The kidnapping of 21 South Korean aid workers by the Taliban in Afghanistan is one of the most neglected international stories by the American media. There are several reasons for this. Primary among them is that Afghanistan plays second fiddle to the conflict in Iraq and that there just are not that many American reporters in Afghanistan. But this story still matters in America.
While the American media have fallen down on this story, foreign outlets are paying more attention. The Australian ABC News has provided reliable and timely coverage of the events while The Economist provides helpful analysis that’s absent in most news stories by pointing out that both the Taliban and the Korean missionaries believe they are on a mission from God:
In recent years Korea’s religious zeal has crossed its borders, sending a flood of salvation to destinations beyond. With roughly 16,000 Christian missionaries abroad, Korea is second only to America when it comes to spreading the gospel. Moreover, inter-church competition for alms goads pastors into one-upmanship, sending their congregations on ever-riskier missions to reap the resulting publicity.
Meanwhile, Korea Times published a lede on some recent news that the hostages may be in captivity for months:
KABUL — Despite telephonic talks between the Taliban and the Korean delegation, no progress was made in talks to release the 21 Korean hostages and there was no indication that some breakthrough was in sight Friday.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahamdi told The Korea Times that the Taliban and Korean negotiators are seeking to find a suitable place for a face-to-face talks.
Asked for how long they intended keeping the women if the negotiations did not work, the spokesman said they could keep them for months and years in their custody.
A great example of excellent coverage of the Korean aid workers showed up today in The Wall Street Journal‘s Houses of Worship column. The piece, by editorial writer Leslie Hook, looks beyond the immediate situation and covers the news in a way that places it in context for American readers, explaining why Koreans kidnapped in Afghanistan matter:
The recent kidnapping of South Korean Christians in Afghanistan highlights an overlooked fact: Asian missionaries are everywhere, and today they’re often found in some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots. Nowhere has this hit home harder than in South Korea, where the Afghan incident has triggered widespread soul searching.
… Although only about 30% of South Korea’s 49 million citizens are Christian, the country is second only to the U.S. in the number of missionaries it sends abroad. As of last year, 16,600 Korean missionaries were stationed in 173 countries.
Why does it take an editorial writer for a business publication to cover an issue that I don’t doubt a large portion of Americans care about? I’m glad someone did it, but I hope others follow and start covering not only the crisis but also the incredible story that is the growth of Christianity in Korea.