Yankees and Red Sox: Which league are they in?

red sox yankeesIf the leaders of the United States don’t understand the basic differences between Shiites and Sunnis, then what should one expect from the average American?

A column in The New York Times by Congressional Quarterly‘s Jeff Stein is causing quite a ruckus on the Web. Stein says he has received more feedback on this piece than any other he has written. It is currently the NYT‘s most emailed articled. And Stein appeared on CNN Wednesday afternoon to discuss his piece.

To borrow an effective analogy made by Stein on CNN, what would Major League Baseball do if most people did not know the difference between Yankee fans and Red Sox fans? How many of you know which league they are in (National or American)? Do you know which cities they are based in? How’s this for a curveball: Which team most recently won the World Series? Which team has won the most World Series?

To most of the people I interact with daily, these are easy questions. But to those who do not follow professional baseball, I would not expect them to know the answers. And that’s perfectly fine because this is relatively useless information, at least by national security standards.

One would expect, though, that those in charge of Major League Baseball know the answers. And one would also expect the leaders of the United States and experts in the area of keeping our country safe from Islamic radicals to know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite. Sadly, Stein found that key people involved in national security know little about the basic differences:

A “gotcha” question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I don’t think it’s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, I’m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who’s on what side today, and what does each want?

After all, wouldn’t British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants? In a remotely similar but far more lethal vein, the 1,400-year Sunni-Shiite rivalry is playing out in the streets of Baghdad, raising the specter of a breakup of Iraq into antagonistic states, one backed by Shiite Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.

A complete collapse in Iraq could provide a haven for Al Qaeda operatives within striking distance of Israel, even Europe. And the nature of the threat from Iran, a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?

Stein goes on to cite the failure of an FBI chief and two members of Congress to know the difference between the two branches of Islam. So what is the media’s role in this? They are hardly responsible for educating members of Congress and federal law enforcement officials on the basics of Islam.

But I would be curious to see if any of the major polling agencies are gearing up their call centers to find out how average Americans would answer that question. My guess is that they will fare little better than our nation’s leaders. And that is the responsibility of the media.

Are journalists going to go beyond simply repeating the bland differences between Sunnis and Shiites, and doing some showing, not telling, in order to better educate the public? We would all, including members of Congress and FBI agents, be better off for it.

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All hands on the Roman deck

ConsecrationAttention everyone who cares about MSM coverage of debates in modern Catholicism: Please help us watch, in the next 48 hours or so, how major newspapers cover a big story that is breaking right now. In fact, this story may run through the weekend because the visuals should be interesting, which may even lead to television coverage.

What’s the story? Here we go, starting with the Catholic News Service report from Rome:

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to expand permission to use the Tridentine Mass, the pre-Vatican II rite favored by traditionalist groups, said an informed Vatican source.

The pope is expected to issue a document “motu proprio,” or on his own initiative, which will address the concerns of “various traditionalists,” said the source, who asked not to be named. The source said the new permission, or indult, was a papal decision, but was being done in cooperation with agencies of the Roman Curia. …

The Tridentine rite is currently available to groups of Catholics who ask and receive permission for its use from their local bishops. The old rite is celebrated in Latin and follows the Roman Missal of 1962, which was replaced in 1969 with the new Roman Missal.

Let me emphasize that this is a very hot, symbolic story for the Catholic left as well as for traditionalists. The big change would be removing bishops on the left from the decision-making process. They are going to howl, with good reason.

Now there is going to be a very interesting vocabulary issue in coverage of this issue, and we can see hints in the early Associated Press coverage by Victor L. Simpson. Note, in the following, the use of the word “reforms.” Reforms are, of course, good and anyone who overturns or weakens said “reforms” must, therefore, be doing something bad. Thus we see:

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to loosen restrictions on use of the old Latin Mass, making a major concession to ultraconservatives who split with the Vatican to protest liberalizing reforms, a Vatican official said Wednesday.

And there is this:

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X in 1969 in opposition to the reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin. The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome’s consent.

Ah, so there is a chance that newspapers that view this story from a strictly modernist point of view — there are, I imagine, few high-Mass Catholics in the typical newsroom — may even say that Pope Benedict XVI is “dividing” the modern church or bowing his knee (or words to that effect) to schismatics.

So what would the opposite be? They could say that liberalized use of the Latin Mass represents a nod to diversity. It can even be a sign of unity in multilingual parishes. No, honestly.

So help us watch this story in the days ahead. And, of course, you can cruise over to Catholic blogger Amy Welborn’s Open Book for all the updates there.

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Modern Russia does have its ghosts

moscow theater 007Dang it, that’s what I get for waiting an extra day or two before writing about that sprawling Los Angeles Times series, “The Vanishing Russians.” I was waiting until the last day to see if reporter Kim Murphy elected to dig into the religious questions raised all the way through this fascinating and depressing set of four articles.

This is a textbook “project” in a great mainstream newspaper, complete with loads of statistics and personal stories to back them up. This clip will give you the flavor of the thing:

Russia is rapidly losing population. Its people are succumbing to one of the world’s fastest-growing AIDS epidemics, resurgent tuberculosis, rampant cardiovascular disease, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, suicide and the lethal effects of unchecked industrial pollution.

In addition, abortions outpaced births last year by more than 100,000. An estimated 10 million Russians of reproductive age are sterile because of botched abortions or poor health. The public healthcare system is collapsing. And many parents in more prosperous urban areas say they can’t afford homes large enough for the number of children they’d like to have.

Let’s see. We have suicide, AIDS, substance abuse, rampant abortion and a loss of hope in the future. All of this in a nation that, in the past century, saw the rise of an atheistic regime that tried to stamp out the practice of faith. Still, the city skylines are dominated by crosses and onion domes.

Let’s see. Do you think there might be a religion element in here somewhere?

But I waited too long. My friend Roberto Rivera, a brilliant Catholic thinker who now writes for The Point blog linked to Prison Fellowship, beat me to it. However, we offer him thanks for using, with credit, a term from GetReligion in his analysis. Rivera says that the opening story in the series is:

… such an important piece that I feel bad about pointing out that it’s haunted by what the folks at GetReligion call a “religion ghost.” (That’s their term for an unacknowledged religious element in a story.) How do you write a story about declining populations, especially declines fueled by substance abuse, abortion and suicide, without mentioning religion? For that matter, how do you write a story about the Russian people without mentioning the role of religion? But, apart from quoting an Orthodox priest on the effects of the Soviet system, Murphy’s story is a religion-free zone.

Reading it, I thought of the scene in War and Peace in which Napoleon asks the Tsar’s emissary, Balashov, if it’s true that Moscow has hundreds of churches and monasteries. When told it is, Napoleon says that this many churches and monasteries are a “sign of the backwardness of the people.” The joke, of course, is on Napoleon: it is “very religious” and “backward” Russia that shatters both his army and the myth of his invincibility. You can’t tell a good, much less complete, story about Russia without talking about her religion or, in this case, the lack thereof. And you especially can’t do it here — the correlations between what is killing Russia and religious observance is just too great.

All kinds of questions leap to mind. Where to begin?

teremFor starters, I wanted to know if officials or researchers have seen any differences between the Russians who are secular and the Russians who are believers in the major faiths of that culture. Are religious believers more likely to have children? This is, after all, a pattern seen in other cultures.

Sure enough, by the time we make it to the fourth installment in the series we discover that Muslim believers are on the rise for multiple reasons, including birthrate. It appears that trends in Russia resemble those in post-Christian Europe.

Which raises another point. Russia is not Europe. Is it impossible for Russia to fit into the Western world on the terms of the modern Western world? The Communists tried to tear an ancient form of Christianity out of the heart of Russia. Is the modern world attempting the same thing, only in the name of — what? — the glories of the shopping mall? Globalization?

The ghosts actually break into song when Murphy has to deal with the issue of suicide:

Russians fling themselves from balconies, slash their wrists or simply walk out in the snow on a bitter night. Russia’s suicide rate, at about 36 per 100,000 people, is second only to that of Lithuania, according to the Serbsky National Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. In some remote areas of Russia, the rate exceeds 100 per 100,000.

Nikolai Zavada, a 21-year-old musician who goes by the name Serial Self-Killer, posted a song on http://www.mysuicide.ru, a well-known website that was later shut down because of public pressure:

I’m going out.
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s up or down.
Or who’s holding your hand, an angel or otherwise.
The cold has worn me out.

“People have a lack of hope,” Zavada said in an interview. “That all their efforts are in vain. And also, they have a feeling of eternal emptiness.”

So here is the obvious questions: When it comes to “eternal emptiness,” are all Russians created equal? Are some spiritually emptier than others? Do those who practice a faith face the same sense of emptiness as those who have flung the faith of Mother Russia aside? This is a gripping series, full of crucial questions. I am simply saying that it needed to explore one more big question about this dark night in the Russian soul.

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LAT dips toe into moderate Islam

muslim dannebrog2Imagine profiling a moderate Muslim in Copenhagen for the expressed purpose of understanding the life and outlook of a secular Muslim and failing to ask a question about religion. Well, Jeffrey Fleishman’s Los Angeles Times piece on Sunday comes close to accomplishing that feat. Issues of religion come up incidentally as if they were minor matters to be brushed aside in a quest to portray the subject as absolutely secular.

Aside from this minor complaint, I thought Fleishman’s piece was pleasantly informing and included appropriate background information to paint a picture filled with contrasts:

Ever since he left the laundry-draped alleys of his Syrian village and glimpsed the red-light district of Copenhagen, Naser Khader’s life has been a curious, and sometimes dangerous, navigation between Islam and the West.

A man with “democracy” tattooed in Arabic on his arm, the Danish lawmaker epitomizes Europe’s struggle to integrate moderate Islam into secular democracy. The Danes view him as the ideal Muslim, a multilingual author with European sensibilities for tolerance. Islamists regard him as a traitor, a factory worker’s son who bartered his identity for a bit of Western acceptance.

It is sensitive cultural and political terrain, but Khader’s convictions are anything but opaque. This was apparent early this year when he condemned violent Muslim protests against a Danish newspaper’s publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Khader argued that the worldwide demonstrations were orchestrated by radical clerics to aggravate tensions between East and West.

Only much further into the article do we learn that Khader’s father was a Marxist, and we learn in the last paragraph that he rediscovered his faith five years before he died. The positioning of this information is a nice touch, but the effect is unconvincing.

In highlighting Khader as The Moderate Muslim of Denmark, Fleishman gives us picture of one end of the continuum of Islamic thought. Pretty much everyone else mentioned in the piece are avowed Islamists bent on eliminating the likes of Khader. But then Khader tells us that out of 100 to 120 imams in Denmark, only 5 or 6 are the radical types. While I recognize that the Muslims in Denmark are becoming more radical, the number of radicals compared to secularists would be interesting to know.

DanishStreetWe also learn that Khader is fairly un-Muslim, at least in a traditional sense, in his ways. To what degree is his moderate-secular viewpoint due to a crisis of faith? Or can a Muslim genuinely consider himself and be accepted as a “good Muslim,” to borrow a term, if he does not attend prayers?:

Khader has tried to become a unifying voice; his politics spring from a childhood of trying to fit in and succeed. But his unapologetic political message, praised by secular Europeans, has irritated conservative Muslims. They consider him a man who has drifted too far to the other side, marrying a native Dane, not attending Friday prayers, sipping beer and attending soccer games in a jersey that resembles the Danish flag.

“Naser Khader is irrelevant to Muslims in this country,” said Ahmed abu Laban, an outspoken Islamic leader in Copenhagen. “His role is to keep bombarding Muslims and Muslim values. He represents that strain of thought in Europe that’s too cowardly to face legitimate Muslims. So they get people like Khader to act as a human shield and to spit in our face.”

David Trads, a political analyst who has written a book on Islam in Denmark, said:

“Many are saying that Khader’s like an Uncle Tom. That’s not a fair criticism, but he wants to make sure everyone in Denmark understands that there’s a very serious situation with the Islamists. He wants also to build a bridge between moderate Muslims and Danes.”

Trads provides some good information and helps the American reader understand, with the “Uncle Tom” reference, some of what Khader is up against, but where are the voices of those “Islamists” in the article? They’re referred to, but can we have a quote from a radical Imam? Or is there a reason we can’t?

Overall the article is a refreshing look at one perspective in the war of ideas in Islam. But it should be the makings of a series. Placing these types of religion stories on American’s kitchen tables and local news websites is critical for creating a more informed citizenry.

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A wave of OrthoNews, without the news

herman1A strange thing happened on Sunday as I cruised around the online newspaper world. I ran into a mini-wave of coverage of Eastern Orthodoxy.

When I hit the first story, in The Washington Post, I thought to myself: “Behold! Someone in this newsroom has timed this local story about Orthodox converts for this date, knowing that there is a national or even international Orthodox news hook available to make it timely.”

And what is that news hook? Well, here is the top of the Associated Press report by Rachel Zoll that has run in many newspapers during the past few days.

American Orthodox Christian leaders will hold their third joint meeting this week, a gathering aimed at strengthening ties among their churches, which began splintering along ethnic lines a century ago.

But the chance is small to nonexistent that the movement will take up unifying into one U.S. church — the dream of some laity and clergy — at the meeting of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas.

This Chicago conference is a rather big deal, even if it does not lead directly to the creation of one united Eastern Orthodox flock in North America. What it might do is show which churches truly want this step to take place and which do not. It may also lead to some of the Orthodox bodies working harder on united projects in missions, education and evangelism.

So I was thinking that the Post mini-feature by Timothy Wilson about the local St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral must be linked to this highly symbolic moment, seeing as how this is the national cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America.

As it turned out, the story contained some nice details about architecture and iconography, but not a single word about the Chicago meeting. It was a nice little story, but it did not contain the news of the day.

A few minutes later, I ran into a much more ambitious story in the Los Angeles Times — dateline Tatitlek, Alaska — by Sam Howe Verhovek. The headline proclaimed: “In Alaska, a Tradition of Russian Faith: Those who brought the Orthodox church here are long gone, but the diocese is thriving.”

Well now, I thought, what an interesting way to approach the story. To put a frame around the importance of the Chicago meetings, the paper of record on the West Coast has elected to dig all the way back to the birth of the Orthodox faith in this land (set aside the trailblazing work of St. Brendan of Ireland for a moment).

Alas, no — writers and editors behind this story also seem to have had no idea that the Chicago meeting was about to take place. This is a crying shame, since the Verhovek piece contains so many fine details about the past. It would have been nice to see this story linked to the future.

In nearly 100 villages and towns along the Alaskan coast, from the tip of the Aleutian Islands to the onetime Russian-American capital of Sitka, the Russian Orthodox churches remain the most visible — often the most colorful — man-made landmarks. … Although many of the people who care for the churches have names like Totemoff, Kompkoff, Gregoriev and Vlasoff, they do so with a curious distinction: They have little or no Russian blood.

“Many of us have never even seen a Russian,” says Gary Kompkoff, the elected village chief in Tatitlek, letting out a small laugh. “Most of us are full-blooded Aleut. It was very long ago that the Russians were here, of course.”

The diocese’s modest growth is almost all in the Anchorage area, where it has opened five new churches in the last decade as well as a museum that tells the tale of the faith in Alaska. The church’s leader here is the Right Rev. Bishop Nikolai, the bishop of Sitka, Anchorage and Alaska. …

The bishop, who formally uses just one name, says the Alaska diocese has also invested in its St. Herman seminary on Kodiak Island. It is named for a man who was among the first 10 Russian monks to come to Alaska, in 1794, and who became North America’s first Orthodox saint.

Like I said, this is a story that could have had a strong news hook — only it does not appear the anyone in the newsroom knew that.

Image: St. Herman of Alaska

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Weiss tunes in some GetReligion chat

9781592572229bJeff Weiss of The Dallas Morning News, who is one of the nation’s best-known religion-beat specialists, sent me an email this weekend with a subject line that was impossible to ignore. It read: “this one was partly inspired by some of the chat on getreligion.”

The story is called “Despite shared roots, three faiths find plenty to fight about,” and Weiss set out to do the impossible in a punchy news feature — compare and contrast the beliefs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam on several basic religious questions. Of course, as I wrote that sentence I heard the same voice in my head that I am sure Jeff heard as he started work on this one: Compare and contrast the beliefs of Judaism (which one?), Christianity (which one?) and Islam (which one?) in a newspaper story?

This was an ambitious task, to say the least. Here is the summary section of the story:

For all the post-9/11 talk about common roots and interfaith discussion, some theologians say interfaith dust-ups like the one involving Benedict are inevitable. That’s because some of the disagreements are so fundamental.

“Abrahamic” is a big-tent word that implies the three faiths are part of one family. Why can’t we all get along?

But no fights are nastier than family fights — particularly when the battle is over the inheritance. And that’s what was at stake in the most recent squabble: Which faith carries the divine legacy of Abraham, the biblical (and Quranic) patriarch to whom God promises, in Genesis, “and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves”?

Of course, it’s hard enough to offer a detailed summary of one or two clashing groups’ beliefs on a specific question raised by a specific story. How do you think Weiss did taking on so many topics all at once?

Oh, and the art with this post is not a comment on the News article. Honest. Check it out.

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Covering Islam in the courtroom

Zacarias Moussaoui's trialWhile the differences between movements may be fascinating, the tie that binds, violence, sort of supersedes that. That’s why I don’t think reporters should go out of their way to report any discrepancies in ideologies just out of opposition to Bush, he’s a politician and he knows exactly what he’s doing.

The question remains, do reporters? Is there any particular case in which we are not being well enough informed about different extremist ideologies? And don’t these also relate to the goals of the organization head as much as the religious compulsion?

Posted by Vox Dilecti at 1:53 am on September 22, 2006

In other words, do reporters understand the discrepancies in the various forms of Islamic ideology? In the world of Islamic extremism, which is often accurately associated with terrorism, are the adherents acting on religious compulsion, or to fulfill the will of their leaders?

Vox Dilecti’s astute comment highlights complicated but very important questions that reporters are sorting out as the U.S. legal system struggles to respond to a group of people bent on destroying Western society in the name of religion. A reporter’s job is by no means easier, but unlike lawyers, reporters must be succinct and easy to read.

While space limitations seem to impede the typical Associated Press or Reuters report, writers at The Atlantic operate under looser constrictions (although thankfully I’ve noticed that there seems to be some word-count discipline going on under the new editor, James Bennet). If you have time, take a look at the October Atlantic for “Prophetic Justice,” Amy Waldman’s article exploring the ethics of how the United States is prosecuting suspected terrorists. The material is a bit thick — this is an article about the law, after all — but Waldman is quite thorough and writes at a very high level of understanding. Here’s the article’s lengthy subtitle:

The United States is now prosecuting suspected terrorists on the basis of their intentions, not just their actions. But in the case of Islamic extremists, how can American jurors fairly weigh words and beliefs when Muslims themselves can’t agree on what they mean?

In nearly 10,000 words, Waldman takes us on a tour of the U.S. government’s prosecution of potential terrorists. In a keen insight, she compares recent terrorist trials with the 1925 Scopes trial: when you’re putting a person’s beliefs on trial, you are wading into the circus business.

To take the argument a step further, when reporters attempt to explore an individual’s or group’s beliefs, are they likewise attempting some form of monkey business?

In their exploration of Islam, the recent terrorism trials have had a similar, if perhaps less circuslike, feel. The prosecution introduces beliefs into evidence, and the defense challenges the meaning or significance of those beliefs. Expert witnesses in Islam then fight pitched battles of interpretation for each side. Some of the experts are mainstream scholars, others outliers with unconventional views. Together, they make up a small but often lucrative cottage industry where their expertise can command $200 an hour or more. In the courtroom, they create a theological thicket that may be shaped as much by their own agendas and perspectives as by the facts of the cases.

Jurors have been schooled in the difference between fatwa (religious edict), and fatah (conquest). They have had tutorials in the history of Islam, from the angel Gabriel’s revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad to the rise of Osama bin Laden. They have learned about the meaning of bida, or innovation; the authentic chain of transmission for a hadith; and the virgins awaiting a martyr in paradise.

Such a thorough judicial disquisition of a religion has no modern parallel in America. Unless religious beliefs bear directly on guilt — the use of the illegal drug peyote in religious rituals, for example — they are generally barred from trials as prejudicial. Why have the rules changed? Because, as Aziz Huq, a lawyer at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, puts it, in recent times no other religion has been “so intimately linked in the public mind to violence.” Since 9/11, judges have given lawyers wide latitude to bring religion into the courtroom.

Waldman’s essay focuses on legal matters, but the preceding paragraphs are worth discussing from a journalistic perspective. In the same comment thread that Vox Dilecti posted in, Don Neuendorf proposed a Nobel Prize (or a Pulitzer?) for any journalist who can simplify the multiple facets of Islam.

Does it really have to be that complicated for journalists covering developments in the Middle East? I don’t want to issue a blanket statement on all news articles that deal with Islamic terrorism, because some are very good, but we’ve managed to chronicle some of the more problematic articles.

Take, for instance, Solomon Moore’s dramatic Los Angeles Times piece on two Shiite militias and how since February they have killed thousands of Sunnis in Iraq. This is a huge story, but its significance is downplayed. A reader without some understanding of the differences between these two groups may conclude only that two rival Iraqi groups, one with connections to Iran, are duking it out.

Waldman writes:

Jurors have been schooled in the difference between fatwa (religious edict), and fatah (conquest). They have had tutorials in the history of Islam, from the angel Gabriel’s revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad to the rise of Osama bin Laden. They have learned about the meaning of bida, or innovation; the authentic chain of transmission for a hadith; and the virgins awaiting a martyr in paradise.

Is it too much to ask that reporters covering the development of Islamic terrorism help explain those differences, or why Shiite death squads are accompanied by clerical figures who approve executions of Sunnis? To ask it another way: Are the appetites of Americans too shallow, eliminating any type of mass market for accurate, precise coverage that deals with tough theological issues?

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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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