Search Results for: f-word

Putting some info into ‘radical’

Once upon a time, it appeared that most mainstream journalists had rallied around the use of the word “Islamist” to describe the brand of Islam that has been linked to violence and terror around the world.

The key was that this was a version of Islam that was framed almost exclusively in terms of political power and the crushing of religious minorities, including, often, minorities and dissenters within Islam.

Alas, other journalists preferred to adapt the f-word from American Protestant history — that would be “fundamentalist” — to conflicts on the other side of the world involving believers who would never identify themselves with this term (while speaking languages that rarely if ever include a comparable term).

Some journalists liked the word “militant,” yet when using it they often fail to offer any hints whatsoever what these militants are choosing to be militant about. Ditto for the word “extremist.”

Now, it appears that “radical” Islam is on the rise. Here is the top of a typical Washington Post use of this new and, to my mind, unimproved label:

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan said … that it had arrested a high-ranking army officer on suspicion of connections to a radical group, a rare public acknowledgment of possible ties between members of the country’s military and the extremist organizations it is battling.

The arrest comes amid rising concern that Pakistan’s military is penetrated by Islamists who are sympathetic to insurgent groups that have declared war on the state. Last month, heavily armed fighters stormed a naval base in Karachi, an attack widely suspected to have required inside help.

Actually, that reference contains more than one of these common and almost always meaningless buzz words.

So what content can readers cling to? The key is that the arrested radical insurgent Islamist extremist — one Brig. Ali Khan — is committed part of another organization with a specific political goal:

Khan allegedly was working with Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical group that calls for the overthrow of governments in Muslim lands and the installation of an Islamic caliphate. The group claims to be nonviolent but has been tied to militant organizations and is banned in Pakistan.

That’s all the reader is going to get, when it comes to attaching any factual content to this cloud of vague terms.

So here is my question: How many ordinary newspaper readers understand the meaning and the significance of the pivotal term “Islamic caliphate”? I mean, other than Glenn Beck listeners? A little dose of laugh-to-keep-from-crying irony there.

This is a term with precise content. Period.

At this point, all the Post team really needs is a tiny dose of history and one or two sentences of content about practical issues in daily life — treatment of women, blasphemy laws, status of religious minorities — to do the brave, rare thing, which is printing content and not mere labels.

So here is my question: In the context of Pakistan, what issues are key (other than the life-and-death debates over blasphemy)? In other words, if you were going to use the word “radical” in this way, what small doses of factual material would you use to define that term?

Fundamentalists and other S.O.B.s

Benoid Denizet-Lewis had yet another a fascinating story in the New York Times this past weekend. This time it was about Michael Glatze, a former gay rights activist who has since renounced his past. The two used to be friends and colleagues at XY, a San-Francisco-based national magazine for young gay men.

It’s a news piece, in one sense, but written in that Denizet-Lewis style where the author is actively involved in the narration. You get the feeling you learn as much about the author as you do the subject of the piece. In this case, I didn’t actually get the feeling I learned hardly anything about the subject but I still enjoyed the piece.

Right at the beginning we learn:

Though only a year removed from Dartmouth when he arrived at XY, Michael had seemingly read every gay book ever written. While I was busy trying to secure a boyfriend, he was busy contemplating queer theory, marching in gay rights rallies and urging young people to celebrate (not just accept) their same-sex attractions. Michael was devoted to helping gay youth, and he was particularly affected by the letters the magazine received regularly from teenagers who were rejected by their religious families. “Christian fundamentalists should burn in hell!” he told me once, slamming his fist on his desk. I had never met anyone so sure of himself.

This is the first of four uses of the word “fundamentalist” in the article, none of which are defined. We’re told, for instance:

It was a good question. Had part of me come to “save” my old friend from the clutches of the Christian right? Though I don’t doubt that sexual attraction can evolve, I was skeptical of Michael’s claim of heterosexuality — and I rejected his argument that “homosexuality prevents us from finding our true self within.” Besides, I had a hard time believing that Michael’s “true self” was a fundamentalist Christian who writes derogatorily about being gay. But whatever aspirations I had about persuading Michael to join the ranks of ex-ex-gays, they were no match for his eagerness to save me.

Skip over the rather fascinating line from the author about his completely politically incorrect view that sexual attraction can change. See how we’re told that Glatze is now a “fundamentalist” Christian? The author uses the term once more and one of Glatze’s ex-boyfriends from a three-partner-relationship also uses the term.

At no time does an actual Christian use the term. I literally have no idea why the author is using the term. Is it because Glatze is now a fundamentalist? If so, the article didn’t explain that. In fact, while the piece could not better show the author’s turmoil over Glatze’s change of heart, I wish we’d learned more about Glatze himself. And maybe the author wasn’t the right person to tell that part of the story.

The article mentions that Glatze is now at a Bible school. The term “Bible school” is used seven times. But, oddly, we never learn what that school is. Because the opening paragraph mentions that the author is driving around the plains north of Cheyenne, I wonder if it’s not Frontier School of the Bible. From a look at that school’s doctrinal views, it’s clear they’re not “fundamentalist.” But maybe he’s attending a different school? I don’t know.

But what does it say about the education of a writer such as Denizet-Lewis on matters of religion? Is his vocabulary really so limited that the only word he can think of to describe someone with traditional religious views is “fundamentalist”? Really? I can’t help but think of the Reformed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga who tmatt quoted recently:

I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’.

Exactly. It’s a term that tells us nothing, really, about the subject but something about the author. And while we tend to like Denizet-Lewis’ work here and I always kind of find him fascinating, in this case it was a bit too much. Particularly for a story where religion plays such a key role, it’s important to describe those religious views rather than denigrate them.

When French fundamentalists attack

The photographic image accompanying this post is not the work of Andres Serrano with which newspaper readers would almost certainly be familiar. However, I cannot seem to convince myself that I need to put a copy of that infamous work of modern religious or anti-religious art on this website on Good Friday. Sue me.

However, as you will see, this quiet picture of a nun — entitled “The Church” — is also at the heart of a Guardian story that serves as yet another perfect lesson in how not to use the word “fundamentalist” in a news report.

Here is the top of this hot-button story from the world of art, to provide some context:

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.

Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.

The violent slashing of the picture, and another Serrano photograph of a meditating nun, has plunged secular France into soul-searching about Christian fundamentalism and Nicolas Sarkozy’s use of religious populism in his bid for re-election next year. It also marks a return to an old standoff between Serrano and the religious right that dates back more than 20 years, to Reagan-era Republicanism in the US.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: The attack was illegal and, while the work offends a great many people (including me), in a free society the solution to disputes about private (as opposed to tax-payer funded) art is supposed to be more freedom for other artists, not violence. That said, I would say that some protesters at this exhibit — not the attackers — were onto something when they muttered that the museum would not appreciate it if they offered to create a similar work of art by immersing a copy of the Koran or “The Diary of Anne Frank” in a container of urine.

However, the journalistic point for me is, once again, the use of a doctrinal label from Protestantism in the context of a dispute between a liberal, sort-of-Catholic artist (see this 1991 interview with Serrano) and other Catholics who are offended by some of his work. What precisely is a “French Catholic fundamentalist”?

Another point: What do journalists actually know about the doctrinal beliefs of the attackers, as opposed to the Catholic traditionalists behind the other protests? Do we know if there is a organizational link at work here? And if we are dealing with violent Catholics offended by the profaned image of the crucifix, why attack this other image of the nun (other than the identity of its creator)? What, precisely, is the doctrine at work here?

One more time, for the record, here is the Associated Press Stylebook’s wisdom on when to use and when not to use the loaded “fundamentalist” label, which has turned into a meaningless linguistic club with which to pound a wide variety of believers (not just Protestants who hold the doctrines linked to the term):

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

Then again, perhaps the journalists behind this report simply could control themselves as they did their work. After all, the online version of this article now ends with the following oh-so-sweet correction. Folks, you just can’t make this up:

This article was amended on 19 April 2011. The original referred to the Senator Jesse Helms as Jesse James. This has been corrected.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

IMAGE: Andres Serrano, The Church (Soeur Jeanne Myriam, Paris), 1991

Get Egypt: Vague, vaguer, vaguest

Events in Egypt roll on and, of course, journalists and diplomats are all trying to figure out what is up with the Muslim Brotherhood and it’s potential role in the new secular or Islamic state of Egypt. In other words, will a democratic process lead to an Islamic republic?

Thus, we have the following story in the Washington Post, which ran under the headline, “Muslim Brotherhood eyes comeback in Egypt.” Let’s start at the beginning and walk through parts of this piece in sequence.

Hint: Look for labels, not information.

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT – Hamdi Hassan, a senior member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood party, was jailed by Egyptian authorities Jan. 28 during the tensest days of anti-government protests in this coastal city.

But Hassan walked out of jail two days later after protesters commandeered the facility and freed all the inmates. By this weekend, the 51-year-old physician sounded exultant as he held court in a main square, mobbed by his supporters in what has long been a Brotherhood stronghold.

“This is a defining and historic moment because Egyptians from all walks of life are finally free,” Hassan said. He made clear that he had no fear of being arrested again, even as charred police vehicles in the background offered evidence of the turmoil that spread from Cairo to Alexandria at the height of the violence.

Hassan’s own turnabout reflects a reversal that has left the Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic party, poised for the first time to claim a real stake in Egyptian politics in whatever follows three decades of rule by President Hosni Mubarak.

OK, so we have the dreaded f-word used again in a context in which it is, historically speaking, meaningless.

Sadly, the rest of the Post article will be based on this meaningless, vague f-word as a starting point, defining other Egyptians in relationship to the Brotherhood. In reality, we have been told nothing about the Brotherhood and what it believes about the crucial issues facing this diverse land and its cultures (plural).

So, all together now, let’s chant the relevant passage from the Associated Press Stylebook:

“fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”

Do leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood use this term from American Protestantism to describe their group and its work? I would assume that the answer is “no.”

Moving on.

Officially banned since 1954, the Brotherhood has long been the target of vicious government crackdowns. But as the oldest, largest and best-organized group in Egypt, the Brotherhood could conceivably become the largest bloc in parliament whenever new elections are held.

Though it was not a driving force behind the demonstrations that began Jan. 25 and grew into a popular uprising, the Brotherhood has wasted no time setting the groundwork for a political resurgence. Its leaders have now claimed their place among those who met Sunday with Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s newly appointed vice president, to discuss constitutional reforms and a transition plan.

The development has left some of the more liberal, secular protesters visibly unnerved.

So, what are the policy ideas that drive the “liberal, secular” protesters? Also, does the word “secular” mean that these protesters are not Muslims or are we dealing with the uniquely “secular” approach used in, oh, Turkey?

Most of all, what is the information that we need to know about these liberals and secularists to understand their take on Egypt’s future? Could we pick one issue and compare these labeled people? How about free speech? Religious liberty? Should Egypt have a blasphemy law?

Moving on.

Some members of the Brotherhood have long aspired to transform Egypt into an Islamic state. But the message that Hassan was delivering Sunday was more moderate, reflecting the group’s vow to cooperate with secular and more-moderate Islamic politicians when Mubarak’s regime ends.

“One of our demands is free and fair elections that really demonstrate the will of the Egyptian people,” Hassan said.

There are members of the Brotherhood who do not want Egypt to be an Islamic state? Tell us more. Now that is news. Meanwhile, what is the best guess — based on history and polling — of the meaning of the phrase “the will of the Egyptian people”?

Moving on.

Just how much power the Brotherhood could attain has been on the minds of U.S. officials in recent days as they have calibrated their policy on transition in Egypt. Israeli leaders and analysts have warned that the Brotherhood could hijack the reformist agenda and emerge as a major force that could seek to undermine the long peace between Egypt and Israel.

Now we have “reformist.” Might we know what elements of Egyptian society need to be reformed? Surely the protesters have some ideas.

Meanwhile, I should not that mentioning the fragile peace between Egypt and Israel is a practical detail. Bravo.

Looking ahead, surely there will be some additional facts in the article’s background materials on the Brotherhood. You think?

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 to promote Islamic values. It became politically influential in Egypt the following decade as it sought to end British colonial rule. Since Egypt’s independence in 1948, a succession of Egyptian rulers have outlawed and suppressed the group.

Mubarak’s government banned it as a party but allowed its members to run for office as independents. When leaders in the West prodded Mubarak to allow greater democratic freedoms, he repeatedly warned that doing so would only empower the likes of the Brotherhood.

Then again, maybe not.

What, pray tell, are “Islamic values”? Is the goal here to avoid mentioning a single specific issue of any kind?

Anyway, you get the idea. Did I miss something specific in the article that tells readers what any of these vague labels actually mean?

Christine O’Donnell, Catholic?

As your GetReligionistas have noted many times, it’s pretty obvious that many people — including more than a few mainstream reporters — are confused about the meaning of the word “evangelical.” Heck, I’m not sure that I know what that word means anymore and I used to be one. The Rev. Billy Graham once told me that he wasn’t sure how to define “evangelical.” Honest.

For the most part, many journalists seem to think that “fundamentalist” means people (we don’t like) who believe that some truths are absolute and eternal (especially if the doctrines in question are linked to the Sexual Revolution). So what about “evangelical”? It seems that “evangelical” has simply become a political term for religious conservatives. Somewhere, I imagine, there is an Orthodox Jewish leader who will soon be hailed as a powerful “evangelical.”

Anyway, please note the USA Today headline and key references in the actual text of the following Associated Press report (drawn from the Wilmington, Del., News Journal) about the every colorful Christine O’Donnell of Delaware:

The headline: “Christine O’Donnell reins in evangelical talk.”

And here’s a look at the top of the story:

When the energy and conservative fervor of the Tea Party swept into Delaware this year, it found Christine O’Donnell.

She had long been an outspoken crusader for chastity, against abortion and for prayer in schools.

O’Donnell didn’t merely join groups that shared her moral certitude, she founded an advocacy group and became a leading voice in others, staking out positions against sex education, urging that biblical creationism be taught in schools, and professing that homosexuality is a sickness. She seamlessly turned that enthusiasm toward politics.

Just four years ago, she told The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal that during the primary she “heard the audible voice of God. He said, ‘Credibility.’ It wasn’t a thought in my head. I thought it meant I was going to win. But after the primary, I got credibility.”

These days, she talks more about the Constitution than the Bible. After knocking off longstanding U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, a moderate Republican attacked by the Tea Party Express for occasionally voting with Democrats, O’Donnell recast her campaign. She steered clear of the talking points that made her popular with talk-show hosts and conservative commentators. …

“My faith has influenced my personal life,” O’Donnell said Wednesday night at a Republican speaking engagement. “My faith hasn’t really influenced my politics.”

This report, of course, describes her infamous 1997 visit to Bill Maher’s show Politically Incorrect in which she confessed that she “dabbled into witchcraft.” It mentions that she attended Fairleigh Dickinson University and majored in theater. It notes that she converted to evangelical Protestantism in college. It mentions that she opposes abortion, believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, that masturbation is sinful, etc., etc. These are all “evangelical” stances, apparently. It is especially bad, of course, that she believes that some people — attention devotees of the Kinsey Scale — change their sexual behaviors during their lifetimes in ways that suggest sexual orientation is often not a matter of black and white certainty.

Wait, she converted to evangelicalism? Converted from what, you ask? From Catholicism, of course.

However, it is interesting to note that this AP report never mentions her Catholic upbringing and, most importantly, it does not mention that, as an adult, O’Donnell returned to the Catholic faith.

In fact, unless my search engine is broken and I am blind, it does not appear that this news story contains the word “Catholic.” This candidate is, apparently, still an “evangelical.” Search the text for yourself.

Meanwhile, the candidate is not hiding her church affiliation, as she demonstrated in the most quoted clip from that Delaware debate. The New York Times political team noted:

As she did throughout the first half of the debate, Ms. O’Donnell quickly tried to return the focus to Mr. Coons, saying, “I would argue there are more people who support my Catholic faith than his Marxist belief.”

Now, if you write for The Huffington Post, this is how you can deal with O’Donnell’s return to the Catholic fold:

Delaware is 29 percent Catholic. Mike Castle, Christine O’Donnell’s opponent for the senate nomination, is Catholic. Christine O’Donnell was born Catholic but renounced the church when she was in college, and became whatever backwoods claptrap was going. When she started running for office all the time, she converted back. Which sounds pretty convenient, but then, the prodigal son came home when he ran out of money, too.

Apparently, if one is an editor at the Associated Press, it is also possible to simply call her an “evangelical” — whatever that means — and be done with it.

Catholic? Apparently not. Silence is golden and, in this case, politically important.

PS: Oh, it goes without saying that comments should deal with the journalism issues in this news report — not with one’s views of either of the candidates in this race. This is not the place to debate whether one agrees or disagrees with O’Donnell’s religious beliefs.

Vanity Fair’s swing at Palin’s faith

I came across Vanity Fair‘s profile of Sarah Palin right before I read the New York Timesmemo on anonymous sources, and I don’t think it was a coincidence.

The Vanity Fair piece is gaining quite a bit of buzz for some juicy details. Doesn’t everyone want to read about Palin throwing cans at her husband, her push-up bra power, and her Spanx girdles? Part of what is so puzzling is why Michael Joseph Gross uses so many anonymous sources. The final point of the NYT memo reads:

While anonymous sources are sometimes crucial to our journalism, every time we rely on anonymity, we put some strain on our credibility with readers. As all our guidelines emphasize, we should resort to anonymous sources only for newsworthy information that we can’t report any other way. Anonymity should not be invoked for trivial, obvious or tangential information, or for quotes that add little of substance. And it should not be used as a mask for personal attacks.

Now Gross is rushing to defend his piece. “The worst stuff isn’t even in there,” he said on “Morning Joe.” “You know, I couldn’t believe these stories either when I first heard them and I started the story with the prejudice in her favor. I have a lot in common with this woman. I’m a small town person, I’m a Christian. I think that a lot of her criticisms of the media actually have something to them and I figured she’d gotten a bum ride but everybody close to her tells the same story.”

Unfortunately for Gross, no one cares about his background or his initial perceptions of Palin. It wouldn’t matter if an atheist had written the piece; the story should stand on its own. But journalists aren’t exactly rushing to back him up at this point. Katrina Trinko does a nice job of compiling the reaction among journalists and liberal feminists.

This isn’t Vanity Fair‘s first shot at Palin; Doug looked at a piece last year. There’s a lot to work through in this 10,000+ words piece, but we’re going to focus on the religion bits. A few months ago, we looked at Newsweek‘s odd declaration that Palin leads the religious right. Now it’s time to look at how this piece portrays her faith.

Here’s the kind of sentence you’ll find in the piece: “You could pretty much replace the word ‘constitution,’ from yesterday’s remarks, with ‘Bible,’ and be good to go.” So stay with me as I pick choice passages and suggest lingering questions and concerns.

Eventually, an aide asked, “What are you working on?”

“I’m reading these great e-mails,” she said, “from the prayer warriors.”

The term “prayer warrior” describes a person who offers a specific kind of supplication: asking God to direct an unseen battle between forces of light and darkness–literal angels and demons–that some Christians believe is occurring all around us.

Where is the evidence for this claim? Has a theologian or pastor defined the term “prayer warrior?” to mean those that ask God to direct angels and demons? Even if some people use the term that way, there is no evidence that Palin uses the term in this way.

A leading member of Wasilla’s Church on the Rock, the non-denominational evangelical congregation where Palin sometimes attends worship, confirmed this understanding of the term. When Palin thanks prayer warriors for keeping her covered, she is thanking them for calling on angels to shield her from demonic attacks.

What is a “leading member” and what was the actual quote? If the quote does not come from a pastor, does this statement have any credibility? Should reporters interpret President Obama’s theology from “leading members” of Trinity United Church of Christ? Do prayer warriors only pray about angels and demons? Why not name the person talking?

On the night of the vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden, Palin received an e-mail marked “URGENT…Urgent for Sarah to read …” The e-mail came from pastor Lou Engle, a prominent right-wing activist who identifies himself as a prayer warrior and is a central figure in dominionist theology. (Dominionists believe that, until Jesus Christ returns to earth, society should be governed exclusively by God’s law as revealed through a literal reading of Scripture.)

In the e-mail, Engle compared Palin to the biblical Queen Esther. “This is an Esther moment in your life,” he wrote. “Esther hid her identity until Mordecai challenged her to risk everything for such a time as this. Your identity is ‘Sarah Barracuda.’ Esther removed corruption from the Persian government and Haman fell. She didn’t have experience, she had grace and favor. Sarah, don’t hide your identity tonight.”

I’m guessing Palin received a lot of e-mails. Was there indication that she replied to the e-mail, that she agreed with it in any way? Why not follow up with Engle and ask what he thought about her election loss? Does that mean that she didn’t have grace and favor? Did God call her for such a time as this to lose and usher in Obama (who she thinks is leading our country to ruin)?

Palin has often stated that the strokes of luck propelling her political success were divinely ordained: “There are no coincidences” is a favorite maxim. In Going Rogue, Palin casts herself as a reluctant prophet, accepting providential election against her wishes

The reluctant prophet is a character trope found throughout Hebrew and Christian scripture. (Jesus prays, “Father, if it is Thy will, let this cup pass from me.”)

Whenever I heard Palin speak on the road, her remarks were scored with code phrases expressing solidarity with fundamentalist Christians. Her talk of leading with “a servant’s heart” is a dog whistle for the born-again. Her dig at health-care reform as an expression of Democratic ambitions to “build a Utopia” in the United States is practically a trumpet call (because the Kingdom of God is not of this earth, and perfection can be achieved only in the life to come).

I know we say this often, but we must say it once again. Avoid the f-word. “Fundamentalist Christian” does not equal “born-again.” Besides, why would her specific use of the term “build a Utopia” suddenly become a trumpet call? Do only fundamentalist Christians recognize the limitations of politics? What about libertarians and many Republicans?

But it is Palin’s persistent encouragement of the prayer warriors that most clearly reveals her worldview: she is good, her opponents are evil, and the war is on.

I don’t even know how to make sense of this. So if you use the term “prayer warrior,” you are automatically good, anyone who opposes you would be evil, and you are declaring war. Can someone help me name the fallacy?

Sometimes the children rebelled. A campaign aide remembers that one of the Palin children found her mother’s public displays of piety especially grating. Though Palin prayed and read the Bible every night, aides never saw the family join her for devotionals. “You’re just putting on a show. You’re so fake,” one of the children said when Palin made a point of praying in front of other people. “This is not who you are. Why are you pretending to be something you’re not?”

This little anecdote reflects the entire article that juxtaposes Palin’s professed faith and how she treats other people (pretty poorly, according to some anonymous sources). In case you aren’t convinced of Palin’s diva complex, allow Gross to nail it home in his conclusion.

The North Star has long been seen as a symbol for Alaska–and for God. They can both move over now. It belongs to someone else.

And don’t forget Edward Sorel’s obvious illustration: “Excuse me! We are a Christian nation!.” Classy.

Whispering the F word

I guess it’s still news to reporters that people go on websites and post comments anonymously. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true, right? The xkcd cartoon on the right sums up the reality of the Internet: there’s always something to be fixed.

A faithful reader pointed me to this story by the Washington Post‘s Brigid Schulte about concerns that a playplace owner is pushing religion.

Apparently combox “whispers” warrant a feature story on what, in the end, seems like an unverifiable claim that this “fundamentalist” Christian woman was proselytizing at her private playplace for children.

The trigger for the story appears to be that three Maryland kindergarten classes were supposed to go on a field trip to the Be With Me Playseum. The owner says they canceled because she mentions God on her website.

In anonymous postings on local Web sites, parents accused Seebachan of handing out antiabortion literature at the Playseum, accepting support from right-wing Christian groups and playing Christian rock music at the play space. Most damning, one anonymous poster who said she was Jewish claimed that Seebachan told her that unless she accepted Jesus as her personal savior, the client and her children would go to hell.

If you check the date on that top post, though, it suggests that the client would have gone to the playplace on December 24, which is Christmas Eve. Below on the forum, it suggests that the playplace was closed December 23-26, so how trustworthy are these anonymous postings? The reporter continues to go back and forth between the postings and Seebachan’s defense.

Despite Seebachan’s denials of evangelical intent, the rumors circulated on the Web. She began to get malicious anonymous phone calls from people slamming her for foisting her faith on others. Visitors demanded to know her staff’s religious background. “One is from Peru,” Seebachan said she would tell callers. “One is from Sri Lanka. One is vegan. One is kosher Jewish. I have a guy from Trinidad and a gal from Congo. I honestly have no idea what religion they are. ”

In this context, I would think the appropriate description would be “evangelistic intent” if Seebachan calls herself an evangelical. One of the comments from the county’s acting superintendent is pretty revealing, and I wish he were allowed to elaborate further.

Seebachan said she was told her refusal to edit her Web site meant no Montgomery public school would send children to her facility. Sean Bulson, an acting community superintendent for the county system who was consulted about Westbrook Elementary’s cancellation, said he was “not aware” of any countywide decision about the Playseum. He said Seebachan’s statement of values concerned some parents, but the decision to cancel had less to do with church-state considerations and more that many parents said they’d be “uncomfortable” with their children going to the facility.

“Based on what I saw on the Web site, if we had to come down on one side or the other of the church-state issue, I have no idea where we would have gone,” Bulson says.

So if an organization’s website has a mention of God on it and a school sends children to that organization, then they have to side on a church-state issue? Was there more to the story there? Then, the reporter throws in the f-word.

Those who posted online complaints about the Playseum declined to comment or did not respond to calls from a Post reporter. Seebachan’s friends and neighbors say she makes no secret that she’s a fundamentalist Christian but does not impose her faith on others. Some are concerned that the field trip may have been canceled based on hearsay alone.

You know how we feel about using the word fundamentalist. Yes, let’s review the Associated Press stylebook just for old time’s sake.

“fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

“In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”

So if we’re following AP styles, even if friends and neighbors are calling this woman a fundamentalist, it doesn’t count. It seems like the story is less about anonymous postings on the Internet and more about school leaders who cancel field trips because of something on an organization’s website.

Fundamentalist whack-a-mole

Long-time readers of GetReligion know that since the beginning of this blog we’ve been playing whack-a-mole with reporters who misuse the term “fundamentalist.”

We’re not asking for much. We’re just asking for reporters to follow the sensible AP stylebook guidelines — “fundamentalist” is a word that has a specific definition in a religious context. So why does the Washington Post in particular have such a problem with this? Tmatt took them to task in February for their reference to “Muslim fundamentalists”:

Once again we face the question: What precisely is a “fundamentalist” Muslim? Are the beliefs of a “fundamentalist” Muslim the same in Spain as in, let’s say, Saudi Arabia? How about Egypt? How about on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.?

While we are at it, what beliefs and traditions separate a “conservative” Muslim from a “fundamentalist” Muslim? And here is the most crucial question: Do Muslims use these terms? Have they actually adopted a term — fundamentalist — taken from debates in American Protestantism to describe their own beliefs?

I have my doubts.

Good questions! Then in March, Tmatt noticed the Post was playing fast and loose with the F-word again, also in reference to Muslims. Then yesterday, the Post published this report from their foreign service, about a new law in Belgium banning full face veils for Muslim women and a similar law being considered in France:

These are uneasy times for the estimated 15 million Muslims of Western Europe, not only for fundamentalists such as Selma, but also for the vast majority who want to find their place as Muslims without confronting the Christian and secular traditions of the continent they have adopted as home.

So what’s the deal here? Is “fundamentalist” now officially the Post’s preferred way of describing Muslims whose beliefs and practices are a source of conflict in Christian and secular contexts? I realize it’s more difficult to explain to the reader what the Muslims in question actually believe, but unfortunately accuracy and understanding suffer when you fall back on inadequate and inaccurate appellatives.

And unfortunately, that’s not all that’s wrong with the Post’s report on what’s going on in Belgium. We do get some good information on anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe, but things are awfully one-sided:

Public sentiment has gone further, though. In recent discussions about the ban and during a government-sponsored “national identity” debate, several French Internet sites closed down reader comment sections because of an outpouring of hate mail. A Muslim butcher shop and a mosque were sprayed with automatic-weapon fire in southern France last month, after Sarkozy decided to pursue a full ban, and vandals last week desecrated a graveyard for Muslim soldiers who died fighting in the French army.

The writer then goes on to quote one Muslim woman who calls the law “racism and a form of Islamophobia.” The closest thing to balance is a quote from a Muslim who says that he doesn’t think full-face veils are necessitated in his reading of the Koran — but even then the new law’s alleged anti-Muslim underpinning still concerns him. There’s not one secular or Christian European quoted in the story, nor anyone on record as being in favor of the law and explaining their reasoning for supporting it.

I also think that the way the article is framed is problematic, noting that the new law concerns the “vast majority who want to find their place as Muslims without confronting the Christian and secular traditions of the continent they have adopted as home.”

Well, to understand Belgium’s new law and France’s support for a similar measure, I think it would be important to note that aside from the “vast majority” of Muslims who don’t want to confront secular and Christian traditions of Europe — there’s a very active minority who is confronting those traditions head on. For instance, you might note that anti-Semitic incidents “skyrocketed” in Belgium last year and “the perpetrators mostly belong to Muslim groups,” or that France seems to be having perpetual problems with Muslim riots. Do these issues have anything to do with the development of this new law? If not, what is the context for why this new law was written?

Further, the article raises the question: Of all the things about Muslims in Western Europe that creates friction, what is it about female head coverings that seems to be the thing that gets focused on by Muslim critics? Sure, there’s some obvious answers in terms of how women’s rights are preserved and the general difficulty of having to interact with someone when you can’t see their face. But I think probing this question a bit would be interesting.

And as a chaser to this discussion of Muslim head coverings being a flashpoint in Europe, I will refer you to the YouTube video to your left.

As tmatt highlighted last week, Swedish artist Lars Vilks — one of the cartoonists whose drawings of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper set off an international firestorm — was attacked by Muslims while giving a lecture at a Swedish university last week (and his house was hit by suspected arson this weekend). Many people saw the video of the attack on the internet.

What you probably didn’t see is this video of people involved in the attack being arrested outside the building. You’ll notice that the Swedish police let a civilian intercede in the middle of the arrest. It’s a Muslim woman putting a hijab on the exposed head of one of the women being arrested.


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