News you can use . . . to start a riot

Newsweek is in full retreat amid the fallout from its Qur’an shredding story. In the current issue, editor Mark Whitaker admitted that there were some problems with the sourcing and signed off with this:

[W]e regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.

In the same issue Evan Thomas gives the controversy a more extended treatment. He asked, point blank,

How did Newsweek get its facts wrong? And how did the story feed into serious international unrest? While continuing to report events on the ground, Newsweek interviewed government officials, diplomats and its own staffers, and reconstructed [a] narrative of events

FOB Paul Marshall — that is, friend of the blog Paul Marshall of Freedom House — is incredulous about why Newsweek ran with this story that its own reporters and editors though might be shaky. In an article for National Review Online, he charges:

The shakily sourced May 9 Newsweek report that interrogators had desecrated a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is likely to do more damage to the U.S. than the Abu Ghraib prison scandals. What is also deeply disturbing is that the journalists who put the report out seem somewhat clueless about this reality.

Marshall recounts some of the riots and deaths that have followed allegations that U.S. interrogators desecrated, destroyed, and flushed copies of the Koran to intimidate prisoners. Then he takes a few shots at Thomas’ “What have we learned from this?” treatment:

While noting that, to Muslims, desecrating the Koran “is especially heinous,” Thomas looks for explanations, including “extremist agitators,” of why protest and rioting spread throughout the world, and maintains that it was at [Pakistani politician] Imram Khan’s press conference that “the spark was apparently lit.” He confesses that after “so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the vehemence of feeling around this case came as something of a surprise.”

What planet do these people live on that they are surprised by something so entirely predictable? Anybody with a little knowledge could have told them it was likely that people would die as a result of the article. Remember Salman Rushdie?

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Anatomy of a stoning

World editor Marvin Olasky, in one of his more pointed criticisms of the notion of journalistic objectivity, once wrote that journalists feel no need to quote pro-cancer sources when writing about that dread disease. Well, there’s no shortage of pro-sharia sources in The Washington Post‘s heartbreaking account of a married woman in Afghanistan who was killed — whether by a stoning or a beating — after she admitted to committing adultery with an unmarried man.

Reporter N.C. Aizenman’s story could benefit from more moderate Islamic voices expressing doubts about the wisdom of killing adulterers. Still, it’s an exceptional narrative that brings home the horror of this swift and merciless sense of justice.

There are two especially compelling moments in this powerful story. One is when Maulvi Yousaf (a maulvi is a Muslim scholar) tries to help the accused woman, Amina Aslam, escape a guilty verdict:

Yousaf said his hope was to exonerate Amina, not to extract a confession from her.

“When I went into the room I was smiling,” he said. “I told her, ‘Look, I know nothing happened. This is just an allegation. People won’t hurt you if nothing happened.’”

Yousaf also said he only questioned Amina about the previous night.

But instead of taking the hint, he said, she volunteered that she had been having an affair with Karim for two years. She said she wanted to divorce her husband and marry Karim.

“She seemed relaxed,” Yousaf said. “Like she thought her plan would work.”

The other moment, and this one is agonizing, is when an uncle begins to describe her death:

According to her great-uncle Assan, after the shura reached its verdict, a group of villagers came to the dark storage room and took her away to be stoned.

“She knew what was going to happen to her,” Assan said softly. “She was screaming and sobbing.”

Amina’s paternal uncle, Mohammad Azim, said he watched as the villagers forced Amina down a muddy path toward a patch of soft earth along a riverbank surrounded by stones, a few yards from the edge of the village.

It was a beautiful spot, shaded by an enormous tree and offering a charming view of the village clinging to the mountainside.

It was also an ideal place for a stoning.

“They dug a hole in the ground right here,” Azim said, pointing to a spot in the clearing six days later. “Then they buried Amina up to her waist, with her arms pinned by her side.”

I’ll leave it at that.

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Just another sad persecution story

Here we go again. I have been watching to see if the MSM notices this story. Sadly, I don’t think it’s on the radar. It seems that an Assemblies of God preacher in Iran may lose his head because of his faith and his voice. Here is a brief clip from Compass Direct, a Christian wire service:

Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand, a former Muslim, faces possible execution, the first religiously motivated death sentence in Iran since 1990. Authorities said Pourmand was scheduled to appear before the Islamic court of Iran in Tehran, but they ordered him moved to stand trial in Bandar-i Bushehr, his hometown.

Arrested last September when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor faces charges of apostasy from Islam and of proselytizing Muslims. Both “crimes” are punishable by death.

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a rather horrible violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, which usually receives strong support from Western elites, bravely continues to state:

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

It seems that European Union authorities, way back in the fall, did file a formal protest with Iranian authorities about the arrests of Christian clergy and laity as an “infringement of the freedom of religion or belief.” Good for them. The White House ought to try that.

And news coverage? A quick Google on Hamid Pourmand yields precisely what you would expect it to yield — a variety of news reports at Christian web pages.

Sad. Tragic, even. Predictable.

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Another wrinkle in the Sunni story

For those following the post-Christian Science Monitor Iraq story, Robert F. Worth of The New York Times has a new wrinkle. There is another sign that the Sunni leaders are not united, and what a symbolic sign it is — a group of clerics have urged their followers to join the Iraqi police. The key: “The edict, signed by 64 imams and religious scholars, was a striking turnaround for the clerics, who have often lashed out in sermons at the fledgling army and police force and branded them collaborators. Prominently missing from the signers was Harith al-Dari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and one of the most influential Sunni Arab clerics in Iraq, who is said to have close ties to the insurgency. Still, the directive, which carried the signature of Ahmed Hassan al-Taha, an imam at an important Baghdad mosque who has been a strong critic of the occupation, seemed to represent a significant step.”

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Chasing the Monitor

Perhaps The Christian Science Monitor did have a hot story in post-election Iraq. At least, the Los Angeles Times has followed up with a major story, with the headline: “Iraq’s Sunni Arabs Seek Their Voice.” Reporter Richard Boudreaux notes: “The chief, Mazin Jaber Nima, said the Sunni Arab-led insurgency against American troops would falter if Sunni Arabs joined in the U.S.-backed creation of a new political order. Applause filled the Babylon Hotel’s ballroom, but the next speaker was undeterred. “The subject today is how to represent the Sunni people in the political process,” argued Sheik Isam Sheikhli. “Do we do it with slogans? If we go on like this, we will not achieve a thing.” Uh, is it just me or is the time element rather weak in this story? When was this?

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The Monitor has a big, big story — right?

Sunni_triangle.jpgSometimes you see a story and you can’t believe what you are reading. I have been watching Google News pretty carefully on this and, unless my search terms are not up to snuff, I think The Christian Science Monitor is way out in front on a major story in Iraq.

Of the many dark fears about the U.S. presence there, none has been darker than the spectre of outright civil war involving the Shiites, Kurds and the old ruling elite in the Sunni Triangle. Now, reporter Jill Carroll has this Baghdad-datelined story. The lead? Key Sunni leaders have met to work on plans to participate in the government that, as Carroll puts it, was “formed by elections they boycotted.”

The meeting was a reversal for Sunni leaders who have supported insurgents and urged US troops to leave Iraq immediately.

The new effort, observers say, appears to be an admission that their strategy — to stop Iraq’s election and denounce the formation of a new government — has failed. Bringing the former ruling class into Iraq’s emerging power structure, they add, could help quell the insurgency.

“Participation of the Sunnis is both religiously important and politically important,” says John Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University who specializes in Islam and international affairs. “It can establish a precedent for other Sunni leaders to become involved.”

Who took part in this breakthrough meeting? Members of the Muslim Scholars Association were there, representing religious groups close to the insurgency. There were leaders from the so-called Sunni Triangle. Clearly this is just the first hint of a longer process, if the story is solid.

The question for me at this point is simple: Where are the other major media on this? Does the Monitor really have this on its own?

Again, there is no bigger story in Iraq — short of a stash of nuclear weapons showing up in a suburban storage facility — than the possibility that the Sunni led insurgency might be weakening or splintering.

Help me out here, people. Who else has this story?

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Catch-22

satan.jpgJonathan Rauch buries this striking fact in a parenthetical remark halfway into his latest National Journal column: “At least 22 people, including Rushdie’s Japanese translator, were killed as a consequence of the Rushdie affair.”

On Valentine’s Day, 1989, the ailing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder of apostate Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie and anyone who assisted in getting his book The Satanic Verses to press. British law enforcement picked up Rushdie and placed him in secluded, protective custody. An Iranian “charity” quickly placed a bounty of $1 million on his head, and then upped the bounty.

The furor over The Satanic Verses, writes Rauch, was frightening, in part, because it was truly global in scope:

It sparked riots in Muslim countries, but also mass protests in Britain, bookstore attacks in California, and assassinations or attempted assassinations in Belgium, Italy, Japan, and Norway. . . . This militance, it should have been plain, was no isolated Iranian whim. Khomeini spoke for a global constituency of millions, some of whom were prepared to kill for the cause.

The column is a classic Rauch number. It fingers the Salman Rushdie affair as the more appropriate beginning of the war on terrorism/militant Islam/insert euphemism here that has got the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East all hot and bothered of late.

Khomeini may have been the leader of Iran, but in the matter of Salman Rushdie, writes Rauch, “he acted in a different capacity, that of the leader of a worldwide revolutionary movement.” You see, “While the West still thought in terms of state actors,” Khomeini left them in the dust by operating “both above and below the state level.” The unfortunate novelist became an important proxy in the war to impose Khomeini’s vision of Islamic values on fellow Muslims and to challenge the dominance of the West.

Rauch judges that the mastermind of September 11 “is a very different creature from Khomeini,” but then he turns around and calls very into question as an appropriate word choice. He argues, for instance, that it is not at all “outlandish to think of the World Trade Center towers as The Satanic Verses, magnified immeasurably but not beyond all recognition.”

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Finding typos: Best correction of the year (so far)?

nemo_1.jpgOne of my all-time favorite editors, the late Ralph Looney of the Rocky Mountain News, used to say that he was never amazed when errors made it into the newspaper. He was amazed that the typical daily newspaper contains as few errors as it does.

This does not mean that errors are not serious business.

Heaven forbid. Nothing makes turns off dedicated readers more than seeing their daily newspaper mangle the facts in a story that is especially important to them. This is one reason the Borg here at GetReligion believes it is good to have Godbeat reporters with experience and training on this very, very complicated beat.
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