Muslim matriculation

koran lessonsI’m not one of those people who pretends I caught something on TV because I happened to be flipping through the channels.

I love TV. I love bad TV in particular. In fact, one of my girlfriends and I frequently skip going out to stay in and watch “bad TV.” This ranges from old sitcoms to public access shows to overly earnest movies from the 1980s.

But the other night I really did happen to watch something I wouldn’t normally. I was at the gym on the treadmill and the other four television sets had programming in which I wasn’t interested. So I watched one of those wife-swap shows. A wife and mother from one family goes and lives with the husband and kids of another wife. And vice versa.

The show totally exceeded my expectations and managed to avoid the typical Hollywood attacks. The super-cool mom who didn’t let her kids change her lifestyle too much swapped places with a homeschooling mom of a gazillion kids somewhere in the South. Or something. I was running and didn’t catch everything.

The bottom line is that the script for the show ended up making the Christian homeschooling family seem very together, intact and healthy. And the other mom ended up learning a bit from them. The Christian marriage was portrayed very tenderly, while the other couple had a bit to work on. I was kind of shocked because I knew how easy it would have been to show clips that reversed the perceived situation. Such is the power of media.

I thought of that show as I was reading a Michael Luo piece in The New York Times about Muslim schools for New York. There, the students memorize the Koran in two to three years instead of studying subjects like math and science. Once they’ve memorized the Koran, they earn the title of hafiz. They also believe they are guaranteed entrance to heaven, along with ten other people. Here’s how the piece covers the lack of regularly required studies (emphasis mine):

Because the task is so difficult, most of the children at the Muslim Center study only the Koran while they are enrolled in the class. Some parents try to tutor their children in other subjects on the side. But for the most part, it is after the children finish that they work to catch up in other subjects in preparation for going back to regular school.

By not offering instruction in other subjects, the school may be inadvertently running afoul of state law, according to city and state education officials. Private religious schools like the Muslim Center’s program are required to provide “substantially equivalent” instruction to that offered in public schools, they said. But tracking every school-age child who leaves the public school system can be difficult.

Several parents said they were not worried about their children falling behind because they are smart enough to make up the academic work. Some students from the class have, in fact, gone on to the city’s best high schools, parents and school officials said.

Nevertheless, next year, the school plans to introduce two hours of instruction in math, science, English and social studies, said Mohammad Tariq Sherwani, director of the Muslim Center.

I’m a graduate of a parochial school. And personally speaking, I’m completely laissez-faire about education. But I just couldn’t help but think that a story about Christians in Alabama denying elementary-aged children education in science and math would not be spun the same way by the Times. What about the fact that only boys are enrolled? We see a violation of state law explained in the nicest way possible. Is that normal for most papers?

alislahschoolThe story goes on to explain the recitation process. It says that because translation of the Koran from Arabic is frowned upon, the students mostly don’t know what they’re saying when they recite it. It then describes a few of the kids as being completely assimilated, more or less. One loves Grand Theft Auto. Another begged his parents to be in the school.

I just kept wondering if the reporter was looking for ways to decrease anxiety about a religious school, how it would have looked if he were looking to denigrate the school, and what the proper balance would be:

One of the younger boys in the school is Thaha Sherwani, a precocious, preternaturally responsible 10-year-old whose bedroom is festooned with Yankee paraphernalia. Thaha has been memorizing for two years and will probably need another year to finish memorizing. “But it is worth it,” he said.

. . . When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, Thaha said he was unsure. But then he had an idea: “I’ll be the first hafiz Muslim baseball player.”

Again, I’m sure Thaha is a very good and preternaturally responsible kid. But I wonder if the reporter weren’t trying a bit too hard to do a fuzzy human interest story. The piece doesn’t quote anybody who raises objections to this style of education.

Photo from Ferdinand Reus via Flickr.

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Failing to cover a journalistic crime

PhotoshopCSAltering photographs is nothing new, especially in this digital era. When applied to the news business, it is a Jason Blair-style crime along the lines of plagiarism and fabrication — maybe worse because altered images are sometimes difficult to detect and images are so powerful. The media watchdogs have largely failed in covering this issue of altered and staged photographs, and they are failing the public.

Here is Stephen A., commenting on an earlier post on the Reuters photographer:

Larry is right to point to LGF. The blogs have torn apart the pathetic and biased coverage of the conflict.

Not only the doctored (plural) pictures used by Reuters, but the use of misleading pictures, has been exposed. Such as the woman, dressed in the same outfit, mourning the destruction of her home, only the pictures were taken in front of two separate buildings two weeks apart, and passed off as two incidents. I won’t spell out the motives here.

Posted by Stephen A. at 12:07 pm on August 8, 2006

Why has this incident — and what appear to be other incidents — received so little coverage? Where is Howard Kurtz? Is he too busy interviewing Katie Couric? The usually on-the-ball media critics at National Public Radio’s On the Media have not yet mentioned the scandal.

Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times wrote a powerful column on this subject Saturday. Here’s a snippet:

There are, however, two problems here, and they’re the reason this controversy shouldn’t be allowed to sputter to its inglorious conclusion just yet: One of these has to do with the scope of what strongly appears to be wider fabrication in the photojournalism Reuters and other news agencies are obtaining from their freelancers in Lebanon. The other is the U.S. news media’s grudging response to the revelation of Hajj’s misconduct and its utter lack of interest in exploring whether his is a unique or representative case.

Thus far, only a handful of relatively brief stories on this affair have appeared in major American papers. The Times picked up one from the Washington Post, which focused mainly on the politics of Johnson’s website. The New York Times, which ran one of Hajj’s photos on its front page Saturday, reported that it has published eight of his pictures since 2003, but none were altered. It then went on to quote other papers about steps they take to detect fraudulent images. No paper has taken up the challenge of determining whether there’s anything dodgy about the flow of freelance photos Reuters and other news agencies — including the Associated Press, which also transmitted images made by Hajj — are sending out of tormented Lebanon.

It’s too bad this is an opinion column listed under entertainment news, because this altering and staging of photographs is one of the biggest media scandals of the year. Rutten, who comments on issues relating to the media, even picks up on a religion ghost that is sure to draw some controversy:

It’s worth noting in this context that there is no similar flow of propagandistic images coming from the Israeli side of the border. That’s because one side — the democratically elected government of Israel — views death as a tragedy and the other — the Iranian financed terrorist organization Hezbollah — sees it as an opportunity. In this case, turning their own dead children into material creates an opportunity to cloud the fact that every Lebanese casualty, tragic as he or she is, was killed or injured as an unavoidable consequence of Israel’s pursuit of terrorists who use their own people as human shields. Every Israeli civilian killed or injured was the victim of a terrorist attack intended to harm civilians. That alone ought to wash away any blood-stained suggestion of moral equivalency.

So why is this issue not being explored more thoroughly? All The New York Times managed to come up with is an article looking at the complexities of altering photographs. The only thing that I learned here was that the Soviet Union had an entire department devoted to altering photos. Time‘s Arts section had a much more honest, if brief, look at the subject — but with little investigation and more pondering.

Perhaps this is because a blogger uncovered, and continues to uncover, altered and staged photographs. Are the big media outlets tired of being scooped by bloggers? Perhaps it is because people alter photographs more often than anyone is willing to admit, particularly at big media institutions. As a person who used to do a bit of sports photography in college, I know how often photos are edited and cut down to create the most dramatic effect. At one point does one cross the line into altering or staging an image that violates basic journalistic ethics?

Why have the media given the Reuters photographer, whom they say is freelance, what essentially amounts to a free pass? He was caught trying to make an image of war more dramatic, and clumsily at that. He says it was an oversight, but that does not explain why he was altering the photo. Does he sympathize with Hezbollah? What about his photographs that were picked up by the Associated Press? Does AP need to pull those photos?

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Covering the “why” of terrorism

young british muslim First France. Now Great Britain.

There are, of course, huge differences in the two stories. Great Britain seems to be dealing with genuine terrorists bent on mass murder while the French rioters were less terrorists and more gangs intent on creating havoc, and not necessarily death, in their neighborhoods.

Reporters are trying to answer that big question confronting the West: Why are young British Muslims, typically from south Asia, getting involved in terrorism? Here’s the beginning of an answer from Sunday’s Washington Post:

In one of Europe’s largest Muslim communities, young men face a lack of jobs, poor educational achievement and discrimination in a highly class-oriented culture. Prime Minister Tony Blair is the most outspoken ally of President Bush, and their policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen by many Muslims as aimed at Islam.

Britain’s long tradition of tolerance has made it an oasis for immigrants and political outcasts from around the world, with its large influx of Pakistanis and other Muslims leading to the nickname Londonistan. Especially during the 1980s and 1990s, Britain became the refuge of choice for scores of Islamic radicals who had been expelled or exiled from their home countries for their inflammatory sermons and speeches.

More than any other country in Europe, Britain is struggling to cope with a surge in recruits and supporters of radical Islamic networks, according to interviews with British Muslims, and European and British counterterrorism officials and analysts. Officials said the threat is growing much faster than British authorities had expected or planned for.

That’s not a bad answer, but I believe it is incomplete. This idea that if you create the right social environment, where British values are esteemed, the class-oriented system is upended and young Muslims have ample job opportunities misses the larger issue.

What needs to be answered cannot be grasped in a handful of interviews.

Those reporting on this issue need to have a deep understanding of Islamic theology and history. There’s too much happening too quickly for even the best journalist, sans a thorough background in Islam, to write adequately on the “why” of terrorism. Take, for instance, this excellent lead published in Monday’s Los Angeles Times:

LONDON — The featured speaker at the annual dinner of London Metropolitan University’s Islamic Society thundered with fundamentalist zeal while warning of the rage spreading among young British Muslims.

College students should try to curb their “anger and frustration at injustices I see against myself and my Muslim brothers and sisters in this country and globally,” said cleric Abu Aaliyah, according to an audio feed on the student group’s website.

The next speaker at the March dinner congratulated a biomedical student, referred to as “Brother Waheed,” on his election as president of the society. Today, that up-and-coming activist, Waheed Zaman, is one of the 23 British Muslims detained by London authorities on suspicion of plotting to blow up at least 10 U.S.-bound jetliners in midair.

Why is Waheed Zaman involved in a plot to kill thousands of people?

Did the teachings of cleric Abu Aaliyah influence him toward terrorism? Or, as the story suggests later on, did Aaliyah influence him away from acts of violence?

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Old lion and TV-savvy young lion

WallaceIranThere is a rather interesting sort-of GetReligion piece in The Wall Street Journal today, only it isn’t written by one of us, and the author — that would be former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg — doesn’t really dig into the religion issues all that deeply. The piece is called “Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Neighborhood,” and it focused on that CBS interview Sunday night that pitted the aging lion Mike Wallace against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The point of the article, of course, is to say that Ahmadinejad got away with murder, in part because he (or his aides) have studied American television and have learned how to avoid answering questions. He has also learned some of the safe words to use about family life, politics and other tough issues. Goldberg also takes some shots at the American left, which is beside the point for the sake of this weblog.

But here is the interesting question: Why did the skilled people at 60 Minutes treat this showdown as a celebrity interview, instead treating it like the subject of a serious 60 Minutes piece?

Now that’s a good question. Here is a large slice of Goldberg’s take on that, including a reference back to a powerful interview decades ago between Wallace and the Ayatollah Khomeini:

To his credit, Mike never let up. But in the end all a reporter can do is ask the tough question and let the subject answer. If he doesn’t, you can try again. But at some point, you have to move on. And that is precisely what Mike and “60 Minutes” should have done. They should have found some people who know the real Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — not the made-for-television, Mr. Rogers version. They should have found some people to fill in the blanks; people who could paint an alternative picture of this man. They should have rounded up a few Iranians living in exile — the ones who must have been throwing shoes at their television sets during the interview — and asked them what really makes him tick.

But there were no exiles in the piece. No Israelis, either. Nor were there any historians, people who would have been able to say that Mr. Ahmadinejad is not the first leader of an undemocratic country to speak in platitudes about how much he longs for peace, justice and fairness. Read “Berlin Diary,” by William L. Shirer, who along with Ed Murrow covered World War II for CBS News, and you’ll learn that Hitler spoke the same way.

Twenty-seven years ago it didn’t matter what Ayatollah Khomeini told Mike Wallace. We only remember Mike’s question. Now, the tables have been turned and it is the questions that don’t matter — especially when the subject smiles and makes an end-run around them, replying with such soft and fuzzy answers as, we need to “love all people.” How exactly, Mr. President, must Israel be wiped off the map?

That’s a very good question and it deserved a precise answer. But how many times can you ask that question, if the person on the other side of the microphone declines to answer?

One more thing, just to let GetReligion readers know that I do read their emails.

What question would the famous Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis have wanted Wallace to ask in that interview? We can see rather clear hints in another WSJ piece. Here is a choice paragraph focusing on a symbolic date in the not so distant future:

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to “the farthest mosque,” usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

Yes, that would have been a good tidbit to ask about, too.

UPDATE: Hmmmmm.

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Reuters fails

ReutersPicThe contrast couldn’t be greater.

An August 5 article in the Los Angeles Times brought to our attention that Jews and Muslims are not the only ones caught up in Middle East conflict. Christians live there too.

Hezbollah is a pervasive influence in the society and will readily accept Christians’ support for propaganda purposes, but its radical ideology puts Christians in a position that would be unworkable, to say the least.

Times staffers Kim Murphy and Laura King do a superb job of describing the conflict for the Christians:

However, the strikes also alienated a group that largely has been hostile to Hezbollah. Christians make up an estimated 39% of Lebanon’s population, the highest percentage of any country in the Middle East. Over the years, they have often sympathized with Israel, even briefly collaborating in battling Palestinians during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon in the midst of the country’s 15-year civil war.

Although some prominent Christian leaders have formed political alliances with Hezbollah in recent years, many ordinary Christians have been wary of the rise of radical Shiite Muslim power, and of Hezbollah’s alliances with Syria and Iran. In the early days of the current conflict, they tended to blame Hezbollah for starting it with a cross-border raid in which it captured two Israeli soldiers.

Much of that sentiment has waned as Israel’s attacks have widened, and Friday’s strikes in the Christian heartland prompted Christian political leaders to respond with anger.

“People don’t see eye to eye with Hezbollah on all things, but this is a question of an attack on Lebanon,” said Farid Khazen, a Christian member of parliament.

Earlier, The New York Times did an equally impressive job in profiling Christians who are exiting the country for their own safety:

TYRE, Lebanon, July 27 — The refugees from southern Lebanon spilled out of packed cars into the dark street here Thursday evening, gulping bottles of water and squinting in the glare of the headlights to find family members and friends. Many had not eaten in days. Most had not had clean drinking water for some time. There were wounded swathed in makeshift dressings, and a baby just 16 days old.

But for some of the Christians who had made it out in this convoy, it was not just privations they wanted to talk about, but their ordeal at the hands of Hezbollah — a contrast to the Shiites, who make up a vast majority of the population in southern Lebanon and broadly support the militia.

“Hezbollah came to Ain Ebel to shoot its rockets,” said Fayad Hanna Amar, a young Christian man, referring to his village. “They are shooting from between our houses.”

“Please,” he added, “write that in your newspaper.”

This is good solid reporting in a tough situation with thousands of years of history and many factions pushing their agendas.

Now take a look at this August 4 Reuters story by Khaled Yacoub Oweis on the Christians who comprise 10 percent of the population in Syria:

DAMASCUS (Reuters) — Seventy-seven-year-old Mona Muzaber lights a candle for Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah at the Orthodox Church of the Cross in the centre of Damascus.

“I love him. I never felt Nasrallah was a religious zealot. He is a patriot who doesn’t seek personal gain,” she said. “I light a candle daily for him to remain under God’s protection.”

Israel’s offensive against Lebanon has brought Christians in neighbouring Syria closer to Nasrallah, a Shi’ite Muslim, reviving Arab nationalist feelings and blurring sectarian divisions.

Bishops and priests say Syria’s Christians, a devout community of around three million out of a population of 18 million, identify strongly with Nasrallah’s battle with Israel, which has occupied Syria’s Golan Heights since 1967.

“Pray for the resistance, pray for Hassan Nasrallah. He is defending justice,” Father Elias Zahlawi told the congregation at special mass held at the Lady of Damascus, a Catholic church.

Across Damascus Christians, like Muslims, sit glued to Nasrallah’s al-Manar television, receptive to his portrayal of the war as one in defence of all Arabs, as well as Muslims.

The article reads as a press release. It’s spewing out pure propaganda. And it’s not because I favor what the Israelis are doing, or dislike Syria. It’s because the article, in the words of a friend, is “absolutely devoid of any historical and religious context.” For starters, the article fails to acknowledge that Christians and Jews living under Islamic law are given a special protected status and are essentially second-class citizens.

The article also fails to mention that, while Syria has the appearance of a democracy, the Sunni-dominated country is essentially an authoritarian regime and it would be quite difficult for a Christian, or anyone for that matter, to speak freely on religion without risking the wrath of the majority. This type of conditioning has been going on for hundreds of years.

Contrast the statements of the Christians in Lebanon and the Christians in Syria. How could they be different? Perhaps it is because the Lebanese Christians have lived under the Hezbollah militias? To make things even more complicated for reporters, but not impossible, is recognizing that there are different Christian sects in the two countries, including everything from Maronite Catholics to Greek Orthodox to Armenian Orthodox to Roman Catholics, Coptics and Protestants.

Now, the level of embarrassment that this article brings to Reuters pales in comparison to the utter disaster caused by a freelance Lebanese photographer who altered two images to make the bombings of Lebanon seem worse than they really were.

Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. Based on my experience covering goofs in large organizations, it is my guess that this is only the tip of the iceberg. What other distortions and poor journalism has Reuters put before its readers in covering the Middle East conflict? Or as Matt Drudge would say, what is real and what is altered?

There is a bigger story here about the coverage of this conflict and it will be interesting to see if The Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz or National Public Radio’s On the Media will take it on during what is usually prime August vacation time.

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The confusing life of Naveed Haq

ece835b1 7f7f 457b 9af4 c74813f6f90e smallNaveed Haq was anything but an Islamic radical. He was a recently baptized convert to Christianity, and he expressed interest in Mormonism. His father, on the other hand, is a leader in the Muslim American community in Richland, Wash. It’s fair to say that the entire story line of a crazed Islamic radical shooting up a Jewish organization has been turned on its head.

This sad incident is clearly the work of a confused — possibly bipolar — individual.

I’m still trying to figure out how I missed this story in my post this morning, but thanks to Mollie, who sent me the link, consider this an update to what has become a horrifically sad and complicated story that digs into a variety of religious traditions. Here is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s Scott Guiterrez:

Last winter, Haq began attending a weekly men’s group meeting at the home of a men’s ministry leader with the Word of Faith Center, a non-denominational, evangelical church in Kennewick. The group’s leader, Albert Montelongo, said Haq started studying the Bible. In December, he was baptized by Montelongo. The ceremony brought tears to Haq’s eyes, Montelongo said.

He said Haq appeared to accept his new faith, though he knew that he would be offending his own family and its deeply rooted culture. His father, Mian Haq, was among the founders of the Islamic Center of the Tri-Cities in Richland, a place of worship for about 300 Muslims.

Montelongo said Haq seemed passionate and often boasted about his education. But he seemed depressed by the tension that had grown between him and his family. And Montelongo said Haq talked about suffering from bipolar disorder, but that he seemed to improve in how he coped with anger.

Whatever suggestions the initial reporting on this tragic incident gave us that this crime was instigated by some form of Islamic radicalism need explaining. It’s fairly well established that Haq shouted about Israel during the rampage and said that he was a Muslim American. But since we know he abandoned Islam, we can’t really call him an Islamic radical anymore.

His association with the nondenominational evangelical church is also interesting and deserves a very close look by journalists covering this incident. Why did he convert? How did his family react? Did their reaction trigger anything in him? Why did he fail to stick it out with the group? At any point did he revert to Islam?

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Seattle terrorism? Or one crazed man?

Jewish Federation of Greater SeattleSix shot in an apparent hate crime. One person dead. One man, antagonistic toward Jewish organizations, acting on his own.

Move this incident from Seattle to the Middle East and you have a major war on your hands, except that it seems the initial reports on this incident were somewhat overplayed.

Friday’s shooting in Seattle has received a surprisingly small amount of national attention. This is in large part because of the current Middle East violence. Sadly ironic, isn’t it? It’s also due to a mixture of factors that seem to make this story less about anti-Semitism and more about just some crazy guy. If the body count had been higher, would this have received greater attention from the news media?

Here’s The Seattle Times on Monday:

Naveed Afzal Haq left Pasco on Thursday evening intent on driving to Seattle, despite his mother’s pleas that he stay home with his family.

His parents, who for years had witnessed Haq’s struggle with mental illness, worried about his ability to cope in a place where he’d never had much luck making friends or holding down jobs, said Larry Stephenson, a Kennewick lawyer speaking on behalf of Haq’s family.

Less than 24 hours later, the 30-year-old Haq forced his way into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s office and randomly shot six women, killing one. Prosecutors are expected to file charges this week against Haq, who is being held in the King County Jail in lieu of $50 million bail on suspicion of homicide and five counts of attempted homicide.

Stories dealing with fast-breaking events are always better later in the news cycle — as in two or three days later. Take, for instance, the Los Angeles Times on Saturday:

“We believe at this point it is just a lone individual acting out some kind of antagonism toward this particular organization,” said David Gomez, assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the FBI’s Seattle office, which classified the shooting as a hate crime.

Police officers recovered a handgun and found the gunman’s pickup in a nearby garage, while SWAT teams searched the federation building. Several other buildings in the Belltown area near downtown Seattle were evacuated.

The shooting came five days after the federation helped sponsor a large rally in support of Israel in its battle with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Police officers had been given a general alert for possible attacks on synagogues and mosques, officials said.

Federation Vice President Amy Wasser-Simpson, who was not in the building, said staff members told her they heard the gunman declare that he was “angry about Israel.”

No, really? You think this guy had some type of antagonism? And you think he was upset about Israel? I get very frustrated by quotes like this. I know you’re quoting officials, so what they say has a certain level of relevance, but why quote speculation? In turns out that this type of speculation was largely irrelevant.

It’s what cable television news is best at, except cable news is even worse than newspapers. Cable news typically follow those official comments up with talking heads spinning the situation. Newspapers leave the spin up to the reader. I like the maxim that if you don’t have anything factual to say, don’t say anything.

The best article I’ve seen yet is another Seattle Times piece on the shooter. He is 30 years old. He lived in the area and apparently has a history of mental illness. He’s also facing charges of public indecency from a previous incident. And he’s not connected with any radical Islamic group that the FBI was warning Jewish groups across the country to look out for.

Here’s more:

Stephenson said he does not believe Haq is married or has children. Stephenson said he did not believe Haq had a job.

Haq went to college, Stephenson said, but he declined to say where.

Asked if Haq had any mental-health issues, Stephenson said he couldn’t comment. “I’m really not OK to discuss that,” he said.

Haq’s father, Mian A. Haq, was a founding member of the Islamic Centre of Tri-Cities in Richland, said center member Youseff Shehadeh. He described the younger Haq as a loner who attended holidays at the center but was barely involved in recent years.

Naveed Haq’s parents moved into a new suburb in Pasco less than three years ago after living in nearby Richland for more than a decade, said Maureen Hales, a neighbor.

Mian Haq was involved in an Islamic center in Richland, but he did not discuss his religion with his neighbors, said Hales.

So it seems that this will be the last of any discussion of Naveed Haq being a part of some radical Islamic group. He was religious in some sense or another but his horrific actions last weekend seem to be those of a deranged individual, not a man acting for the greater cause of radical Islam.

Will we have any type of explanation for the quotes about Naveed Haq feeling an antagonism toward Jews or Israel? I certainly think it’s needed.

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We have contact (II) and discussion

M1 Jun04 D3408sARCall me cynical, but I’m betting it was an automated reply and that the WP WON’T issue a correction.

Posted by David at 8:47 pm on July 23, 2006

Once again, we are finding that our nation’s major newspapers appear to be taking corrections pretty seriously these days. This is good news, for those of us who love daily journalism.

I had a talk yesterday with the international desk at The Washington Post about GetReligion’s request for a correction on that April story by correspondent Karl Vick titled “In Turkey, a Deep Suspicion of Missionaries: Priest’s Killing Shows Complex Ties of Islam to Nationalism in Officially Secular State.”

The passage that caught the eye of the Divine Ms. M was this one, which was supposed to explain the origins of violence in Istanbul against Catholic priests and Christian missionaries in general:

The tension dates at least to the 13th century, when Christian Crusaders sacked what is today Istanbul.

“Missionaries and the Crusades are related,” Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs declared in a pamphlet published last June.

The problem, for us, was obvious. Back in 1204, Constantinople was the center of Eastern Christianity — creating a terrible wound that has long affected the relationship between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. Muslims did not take the city until 1453, as explained in this essay at the Post‘s website.

The international desk was quite familiar with the details of our complaint and had discussed the matter with Vick, who is no longer in Istanbul. The newspaper has not decided if this deserves a correction, a clarification or the attention of ombudsman Deborah Howell, who is a veteran religion writer.

The newspaper’s position is that Vick may not have given a “full enough picture of what he meant to say,” because he was well aware of the complex history of that era. There were, in 1204, Muslims who lived in the heart of Byzantium and a few mosques were trashed by the Western crusaders, along with the Orthodox cathedral Hagia Sophia and the hundreds of Orthodox parishes and monasteries that defined the city. There were some Muslims in the forces that attempted to defend the city against the invaders.

Thus, Turkish officials may cite this as an example of the history of tensions between the Christian West and this city. The question is whether this has anything to do with the actions today by Islamist radicals who target the work of Christians, Eastern and Western.

What would happen if Eastern Orthodox bishops and missionaries tried to move into Istanbul in support of the tiny, aging and persecuted flock of Orthodox believers who dare to remain there? Are the actions of Turkish nationalists and Islamists against the Eastern Orthodox rooted in the memories of the violence of Western crusaders against the holy city of Byzantium in 1204?

We still have our doubts and believe that a correction or clarification is needed.

P.S. I am headed out the door for a week of vacation with the family, once again fleeing to the telephone-free wonder of our beloved Southern Highlands. Mollie and Dan will carry on and I will drop in from time to time, thanks to the wireless world at the lovely Dotcom Cafe in Burnsville, N.C.

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