for on-the-record information that might point to motivation.

With his mobile call to Orlando's 911 center, Omar Mateen settled that issue, claiming that he was acting out of loyalty to the Islamic State.

But you knew that already and that's my point. It's hard to find a lede this morning that doesn't include a direct reference to that call.

So it's no secret why Mateen did what he did, at least according to whatever logic was functioning in his head at the time he marched into that nightclub. In this terrorism case, reporters could move straight into the second layer of mysteries about the man and the details of his life and faith. While President Barack Obama kept his language vague, other political leaders were quite blunt. The New York Post noted:

Mateen “made a pledge of allegiance to ISIS,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN.
Schiff said the timing and target of the attack can’t be a coincidence.
“The fact that this shooting took place during Ramadan and that ISIS leadership in Raqqa has been urging attacks during this time, that the target was an LGBT nightclub during (LGBT) Pride (month) and, if accurate, that according to local law enforcement the shooter declared his allegiance to ISIS, indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism,” Schiff said.

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Albuquerque Journal profile of star Pakistani student has a huge religion-shaped hole

Albuquerque Journal profile of star Pakistani student has a huge religion-shaped hole

I scan a lot of newspapers from Denver to points west and there are a quite a few that seem to avoid religion like the plague. 

One is the Eugene (Ore.) Register Guard. Another is the Arizona Republic which has yet to cover the fact that the former (and disgraced) Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll has relocated from Seattle to Phoenix and started a church there on Easter. A third is the Albuquerque (NM) Journal, where the religion coverage gives new meaning to the word “minimalist.” I’ve been watching this publication for more than 20 years and it never fails to disappoint.

Now, please understand that I’ve lived in Oregon and New Mexico, and I know there are vibrant faith communities in each state -- but you wouldn’t know it from reading these newspapers. Then this past weekend, the Journal ran an article on a University of New Mexico graduate, her family’s move from Pakistan and her decision to give up a more prestigious college to care for her dying mother.

Is there a religion ghost that is hidden, or at least buried, in this story?

A tensile strength burns through Yalda Barlas in a combustion of grief and loss.
Now 22 and about to enter the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Yalda somehow plowed through a double major in biology and chemistry, worked as a tutor and nursed her mother at home until her 2013 death from colon cancer.
Her mother Shasiqa told her she got her “smart genes” from her dad.
The father she resembles was killed by the Taliban 19 years ago.

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Yes, an Easter terror attack is symbolic: Some reports danced around facts on the ground

Yes, an Easter terror attack is symbolic: Some reports danced around facts on the ground

In the wake of the Brussels attacks, there were quite a few mainstream media reports noting that police were bracing for more terrorist attacks during the upcoming weekend.

Right, as if -- looking at the calendar -- this was just another weekend.

Why would police specifically need to worry about attacks on Easter, the most important holy day in the Christian faith? Of course, millions of Eastern Christians -- especially in the Middle East -- will face these fears again in the days leading up to Pascha (Easter) on the ancient Julian calendar, which is May 1 this year.

As it turned out, the other shoe dropped in Pakistan, not in Europe. Once again, some journalists -- especially in the early hours of coverage -- were not sure what to do with the very specific and very symbolic religious elements of this horror story. This morning's New York Times story still captures the tone-deaf approach of the early hours.

Check out this headline: "Blast at a Crowded Park in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens."

That seems to be missing a few crucial details, right? And here's the lede on that report:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A suicide bomber set off a powerful blast close to a children’s swing set in a public park on Sunday evening in the eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 69 people and wounding around 300, rescue workers and officials said.

The E-word finally showed up in the next paragraph:

The blast occurred in a parking lot at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, one of the largest parks in Lahore, said Haider Ashraf, a senior police official in the city. The bomb was detonated within several feet of the swings in a park crowded with families on Easter.

And the C-word appeared with an on-the-record quote from radicals claiming credit for the attack:

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Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

In the midst of humdrum life here and entranced as we were by Lady Gaga’s stirring rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the opening of the Super Bowl, we often forget how the other half lives many time zones away.

A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times reminded us of a place where schools are a death trap and the martyrs tend to be in their teens.

What Malala Yousafzai went through in 2012 is something other kids are still living through. Every now and then, this madness makes headlines.

On Jan. 20, the Taliban did a raid at a university in Charsadda, northwest Pakistan, that left 21 people, mostly students, dead. It’s hard to imagine the depth of insanity that propels grown men to mow down defenseless girls and boys, but that’s life today in that tense, often splintered, Islamic republic.

The Times reminded us that the security crisis in Pakistan is not going away and how schools and universities are “soft targets” for the Taliban, which strikes at will.

So, how do you keep reporting on a place where massacre follows massacre?

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Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

The stories have become tragically familiar. A band of jihadists enters a school or some other public facility somewhere in the Muslim world and massacres a large number of people. Mainstream media offer readers a few numbers and a heart-tugging human detail or two.

The latest nightmare unfolded this week in northwester Pakistan. As I read several news reports, a familiar detail was repeated time after time. This led to a question in my mind, one that I think some journalists need to ponder: "Why would radical Muslims shout 'Allahu akbar!' as they massacre other Muslims?"

In other words, if the basic goal in these stories is to provide the "who, what, when, where, why and how" facts, why not pursue the "why" issue? Some of the stories I read took at shot at this ultimate question and others did not.

The first story I saw was in USA Today. This is as close as it came to talking about this "why" issue:

Basit Khan, a computer science student, said he heard the terrorists through the fog and saw them in classroom buildings.
“They were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great) when they started firing,” Khan said. “There were attackers in the stairwell and we had no arms to counter them. In the Pashto Department and Computer Science blocks, I saw at least three attackers.” ...

And later there was this:

A Taliban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, the Associated Press reported. Mansoor was the mastermind behind the deadly December 2014 attack on the Peshawar school.
A spokesman for the main Taliban faction in Pakistan, however, disowned the group behind the attack. The spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, said Wednesday’s attack was “un-Islamic” and insisted the Pakistani Taliban were not behind it. Such statements among the Taliban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions, tje AP reported.
Khurasani said the Taliban “consider the students in the non-military institutions the future of our jihad movement” and would not kill potential future followers.

That was that.

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Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Wait! What happened to links between 'boy play,' U.S. dollars and rise of the Taliban?

Every now and then, some major news organization does a story about the horrors of "bacha bazi (boy play)" while trying to cover the cultural minefield that is semi-modern Afghanistan. The New York Times is the latest, with a major A1 report with a shocking new angle, which ran under the headline "U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies."

Journalists covering this story face one major problem of logic and language, one that we have written about in the past here at GetReligion. Since Afghanistan is governed by sharia law, which forbids sodomy and sex before marriage, how do news organizations explain this Muslim culture's long history of men forcing boys into sexual slavery?

This question has been especially important in the recent history of this war-torn land because bacha bazi activity among Afghan leaders played a major role in the rise of the morally and doctrinally strict Taliban.

This Times piece had major news to report and it delivered the goods in unforgettable fashion. However, this piece also took a novel approach to the crucial question of the moral status of bacha bazi under Islamic law and traditions -- it ignored it completely. 

First, here is the heart of this stunning story:

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene -- in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.
The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban.

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Painfully familiar 'ghost' in the shooting of the U.S. general

Painfully familiar 'ghost' in the shooting of the U.S. general

What we have here is -- alas -- an example of a religion-new "ghost" that your GetReligionistas could write about day after day after day, world without end, amen.

For newcomers, a "ghost" (in the lingo of this weblog) is a religious issue or subject that journalists really should have included in a news report, that is if the goal was for readers to understand what is happening. For more information on this term read the very first post published at GetReligion.org, back on the original Day 1.

A classic example of a "ghost"? How long did it take for the mainstream press to explain the doctrinal elements at the heart of the bloody conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq? Way too long, quite frankly, and some newsrooms are still in the dark on that.

This brings me to the fatal shooting of that U.S. general in Afghanistan. Anyone who reads the main report in The New York Times learns, over and over, that he died because of "political" tensions. Period.

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Bowe Bergdahl: Calvinist, Buddhist, Muslim seeker?

While most of the DC Beltway journalists do that dance that they do (Will the vaguely legal Taliban prisoner swap hurt Democrats in 2014 elections?!), there are some interesting religion-beat questions hiding between the lines in the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. As a jumping-off point, consider the following rather bizarre passage in this New York Post report:

As a teen, the home-schooled son of Calvinists took up ballet — recruited to be a “lifter” by “a beautiful local girl,” Rolling Stone reported, “the guy who holds the girl aloft in a ballet sequence.” The strategy worked: Bergdahl — who also began dabbling in Budd­hism and tarot card reading — soon moved in with the woman.

A BBC explainer has some of that information, but with a few more specifics:

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