dhimmitude

CNN offers lyrical view of Islamic Spain. But are crucial details missing from this image?

CNN offers lyrical view of Islamic Spain. But are crucial details missing from this image?

CNN came out with a longish-piece recently on how Spaniards are rediscovering their Islamic heritage. I’ve been reading up lately on the supposed Andalusian paradise that erupted in Spain under Islamic rule, so I was curious as to how CNN would deal with it.

Their treatment was mostly on how the architecture reflects Islamic rule that began almost exactly 1,306 years ago on July 26, 711, when Muslim armies defeated the Visigoth king of Spain, Rodrigo. In less than a decade, Islam moved across Spain, sending Visigoths fleeing for their lives, if they weren’t killed or forced to convert first.

These armies continued sacking and burning their way through southern and central France until they were defeated by Frankish armies in 732 in the Battle of Tours. Not until the late 11th century –- more than 300 years later -- did Catholic armies begin winning the country back. (This was the era of El Cid).

This is the era that CNN wishes to cover:

As he meanders through the spectacular Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, tour guide Yasin Maymir hones in on a section of ornate patterning on the interior walls.
"Arabic letters, Arabic phrases. There are more than 10,000 all around Alhambra," he proudly says of the inscriptions.
Maymir continues through perfectly manicured gardens and grandiose rooms, occasionally stopping to speak of Islamic philosophies and architectural techniques incorporated into the design.
His fascination is obvious. Yet he believes the finer details of this history may be unfamiliar to many Spaniards.
"In Spain, in the schools," Maymir says, "they would never teach you about the (country's) Islamic history."

The Alhambra is in the photo accompanying this blog post. The article not only touches on Spain’s architecture but also Islamic influences on the traditions of flamenco and Moorish cuisine. This period of conquest, CNN says is:

… often described as unique in terms of its relative religious harmony, with Muslims, Jews and Christians believed to have co-existed side by side for centuries in a multi-faith society.

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About that quick trip to Iran by an American Jewish journalist. Great job, but ...

About that quick trip to Iran by an American Jewish journalist. Great job, but ...

This Is a delicate one. How do I praise an esteemed colleague for scoring a breakthrough, attention-grabbing, complicated, and perhaps even dangerous story while also cautioning readers to be suspicious of his story's content?

My hope is to make a point about the tough task facing journalists who swoop into a place run by a dictatorship known for its masterful media manipulation, and are expected to produce definitive reports based on their limited time in-country?

I'm speaking about the recent stories published in The Forward  by Larry Cohler-Esses, who recently visited Iran at Teheran's invitation, making him the first journalist from an American Jewish, pro-Zionist publication to do so since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The mere fact of his trip was mainstream news, and understandably so. The New York Times, NPR, CNN, The Guardian, Haaretz, and other big names in American, European and, of course, Israeli journalism rushed to interview him about his experience. 

A personal note: I have known Larry for a quarter century -- yup, I'm dispensing with AP style here; it seems too formal for a colleague. We met when he worked for a Jewish weekly in Washington, D.C., and I toiled for the competition in Baltimore, but we are not close. I know him to be a stickler for accuracy and a reporter with superb journalistic instincts who excels in tackling difficult subjects. I'm sure he accurately reported what he saw and was told.

Currently The Forward's assistant managing editor, it took Larry two years to get his visa for Iran, a sign of his tenacity. But perhaps also a sign of Iran's ability to time its moves to squeeze the most it can out of a situation.

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From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

At the time of 9/11, I was living in South Florida and attending an Eastern Orthodox parish in which the majority of the members were, by heritage, either Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time hearing the details of their family stories -- about life in the old country and the forces that pushed them to America.

The key detail: It was never easy living in the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire era, even when times were relatively peaceful. While it was easy to focus on the horrible details of the times of intense persecution, it was important to realize that Christians and those in other religious minorities had learned to accept a second-class status in which they were safe, most of the time, but not truly free.

In other words, the Good Old Days were difficult, but not as difficult as the times of fierce persecution, suffering and death.

Clearly, the rise of the Islamic State has created a new crisis, one that is truly historic in scope -- especially in the Nineveh Plain. The drive to eliminate Christian populations in a region that has been their home since the apostolic era raises all kinds of questions about religious freedom, as well as questions for the USA and other Western states to which these new martyrs will appeal for help.

In recent years, human-rights activists have asked when this phenomenon would receive major attention in elite American newsrooms. The coverage has, in recent years, been on the rise. That said, a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine feature on this topic must be seen as a landmark.
The epic double-decker headline proclaimed:

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?
ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.

There is much that I want to praise in this piece. It's a must-read piece for everyone who cares about religion news in the mainstream press.

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An ISIS tax on Christians? The accurate word is 'dhimmitude'

An ISIS tax on Christians? The accurate word is 'dhimmitude'

A month ago, I wrote a post about the events unfolding in Mosul and argued that journalists who covered this story -- those brave enough to venture into the Nineveh Plain region -- needed to grasp the meaning of the word "dhimmitude."

Yes, this is a controversial term.

Yes, it is the right word to use when covering the unfolding strategies of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, when dealing with the ancient Christian communities in this region. As I wrote in that post:

The key is that people of other faiths living in lands ruled by Islam are given “dhimmi” status in which they receive some protection under sharia law, in exchange for paying a Jizyah tax as a sign of submission. The big debates are about other conditions of submission which are, or are not, required under dhimmitude. Dhimmis are not allowed to protect themselves (some claim it is impossible to rape a dhimmi), to display symbols of their faith, to build (or even repair) their religious sanctuaries, to win converts, etc. Historically, dhimmis have been asked to wear some form of distinctive apparel as a sign of their inferior status. The key is that this is an protected, but inferior, status under strict forms of sharia law.

This term should have been used in the courageous New York Times piece -- "Life in a Jihadist Capital: Order With a Darker Side" -- that is getting quite a bit of online attention right now, and justifiably so.

Yes, I know that this article violates the Associated Press Stylebook's rule on use of the historic term "fundamentalist." What else is new? This appears to be a consistent policy at the Times, making sure that readers link this term from conservative Protestantism with the worst of what is happening under Islam. Thus, concerning ISIS, the world's most powerful newspaper stresses that the group has "begun imposing its vision of a state that blends its fundamentalist interpretation of Islam with the practicalities of governance."

However, this story is crucial because it includes on-site reporting in the region.

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Journalists covering Iraq, please learn this word -- 'dhimmi'

Like it or not, journalists and editors who are handling coverage of events in Iraq are going to have to learn this controversial word — “dhimmitude.” Trust me, the faithful in minority religions who live in Mosul and on the Nineveh Plain, or who have recently fled this region, are already familiar with this concept. Unfortunately, it is hard to point to a crisp, established online definition for “dhimmitude” right now because of waves of posts attempting to argue that this word is found somewhere in the Obamacare legislation. Ignore all of that, please. Instead, I suggest that readers surf through some of the material found in this online search for “dhimmitude,” “dictionary” and “definition.”

The key is that people of other faiths living in lands ruled by Islam are given “dhimmi” status in which they receive some protection under sharia law, in exchange for paying a Jizyah tax as a sign of submission. The big debates are about other conditions of submission which are, or are not, required under dhimmitude. Dhimmis are not allowed to protect themselves (some claim it is impossible to rape a dhimmi), to display symbols of their faith, to build (or even repair) their religious sanctuaries, to win converts, etc. Historically, dhimmis have been asked to wear some form of distinctive apparel as a sign of their inferior status. The key is that this is an protected, but inferior, status under strict forms of sharia law.

In a recent post, our own Jim Davis noted that some mainstream reporters have begun to notice the plight of religious minorities in the hellish drama unfolding in Iraq, including the suffering remnants of the land’s truly ancient Christian communities. Bobby Ross, Jr., also noted a fantastic New York Times piece about a related drama in Afghanistan.

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