RU 4 freedom of T-shirt speech?

villagestreetwear2Earlier this week, The Washington Post had one of those slice-of-life news features that took an everyday topic from real life and framed it in a way that put it on page one.

The hot question of the day: Why are all of those girls wearing such slutty T-shirts to school? What’s that all about, other than some kind of post-feminist libertarian mall-values revenge plot?

I mean, the shirts are getting so bad that the liberal establishment is nervous. Reporter Ian Shapira had lots of details and a solid set of summary paragraphs:

They’re blatantly sexual, occasionally clever and often loaded with double meanings, forcing school administrators and other students to read provocations stripped across the chest, such as “yes, but not with u!,” “Your Boyfriend Is a Good Kisser” and “two boys for every girl.” Such T-shirts also are emblematic of the kind of sleazy-chic culture some teenagers now inhabit, in which status can be defined by images of sexual promiscuity that previous generations might have considered unhip.

The T-shirts, which school officials say are racier than ever, are posing dress-code dilemmas on Washington area campuses. School systems typically ban clothing that expresses vulgarity, obscenity or lewdness or that promotes cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or weapons. …

But sexually suggestive T-shirts often fall into a gray area that requires officials to evaluate one shirt at a time.

villagestreetwearObviously, there are other issues swirling in the background, including several that did not get into this report.

For example, is banning a racy shirt the same thing as promoting a conservative stand on sexual morality? That’s bad news, in an era in which courts tend to say that any promotion of conservative values on sex is the same thing as promoting conservative religious doctrines.

What about issues of race and class? Can school administrators strike back against the hip-hop bling culture — in either its ghetto or suburban forms — without being accused of discrimination?

And, as Shapira’s story does note, some school leaders think the clothing issue should be handled by parents. But how many modern students have highly involved parents? What if young women set out to ignore or deceive their parents?

What do these shirts mean anyway? The Post notes:

The T-shirts highlight a paradox about this generation: Even as more teenagers absorb ubiquitous sexual messages, federal data show that they report having less sex than their predecessors. Although a recent National Center for Health Statistics survey found that more than half of all teenagers engage in oral sex, teen pregnancy rates have plummeted since the early 1990s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of high school students who reported having sexual intercourse dropped from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2005.

“It’s a puzzling picture,” said Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in the District. “When someone sees a girl or boy in provocative clothing, they make a lot of assumptions about what’s going on, which may or may not be true — which really is the point, isn’t it?”

americanlifeleague 1916 4162386Like I said, this was a solid story and — noting how it has zoomed around cyberspace — I hope the Post will continue to monitor this subject at the intersection of family life, education, pop culture, morality and who knows what all.

But I have to admit that I wished the story had included one other topic, perhaps in a sidebar. Do schools in and around the Beltway have policies that affect other kinds of T-shirts and the subjects printed on them? What about religion? What about politics? What about, well, social issues that tend to divide young people and adults?

For example, if hot T-shirts are hard to ban, is it actually easier to ban anti-hot T-shirts?

This story has made some headlines in the past in the Washington area, in part because of demonstrations led by the Rock for Life network. Not that long ago, The Washington Times covered this, including this summary:

Rock for Life’s shirts feature blunt messages for young people: “Abortion Is Mean” or “Abortion Is Homicide” on the front, and the group’s motto on the back: “You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation.” Those messages have repeatedly put pro-life youth in conflict with school officials. In November 2002, a student wearing an “Abortion Is Homicide” shirt to Abington Junior High School in Abington, Pa., was told by the principal that his shirt was “inappropriate for display at school and equated the message on the shirt with a swastika,” say Rock for Life officials.

In the Cleveland suburb of Chardon, Ohio, a student wearing the group’s “Abortion Is Homicide” shirt was also told by his principal not to wear the shirt at Chardon High School because a girl had complained it was obscene.

Free speech is messy, but it beats all the alternatives. Or should public schools, at this point, turn to uniforms?

Stay tuned. I hope the dress-code story stays hot.

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Newsweek misses church ladies, again

A  Gardner   Newsweek   11 24 1952The new issue of Newsweek is out, which means that I, once again, have waited a bit too long to make a comment on the previous issue. I think I’ll do it anyway, since it appears that the magazine is going to do the same cover story every year about this time.

The topic, once again, was women and leadership (visit Newsweek‘s site to see the current illustrations), and here is the way the package was described in one of the main headlines and second decks:

Leading the Way

These women are poised to be the next generation of leaders in their fields — whether it’s sports, business, finance, politics or the arts. In their own words, they tell how they got where they are and where they hope to go next.

All of this was very similar to last year’s cover on the same basic subject, the one with St. Oprah on it, under the headline “How Women Lead.” Click here if you want to flash back to what this blog had to say about that one. It would be good if you did that, since I really need to write the same post all over again.

Last year, I was amazed that Newsweek could produce a massive neo-People package about American women in leadership roles and almost totally ignore the gigantic role that women play in pews and now pulpits in organized religion. Yes, the magazine’s leaders missed the church ladies. They even missed the proudly feminist elements of the liberal mainline Protestant world, which meant that they sure as heck missed the huge role that women play in conservative religious groups. Take the pro-life movement, for example.

Well, this year’s cover was different.

This year, Newsweek — as best I can tell — completely ignored the role that women play in religious life.

It’s amazing. I didn’t think it could be done. The cover package contains all the usual topics, such as “Twenty Top Women on Leadership,” “Women Leaders: Lessons We Have Learned,” “Moms Mean Business,” “Science and the Gender Gap” and “Women Leaders: 10 Power Tips.” You’d think there would be room for faith in there somewhere.

Last year, some of the women featured talked about the role of faith in their lives, at least a little bit. This year, I couldn’t even find a few secondary references. Did I miss something?

So I’ll end this somewhat cynical tirade with a flashback to a 2005 Wall Street Journal piece by Christine Rosen that stated the obvious:

This fall, the entering class of rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative institution, is 34% female. At Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary, women are nearly half the student body. At many Protestant seminaries, women pastoral students now outnumber men, and between 1983 and 2000 the number of women who identified themselves as clergy tripled. It seems that Catholic scholar Leon Podles’s prediction of a few years ago, that “the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation, like nursing, within a generation,” may soon prove true.

Pulpits aren’t the only places that women dominate. According to a recent survey, the typical U.S. congregation is 61% female. Women are also the force behind most lay organizations and volunteer activities and make up the majority of church employees.

And I will say once again what I said then. This trend is linked to at least three of the biggest stories out there on the religion beat. You’d have to be blind not to see the links. And those stories? The declining number of men in mainline pews. The general statistical decline of the liberal mainline and the groups that feature the largest numbers of women in ordained leadership roles. The rise of the new evangelicals and other conservative forms of faith, with strong — but less obvious — leadership roles for women. A new question: Have the evangelicals leveled off in growth, especially among men?

These stories are still out there. Does anyone at Newsweek know that?

Wait a minute! In the Newsweek illustration of Martina Navratilova, is she wearing a cross? There’s the religion element of the cover story. I missed that, at first. Go to the website and check it out.

UPDATE: Newsweek instructed us to take down the illustrations, even though I tried to attribute them as part of our coverage of the package. I did the best I could to find a fitting substitute.

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Why not hire O.J. as the crime reporter?

simonand garfunkelIf you had a reporter who was an abortion-rights activist, spoke publicly against religious conservatives and George Bush, and wept openly at a recent Simon and Garfunkel concert, what beat would you assign her?

Certainly not music — and certainly not the Supreme Court, right?

Think again. The New York Times has no problem at all with keeping Linda Greenhouse in just that plum beat.

Ever since she marched in a 1989 abortion-rights rally, readers who don’t share her political opinions have questioned Greenhouse’s coverage of politically divisive court rulings.

NPR’s awesomely named David Folkenflik had a fascinating story on All Things Considered that raises new issues arising from a June speech Greenhouse gave at Harvard:

Greenhouse went on to charge that since then, the U.S. government had “turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha and other places around the world — [such as] the U.S. Congress.”

She also observed a “sustained assault on women’s reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism. To say that these last few years have been dispiriting is an understatement.”

A few weeks after that speech, the Supreme Court knocked down some of the government’s assertion of executive powers involving detainees at Guantanamo. And the court will soon hear arguments in an abortion case.

I think it’s interesting that this speech was given in June to 800 people and the first most anyone has heard about it is months later. Greenhouse’s political biases aren’t exactly hidden, but it is also surprising that she’s this open about her leftist views.

I noted problems Greenhouse had in covering a January abortion ruling, but her personal biases aren’t necessarily reflected in her coverage.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a reporter with similarly extreme conservative views having such a plum position at the Times or winning a Pulitzer.

Folkenflik’s piece had a few other great nuggets:

Sandy Rowe, editor of the Oregonian and a past chairwoman of the executive committee of the Pulitzer Prize board. Rowe praises Greenhouse’s work — but questions her judgment.

“If she or any other reporter stakes out a strong position on an issue that is still evolving both in society and before the courts, yes, I think that is problematic,” Rowe says.

Greenhouse tells NPR, “I said what I said in a public place. Let the chips fall where they may.”

Again, can anyone imagine where the chips would fall for a New York Times Supreme Court reporter who equated abortion to murder?

Jack Nelson, former Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, blanches at hearing of Greenhouse’s remarks, but agrees with her tough critique of the White House.

“If I was the Washington bureau chief and she was my Supreme Court reporter, I might have to answer to the editors in L.A. for that,” Nelson says. “But I would do my best to support her.”

Asked if he would defend Greenhouse had she said something he disagreed with, however, Nelson laughed — and said he would take issue if she had backed Bush policy.

What is Jack Nelson thinking? He would support reporters who expressed one bias but not another? People who’ve read surveys of reporters personal political views aren’t necessarily surprised by such statements, but shouldn’t these people be keeping these things secret?

Anyway, great story idea. It will be interesting to see if Times editors take any action here.

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Who outed George Allen?

george allen2The apparent destruction of the presidential ambitions of Sen. George Allen, R-Va., has been interesting to watch. The story goes several layers deep, and I’ll do my best to probe the more interesting, religion-oriented ones in this post. Feel free to post your thoughts on how religion was played in the hundreds of articles written on the politician who has been dubbed the darling of the religious right and a clone of President Bush.

The candidate one would think would benefit the most from Allen’s implosion is Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, but that remains to be seen. Check out what The Revealer wrote Monday on the issue:

The liberal blogs, Salon, and now the mainstream media (AP) have been making hay out of Allen’s bigotry, but the media that matters in this case won’t be public. It’ll be email. It’ll be telephone calls. It’ll be the quiet, behind-the-scenes conferencing by Christian Right powerbrokers who are about to pull the rug out from Allen.

Nailing down who pulled, or will pull, the rug out from Allen’s presidential hopes is tricky, but one thing is for sure, it was not the mainstream media. As best I can tell, The New Republic (as tmatt likes to say, that right-wing rag to which we link a lot) started it all with a couple of Ryan Lizza articles on April 27 and May 15 that addressed Allen’s “race problem.” Here we found out that Allen had a long association with the Confederate flag, among other sketchy things.

Then Allen famously uttered “macaca” (video) and all hell broke lose on his campaign, including renewed speculation that he could be Jewish. That ended up being true, but Allen didn’t appreciate it very much, as revealed in this snarky Washington Post piece by the religious right’s favorite columnist (sarcasm on), Dana Milbank:

At a debate in Tysons Corner yesterday between Republican Allen and Democrat [Jim] Webb, WUSA-TV’s Peggy Fox asked Allen, the tobacco-chewing, cowboy-boot-wearing son of a pro football coach, if his Tunisian-born mother has Jewish blood.

“It has been reported,” said Fox, that “your grandfather Felix, whom you were given your middle name for, was Jewish. Could you please tell us whether your forebears include Jews and, if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended?”

Allen recoiled as if he had been struck. His supporters in the audience booed and hissed. “To be getting into what religion my mother is, I don’t think is relevant,” Allen said, furiously. “Why is that relevant — my religion, Jim’s religion or the religious beliefs of anyone out there?”

“Honesty, that’s all,” questioner Fox answered, looking a bit frightened.

“Oh, that’s just all? That’s just all,” the senator mocked, pressing his attack. He directed Fox to “ask questions about issues that really matter to people here in Virginia” and refrain from “making aspersions.”

“Let’s move on,” proposed the moderator, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.

Yes, let’s — but not before we figure out what that was all about. Turns out the Forward, a Jewish newspaper, reported that the senator’s mother, Etty, “comes from the august Sephardic Jewish Lumbroso family” and continued: “If both of Etty’s parents were born Jewish — which, given her age and background, is likely — Senator Allen would be considered Jewish in the eyes of traditional rabbinic law, which traces Judaism through the mother.”

george allenSo as the Post and others play catch-up on the story that Allen is not a very good person and is sensitive about his heritage, one has to wonder what instigated it all. Was it just an unfortunate falling of the cards that instigated Salon investigations and subsequent catch-up stories (followed of course by the Associated Press and the Post) into whether Allen used the N word while playing football at the University of Virginia? The mainstream media have been all over the “live” events, such as the video and Allen’s reaction to the Jewish question, but they’ve done little hard reporting, which has been reserved to less mainstream left-of-center publications.

Is this a liberal attempt to oust a senator with hopes of regaining a Senate Majority? A smart Democrat would save this material for 2008 in order to throw the GOP presidential nomination process into chaos. Who is attempting to out what appears to be at worst a closet, or at best a former, racist and possible bully, before he became the religious right’s standard-bearer?

Ryan Lizza’s articles in The New Republic didn’t happen in a vacuum. I doubt he woke up one morning and thought, “I need to investigate Sen. Allen’s racial attitudes.” I also doubt that Michael Scherer of Salon thought, “I will call all of Sen. Allen’s teammates from his time as the quarterback of the University of Virginia to find out if he said some racist things back in the day.”

And to cap it all off, the issues raised in the book by Allen’s sister, Jennifer, in her book Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach’s Daughter, have been around for six years (surviving Allen’s first election) and no one seemed to notice until now. So what gives?

Who is out to trash a potential leading candidate of the religious right?

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Waiting on the perfect righteous human being

19bHere is your first assignment as we start a new week. It has to do with the most amazing quotation from last week.

First, open Google. Now, insert — in direct quotation marks — the phrase “perfect righteous human being.” Search in the News category.

Now, what did you find? Not much.

This phrase is, of course, taken from the final act of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s dramatic address at the United Nations. Click here for the full text, but here are the crucial quotes:

“I emphatically declare that today’s world, more than ever before, longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity; and above all longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet.

“O, Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause.”

Does that sound familiar? Did you see this passage played over and over on the evening newscasts and debated on the niche-market shows on cable?

You didn’t?

To grasp the importance of what is happening in these paragraphs, please head on over to The New Republic (that right-wing rag to which we link quite a bit) and read the fairly recent cover story titled “Ahmadinejad’s Demons: A child of the revolution takes over” by Matthias Kuntzel.

Now, back to the United Nations. Try to imagine what would have happened if President George W. Bush had ended his U.N. address with a call for the second coming of Jesus Christ and pledged that he would strive to see this event come to pass, sooner rather than later. Imagine the mainstream media response. Do you think this would be mentioned in major media? Do you think journalists would jump to cover that topic (as well they should)?

Andrew Sullivan states the obvious, quite well, beginning with an appeal for readers to read the quotes in question a second time:

Ahmadinejad is calling upon God to bring about the coming of the Twelfth Imam (“the perfect human being promised to all by you”), who heralds the Apocalypse. He is also saying that he will “strive for his return.” It is the most terrifying statement any president of any nation has made to the U.N. We have a dictator on the brink of nukes, striving to accelerate the Apocalypse. Think of the Iranian regime as a nation-as-suicide-bomber. And anything serious we can do to prevent it may only make matters worse. No wonder Ahmadinejad smiles. Paradise beckons.

So why have newspaper readers and television viewers not been swamped with coverage of this part of this address? Why is that Google News search so wimpy?

Here is what Joel C. Rosenberg has to say over at National Review. I think you will not be surprised to learn that his argument, when boiled down to its essentials, is this: Too many people in the mainstream media simply do not get religion. But, beyond that, there is a good chance that many journalists are simply afraid to dig into the details of Ahmadinejad’s beliefs and his own unique faith journey (which includes some literal minefields).

It is, you see, much, much easier to stick to writing stories about the Left Behind novels. Saith Rosenberg:

American journalists aren’t asking Ahmadinejad about his Shiite religious beliefs, his fascination with the coming of the Islamic Messiah known as the “Twelfth Imam” or the “Mahdi,” his critique of President Bush’s faith in Jesus Christ and encouragement of President Bush to convert to Islam, and how such beliefs are driving Iranian foreign policy.

Time‘s cover story and exclusive print interview with Ahmadinejad never broached the subject of his eschatology. Nor did [Brian] Williams. Nor did [Mike] Wallace. Nor does a just-released book, Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy And the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East, by British Iran expert Ali M. Ansari. Nor does almost any of the saturation coverage Ahmadinejad is receiving.

Journalists aren’t typically shy about asking tough, probing questions about the religious views of world leaders. President Bush has been grilled at length about being an evangelical Christian and how this informs his foreign policy, particularly with regards to Israel and the Middle East. Clearly the pope’s views of Christianity and Islam are now under fire. Why such hesitancy when it comes to the religious beliefs of a leader who has called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the planet and urges fellow Muslims to envision a world without the United States?

Good question. Of course, you knew that’s what we would think here at GetReligion.

Image: A devotional picture of Ali, the first Imam of the Shiites.

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A question of the law

lady justicePeter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times had a revealing article in Saturday’s paper about a Washington conference sponsored by the Family Research Council. During the conference, conservative evangelicals talked about the importance of the November elections and said if Republicans are not elected, the country will go down the toilet. Well, they didn’t say Republicans, but they did encourage people to support candidates who understand their values.

The article has a very ominous tone. A major issue, as discussed in this post, is that the Internal Revenue Service is threatening churches’ tax-exempt status because of political statements from their pulpits.

Wallsten skillfully ties the IRS issue to the conference, where Focus on the Family’s James Dobson urged participants to use their pulpits to support candidates who share their socially conservative agenda. It was a much-needed connection, but Wallsten failed to finish the picture. Wallsten discusses the difference between voter guides and actual endorsements, and quotes church-state separationists, but more legal questions are raised than answered. Is Dobson encouraging the churches to act illegally?

Critics say Dobson and his allies are crossing the line and giving bad advice to churches. The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, mailed letters this week to 117,000 churches in 11 states warning them not to go along with voter registration drives and other activities.

“They are talking about a systematic effort to get churches involved in political activity,” said Lynn, who attended the conference and met privately backstage with Dobson to debate the question. “They say this isn’t partisan, but then they turn around and make it clear that their goal is to keep Republicans in power.”

Friday’s events showed that evangelicals intend to broaden their focus on issues that can motivate voters. Leaders framed the GOP’s signature issue of terrorism as a matter of “protecting the family” and winning a war between Judeo-Christian traditions and Islamic extremism.

So is it illegal to hand out voter guides? Someone give Wallsten a legal brief on the matter so he can inform his readers. Last time I checked, it is not illegal [commenter Chip smartly points out that these rules can be easily accessed here]. One can have a legal opinion that voter guides are essentially endorsements, but that should be addressed in the article if it is indeed an issue.

In the American legal system there is a sense of finality in issues or at least the potential for finality. What have the courts and the lawmakers said? You can quote experts and political hacks all day long on the constitutionality, but that doesn’t matter if an issue has been decided.

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A mission for religion reporters

the missionI have a mission for religion reporters, reporters based in the Middle East and reporters who write stories that involve Islam: Start covering the differences in radical Islam.

President Bush has been on a campaign of late to portray Islamic terrorism as monolithic. A good religion reporter would know this is not the case, so instead of telling us over and over again that Islam is a diverse religion and that Islamic radicals tend to differ on just about everything, show us. You know, it’s that maxim you learned somewhere in journalism school (or heard from a berating editor): show, don’t tell.

GetReligion readers, if you come across any articles that highlight differences in radical Islamic groups, please send them to us. The article will be posted and we will all be smarter as a result.

Newsweek‘s international editor Fareed Zakaria makes this point quite succinctly in a column in the Sept. 18 edition:

In the past two weeks President Bush has, for the first time, started describing America’s adversaries as part of “a single movement,” “a worldwide network,” with a common ideology. He notes that these groups come from different traditions but concludes that what unites them — their hatred of free societies — is more important. This kind of rhetoric does have the benefit of making the adversary seem larger and more sinister, thereby drumming up domestic support for the administration’s policies, but it comes at great cost.

To speak, for example, of Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists as part of the same movement is simply absurd. They have hated each other for almost 14 centuries. Right now in Iraq, most of the violence is the work of Shiite militias, which are murdering people they claim are Sunni extremists. How can these two adversaries be part of a unified network?

A look at Bush’s remarks on Iran will show how such a monochromatic view distorts America’s strategic thinking. Last week he spoke of Iran in the context of a worldwide movement of Shiite extremists. This movement, Bush argued, has managed to take control of a major power, Iran, and use it as a launching pad to spread its terrorist agenda.

I’m not sure the president actually believes in the transnational threat of a “Shiite crescent.” If he does, why would he have invaded Iraq and handed it over to another group of Shiite extremists? (The parties that rule Iraq — and whose militias are killing people — are conservative, religious Shiites, often with ties to Iran.) In fact, Iraqi Shiites are different from Iranian Shiites. They have separate national agendas and interests. To conflate them into one group, and then to toss in Sunni Arab extremists as comrades in arms, is bad policy. The world of Islam is extremely diverse. We should recognize and act on this diversity — between Shiites and Sunnis, Persians and Arabs, Asians and Middle Easterners — and most especially between moderates and radicals. But instead the White House is lumping Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite politicians in Iraq and Sunni jihadists in Egypt all together as one worldwide movement. This is, of course, exactly what Osama bin Laden has argued all along. But why is Bush making bin Laden’s case?

cracksI’ll start the list. Everyone should read this excellent (and hilarious) New Yorker piece on the top Al Qaeda source in America. (No, this article does not threaten national security. The FBI is happy to get the news out regarding how well it treats informants.)

In the article, Jane Mayer does a wonderful job of describing the life of Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, who has been in the U.S. witness protection program for quite awhile. Fadl is special because he used to be Osama bin Laden’s money man. Fadl felt he had to leave, not because of some disdain for terrorism, but because he was scraping money off the top.

It’s fascinating reading, and this one paragraph on how Fadl’s one-time handler, Dan Coleman, was surprised to learn that Al Qaeda is not theologically monolithic, deserves particular attention:

Coleman was surprised to learn that Fadl wasn’t particularly religious. “I never saw him pray once,” he said. For Fadl, jihad was less a spiritual quest than “a socially acceptable form of bad behavior.” As Coleman put it, “You get to blow stuff up and kill people, and your colleagues and peers think you’re good. It’s fun, and you can be a hero.” Coleman acknowledged that most Al Qaeda members were deeply committed to Islam, but he said that it had been a breakthrough to realize that some were more like ordinary criminals, and could be manipulated in ways familiar to law-enforcement officials. ([L’Houssaine] Kherchtou was a pilot who worked for bin Laden for money, and he was angered when Al Qaeda refused to pay for his wife’s Cesarean-section operation.)

Read on, folks, and let me know if you see any more examples out there of cracks among Islamic terrorist groups. How many Islamic terrorists are involved in Al Qaeda because it’s an opportunity to blow stuff up? And where are the ones that can be swayed out of terrorism because of their weaknesses?

We’ve written repeatedly about those articles that talk about how most Muslims think Islamic radicals are nuts, but I’m hoping that journalists will continue to dig and explore the differences among those extremists.

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Romney vs. McCain on torture

romney with bushThe latest scuttlebutt on the 2008 presidential hopes of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has him cozying up to President Bush on the torture and interrogation of terrorists. And it’s all in an attempt to differentiate himself from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been fighting Bush tooth and nail on the issue.

Neither side is exactly the ideal candidate of what’s been called the Christian right that helped loft Bush into power (evangelicals reportedly gave Bush nearly 40 percent of his vote in 2004), but that makes things all the more interesting.

Check out this analysis by Hotline On Call:

The clever back-and-forth came to halt Sunday, when Adam Nagourney, the NYT‘s chief political reporter, got Romney on the phone and on the record. “I am foursquare behind the president on this,” Romney, said referring to McCain’s dispute with Pres Bush over the torture issue. “I believe that we should do everything possible to support those people at the front line who are responsible for enforcing the war on terrorism.” But Romney wasn’t done. Asked if this was the “sharpest” area of disagreement with McCain, Romney said: ” No. There are a number of things. We have different views on McCain-Feingold, differing views on immigration policy, differing views on the interrogation of terrorists.” Perhaps looking to soften the blow, he then offered, “There are also many other areas where we see eye to eye.”

The big question for me involves how Mormons view the torture issue theologically. As far as I can tell, their leaders do not address the issue directly and it’s unclear that Romney would be willing to allow his religious beliefs to affect his politics. It is not a situation where Romney could be refused the church’s blessing, as was attempted with John Kerry and other Catholic Democrats for their position on abortion, but I could be wrong. Are there any Mormon readers out there who have more information?

Reporters looking to follow up on this should check out this great resource for reporting on all things Romney at religionlink.org.

It’s fair to say that big-name evangelicals who support Bush have not made noise over the torture issue, but the lack of noise does not necessarily indicate support for the policy. According to numbers compiled by The Economist, 60 percent of Bush’s voters in 2004 were among theological conservatives, which includes evangelicals, traditional Catholics and, yes, Mormons. Where do these voters fall on the torture issue?

Will Romney pick up Bush’s “theoconservative” supporters or will he end up alienating them? We know that McCain’s position on torture is not endearing him to high-level Bush supporters, but what about the people in the pews? Will this stymie his efforts to gain the support of evangelicals because he is opposing Bush, or opposing a policy they may or may not consider critical to their safety or harmful to the country’s moral foundation?

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