al Qaeda

Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

If you have read GetReligion.org for any time at all, you are probably familiar with the whole idea of "scare quotes."

Actually, I would assume that this piece of media jargon is now in common in just about any setting in which critics, news consumers and journalists argue about issues linked to news coverage and, especially, media bias.

So what does the term mean and what, on this day, does it have to do with discussions of "radical" forms of Islam? Wait. You see the quote marks that are framing the word "radical"?

Here is one online definition of this term:

scare quotes -- noun
quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.

For example, this online dictionary notes that, "putting the term 'global warming' in scare quotes serves to subtly cast doubt on the reality of such a phenomenon."

Here at GetReligion, many of our discussions of scare quotes have started using them to frame a perfectly normal term in discussions of the First Amendment -- religious liberty. Religious liberty turns into "religious liberty" whenever religious traditionalists, usually in conflicts over the Sexual Revolution, attempt to defend their free speech rights, rights of freedom of association and rights to free exercise of religious beliefs.

A GetReligion reader sent me a recent piece from The Atlantic and asked if another important term in public discourse is about to be shoved into "scare quotes" territory. The double-decker headline on that piece saith:

The Coming War on ‘Radical Islam’
How Trump’s government could change America’s approach to terrorism

You knew Trump had to be involved in this somehow, right? Here is the overture, which shows the context of the question that was raised by our reader:

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Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

Where are the essential facts about religion in news reports about fall of eastern Aleppo?

American news consumers, as a rule, do not pay much attention to foreign news coverage. Here at GetReligion, we know that writing a post about mainstream media coverage of religion news on the other side of the planet is not the way to get lots of clicks and retweets.

That doesn't matter, because news is news and it's genuinely tragic that many Americans are in the dark about what is happening outside our borders. We will keep doing what we do.

This leads me to news coverage of the fall of the eastern half of Aleppo in Syria, a landmark event in that hellish civil war that is receiving -- as it should -- extensive coverage in American newspapers.

As you read the coverage in your own newspapers and favorite websites, please look for a crucial word -- "Alawites." President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is a member of the often persecuted Alawite sect of Islam. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

Let's start with the top of the Washington Post report, since this story is very typical of those found elsewhere, such as The New York Times and also Al Jazeera.

BEIRUT -- Syria’s government declared Thursday that it had regained full control of Aleppo after the last rebel fighters and civilians evacuated the key city as part of an agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey.
The Syrian military announced on state media that “security and stability” had been returned to eastern Aleppo, once the largest rebel stronghold. The “terrorists” -- a term used by the Syrian government to describe nearly all of its opponents -- had exited the city, the military said.
President Bashar al-Assad’s consolidation of Aleppo marks the end of the opposition presence in the city for the first time in more than four years and deals a major blow to the rebellion to unseat him.

Think about this as a matter of history, for a moment. Is there anything bloodier and more ruthless than a civil war, with fighting and acts of violence taking place inside a nation, pitting armies within its population against one another?

If that is the case, then it is crucial how one labels and defines these armies.

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That must-read think piece: The Atlantic listens to the voices of the Islamic State

That must-read think piece: The Atlantic listens to the voices of the Islamic State

After reading (finally) Graeme Wood's much-discussed cover story at The Atlantic -- "What ISIS Really Wants" -- it seems to me that he is saying there are two people who are dead wrong when it comes to evaluating the religion component in the campaign to create the Islamic State. These two people, of course, have followers.

First of all, there is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself, who has been declared the leader of the caliphate that is at the heart of the Islamic State's claim that it's approach to Islam is just and true and that all faithful Muslims must embrace it or be declared as apostates. Truth be told, there are a few million Muslims who agree with him, but millions and millions of Muslims who disagree.

The other person who is wrong, when it comes to ISIS, is President Barack Obama, who has famously stated that "ISIL is not Islamic." Like the views of the self-proclaimed caliph, this is a absolute statement that draws support for many people, including some Muslims in the West, but is rejected out of hand by many, many other Muslims -- including the leaders of ISIS.

This brings me to the first of several passages in the Wood piece -- which is a work of analysis, not news reporting -- that I believe should be taken seriously by journalists who are trying to cover this debate. The ISIS leaders insist, he notes:

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Big question in the background: What is terrorism’s long-term impact on world Islam?

Big question in the background: What is terrorism’s long-term impact on world Islam?

The news media are understandably consumed with Muslim terrorists’ deadly attacks on a satirical weekly’s office and a Jewish grocery in Paris. Europeans are soul-searching over national security, anti-Semitism, and outrage against Muslims, with no evident enthusiasm for restoring any Christian vitality. Tough coverage logistics meant there was scant notice that in the same week Boko Haram destroyed a town in Nigeria and slaughtered hundreds, even as many as 2,000, inhabitants.  

There’s the usual journalistic confusion here over how to characterize the religious aspect. Just before these latest atrocities,  the journal First Things published an article on “Challenging Radical Islam” that’s must reading for reporters. Author John Azumah, a Christian expert on Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary, carefully balances the ideological complexities. Contra the left, he says “key aspects of the ideology of radical violent Muslim groups are indeed rooted in Islamic texts and history.” Yet he criticizes the right, contending that in principle Islam or the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad aren’t the real problem.
            
Azumah notes that “Muslim leaders around the world have repeatedly and publicly denounced” al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Islamic State (ISIS). The Religion Guy addressed this last September 27 in “Who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?”

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The battle over a quote in The New York Times: Did Charlie Hebdo gunmen urge conversion to Islam?

The battle over a quote in The New York Times: Did Charlie Hebdo gunmen urge conversion to Islam?

Sorry, but it is time to make a familiar point all over again.

The other day, I noted that -- if you want insights into the mindsets of editors wrestling with the tricky, hot-button religion angles in the Charlie Hebdo massacre -- it is very important to study the early versions of stories in an elite publication (think The New York Times, in this case) and then contrast them with the versions that ran later.

This is hard to do because of the evolving WWW-era practice of actually removing earlier versions of the story from the online record. This raises all kinds of questions (including for media critics), such as: Did the earlier versions count? Is it accurate to say that a publication like the Times published something if the material no longer "exists" on the record? If a digital tree is removed from a digital forest, how do you discuss whether or not it existed in the first place?

Screen shots help, but it's impossible to screen shot everything. I suspect that stories are now changing so fast that those online time-machine search programs cannot catch everything. There are, of course, critics out there making their own copies of the earlier stories. Thus, via Mediaite.com, we have this gripping passage from an early Times report, quoting survivors of the massacre:

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So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

THE RELIGION GUY interrupts this blog’s usual answers to posted questions and feels impelled to highlight a development that ought to receive far more attention than it has.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly Sep. 24, President Obama said “it is time for the world -- especially Muslim communities -- to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIL” (the group also called ISIS or “Islamic State”).

As if in response, that same day 126 Muslim leaders issued a dramatic 15-page “Open Letter” to ISIL’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers that denounced them on religious grounds.

Implicitly, the letter targets as well the tactics of al-Qaeda, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and similar terrorist movements claiming Islamic inspiration. The technical argument relies on dozens of citations from the Quran, Hadith (accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s words and deeds), and Sharia (religious law).

The signers of this blunt challenge, all from the faith’s dominant Sunni branch, come from 37 nations including the U.S. 

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Yes, it's crucial that Boko Haram kills and tortures Muslims

Yes, we need to focus on Nigeria and Boko (“books”) Haram (“forbidden“). Again. Why? Why keep coming back to the mainstream coverage of this story?

For starters, the scope of the story is only getting bigger with the planned — limited — intervention of the Obama White House in the efforts to find and rescue the 270-plus teen-aged girls who were abducted last month by this terrorist network. Reports about the precise number still being held as slaves and potential forced brides have varied, according to different sources that are trying to determine how many girls have or have not escaped. The vast majority of the girls are Christians, but some are Muslims.

This story has climbed out the obscure back pages dedicated to non-entertaining horrors on the other side of the world and up into the prime ink-and-video terrain noticed by the masses. I also believe that, as this has happened, mainstream journalists have been doing a somewhat better job of dealing with the religious elements of this story. We are past the stage where our most powerful newspaper can say that Boko Haram is doing mysterious things for mysterious reasons while seeking mysterious goals and that is that.

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Nairobi: Recite this confession of faith and live

The hellish events in Nairobi’s Westgate Premier Shopping Mall continue to unfold under the digital gaze of the world’s media. However, some of the most poignant and gripping elements of the story are as old as the region’s battles of conquest and conversion.

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Triumph of the stringer in the Nairobi massacre coverage

African reporters are coming into their own with the stories coming out of Kenya this weekend. If you step back from the reports on the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi — now entering its third day as of the writing of this post — and look not at the content of the news, but how it is being presented, you can see examples the changes taking place in journalism. Advances in technology, newspaper and network business models, and the worldviews brought to the reporting by journalists have resulted in different stories today than would have been written 10 years ago.

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