NYTimes’ riveting portrait of a Christian in Afghanistan

The New York Times’ amazing profile of a Christian convert in Afghanistan is a must-read piece of journalism, generating much attention — and deservedly so — on social media:

KABUL, Afghanistan — In a dank basement on the outskirts of Kabul, Josef read his worn blue Bible by the light of a propane lantern, as he had done for weeks since he fled from his family in Pakistan.

His few worldly possessions sat nearby in the 10-by-10-foot room of stone and crumbling brown earth. He keeps a wooden cross with a passage from the Sermon on the Mount written on it, a carton of Esse cigarettes, and a thin plastic folder containing records of his conversion to Christianity.

The documents are the reason he is hiding for his life. On paper, Afghan law protects freedom of religion, but the reality here and in some other Muslim countries is that renouncing Islam is a capital offense.

Josef’s brother-in-law Ibrahim arrived in Kabul recently, leaving behind his family and business in Pakistan, to hunt down the apostate and kill him. Reached by telephone, Ibrahim, who uses only one name, offered a reporter for The New York Times $20,000 to tell him where Josef was hiding.

“If I find him, once we are done with him, I will kill his son as well, because his son is a bastard,” Ibrahim said, referring to Josef’s 3-year-old child. “He is not from a Muslim father.”

For Josef, 32, who asked to be identified only by his Christian name to protect his wife and young child, the path to Christianity was only one segment on a much longer journey, a year of wandering that took him through Turkey, Greece, Italy and Germany, seeking refuge from Afghanistan’s violence.

As you may recall, GetReligion just recently featured this headline:

The story on the Afghanistan convert prompted this email from a reader:

Wow. Just wow. How can one paper be so bipolar  — typically clueless, hostile toward Christians, and then actually run something meaty and real??? Reads like a report from Morning Star News, Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs — i.e. specialty news services that “get persecution.” Please give the New York Times a standing O.

Consider the standing O given.

As for the reader’s question, the Times is a big newspaper with hundreds of reporters and editors. Here at GetReligion, we critique its journalism often — with a mix of praise and criticism.

Could it be that the Times has a different mindset when reporting on Christians abroad as opposed to those at home? Or better yet, is this latest, oh-so-remarkable report simply a reminder of the imprudence of overgeneralizing about such a large, complex organization based on any single story or series of stories?

While you ponder those questions, be sure to read the piece on Josef.

Read it all.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • fredx2

    I suspect that this tale of a poor, hunted man appealed to their sense of the underdog, and that is why it ran. Typically, they view religion as a powerful institution, and an oppressor. But when it is clear from the story they are dealing with a man in a very terrible situation, they have the humanity to let it run.
    Often we simplify the media’s motives a little too much. They are complex humans, just as we are, and they have a wide range of motivations, even if their liberalism usually is as blinding as the midday sun.

  • Julia B

    It’s strange that he has brothers and a sister in Germany, but could not remain there. Couldn’t somebody in Italy legalize him and then people are free to move about the EU. Interesting story done very well.

  • http://apokalupto.blogspot.com/ David Hamstra

    It only appears bipolar if you look at it from a traditionalist perspective. Get the ebook, The Three Languages of Politics, the underlying logic of the Times’ rhetoric will become clear.