Missing a global story

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.

Amnesty International thinks the hostages should be released and even talked to Taliban representatives, and there are talks of having talks on getting the aid workers released.

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.

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  • Brian

    Remember the journalists who were kidnapped (in Gaza, I belive) and released after, among other things, being forced to say that they were converting to Islam, and the media reported that they were “released unharmed”?

    The fact that the MSM doesn’t “get” religion or the religious mindset serves us all very, very poorly in attempting to understand the world we live in.

  • Diane Fitzsimmons

    I have seen coverage of this story in the mainstream media (although not daily coverage), and the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City (where I live) has an update on the situation every morning. I have been more surprised at the lack of interest among my fellow Christians in the Bible Belt, so perhaps the weak coverage reflects the man-on-the-street attitude. I regret to say we American Christians appear to be myopic when it comes to global Christianity. I volunteer for my church’s missions committee, including writing a weekly column for our church newsletter. To help raise awareness, I devoted this week’s column to the kidnapping and to the amazing work done by South Korean Christian missionaries.

  • Wm. Davis

    Lately I watch the BBC news because it’s the only one that covered the Korean incident. They also covered the flooding in Bangladesh. It seems were more focused on movie stars than real news.
    I sent CNN and e-mail complaining of the same thing three days ago. Thanks for picking up the story.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    I’m sure I’ve said it here before, but the WSJ Houses of Worship is always excellent. I hope Rupert doesn’t change it.

  • VoxDilecti

    I think that part of the reasons that those in the “Bible Belt” are not following the story with as much interest is the very fact that it has not been widely publicized that some of these Koreans are Christians. (This is from my perspective of getting my exposure from CNN)
    As far as those who know that they are Christians, perhaps the only thing that can explain their lack of interest is general war weariness. How many times are we going to here about Westerners (or Easterners for that matter) being kidnapped by radical Islamic forces and used as pawns to make their governments capitulate before the year is out?
    Our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has probably done a lot to make us avoid emotional attachment to the plight of individuals. At least that is how I honestly felt when I first heard the story.

  • http://www.rac.org Mark Pelavin

    I agree this is a very important story. I was very interested in the statement put out by Prince Hassen of Jordan, which I discuss briefly here.

    Mark Pelavin
    Commission on Interreligous Affairs of Reform Judaism


  • David

    Thanks for raising this story in GR. At least I now have some idea where to find more information on the story now. I agree (about the dearth of U.S. coverage) as I have only been able to find occasional (and infrequently updated) news on the story depsite looking for it every day.

  • Eric G.

    I agree that this story has been way underplayed in the U.S., and that would be true even if these people were secular humanitarian workers. To me, the incident says at the very least that the Taliban appears to be capable of acting with impunity in the present situation.

  • Herb

    Please, leave the story alone. Christian work doesn’t need publicity. Those who go, if they are worth the salt they are supposed to be, go with the realization that it could be costly. I have a friend (American) who was beaten up by Muslim fundamentalists. He gained respect with the government and others by not making an issue of it, and not letting the press cover it.

  • Discernment

    Most Afghans have long followed a conservative interpretation of Islam. Polished toenails might now peek out from burqas on Kabul streets, but the Afghan public continues to challenge any slight against Islam. Even the appearance of proselytising Christianity is enough to foment widespread rancour.

    A “conservative interpration of Islam”? That’s an interesting choice of words in an age when anything Islam that isn’t moderate or progressive is radical.

  • following the news

    Christianity Today has been covering this on Weblog and in a few stories so far.