Just what was this American doing in North Korea?

Let’s begin this post by first looking at a Christianity Today blog post from earlier this week. Here’s a portion:

North Korea has announced that it will try an American citizen who was arrested nearly six months ago for “crimes aimed to topple the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea].” If convicted, China-based missionary Kenneth Bae could face the death penalty.

But Bae’s friends say he did not do anything wrong despite reports by North Korean state media that he confessed to the crime. According to the Associated Press, “friends and colleagues described Bae as a devout Christian from Washington state but based in the Chinese border city of Dalian who traveled frequently to North Korea to feed the country’s orphans.”

Bae was detained in November 2012. The State Department has not confirmed that Bae is indeed the man whom North Korea plans to put on trial.

“At least three other Americans detained in recent years also have been devout Christians,” the AP reports. “While North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the regime.”

I don’t quite understand the lack of global attention on North Korea, one of the most unbelievably brutal regimes in human history. That lack of attention typically extends to the work Christians are doing there, often surreptitiously. But check out how another media outlet handled the news of Bae’s sentencing.

The New York Times has a story headlined “North Korea Imposes Term of 15 Years on American.” It begins:

North Korea said Thursday that its Supreme Court had sentenced an American citizen to 15 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts against its government.

The citizen, Kenneth Bae, 44, a Korean-American from Washington State who ran a tour business out of China, was arrested in the special economic zone of Rason in northeastern North Korea in November after leading a group of businessmen there from Yanji, China. On Saturday, the North said it was indicting him on charges that he tried to overthrow Pyongyang’s government.

On Thursday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the Supreme Court had sentenced Mr. Bae during a hearing Tuesday. The court convicted him of “hostile acts,” a charge less grave than the original charge that prosecutors pressed. The crime of trying to overthrow the government could have resulted in the death penalty.

Under North Korean law, Mr. Bae should be transferred to a labor camp within 10 days of the ruling.

It goes on to talk about diplomatic problems. This is as close as we get to learning that there may be a ghost — ever so slightly a hint of something more to the story:

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Antisemitism and when context matters for the NY Times

This week, the conservative Weekly Standard broke a story that was headlined: Michelle Obama and John Kerry to Honor Anti-Semite and 9/11 Fan. Written by Samuel Tadros, the story explains that an award was going to be given today from the U.S. State Department to a Muslim woman from Egypt:

Samira Ibrahim, as the State Department’s profile describes her, “was among seven women subjected by the Egyptian military to forced virginity tests in March 2011.” The press release further notes that Samira “was arrested while in high school for writing a paper that criticized Arab leaders’ insincere support to the Palestinian cause.” Apparently, the State Department is unaware of her other convictions.

On Twitter, Ibrahim is quite blunt regarding her views. On July 18 of last year, after five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed a suicide bombing attack, Ibrahim jubilantly tweeted: “An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news.”

Ibrahim frequently uses Twitter to air her anti-Semitic views. Last August 4, commenting on demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, she described the ruling Al Saud family as “dirtier than the Jews.” Seventeen days later she tweeted in reference to Adolf Hitler: “I have discovered with the passage of days, that no act contrary to morality, no crime against society, takes place, except with the Jews having a hand in it. Hitler.”

Ibrahim holds other repellent views as well. As a mob was attacking the United States embassy in Cairo on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, pulling down the American flag and raising the flag of Al Qaeda, Ibrahim wrote on twitter: “Today is the anniversary of 9/11. May every year come with America burning.” Possibly fearing the consequences of her tweet, she deleted it a couple of hours later, but not before a screen shot was saved by an Egyptian activist.

Obviously this was very embarrassing news for the State Department and the journalism done by Samuel Tadros resulted in the State Department pulling the award. The relative lack of interest in this story by big media outlets is perhaps worth observing.

But another brouhaha is happening because of a question a New York Times editor and reporter publicly asked of Tadros. The question, the reaction to that question and the defense of the question seem like interesting fodder for us to discuss here. The public question, delivered via Twitter:

@RobertMackey: @Samueltadros Is it correct to say you’re from Egypt’s Coptic Christian community? If so, does that inform your criticism of Islamists?

I’ll admit that when I read the question, I gasped. Either Tadros’ reporting is good or it is not. What does it matter if he’s from a community persecuted by Islamists? Ibrahim herself has been persecuted by Islamists. Others were similarly disappointed in the question, which they seemed to view as a way of denigrating Tadros’ work. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic asked:

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Got news? Freeing Saeed Abedini

YouTube Preview Image I’m frequently pondering what makes news and what doesn’t. Take a gander at this Google News page for information about Pastor Saeed Abedini.

It’s not that you can’t find plenty of news about this Iranian-born American Christian pastor who is currently imprisoned in Iran. It’s just intriguing where that news is. Abedini has been held in Iran since the summer of 2012 and imprisoned since September. Just a few weeks ago, he was reportedly sentenced to eight years in prison for threatening national security with his Christian activities.

Read all about it in the Baptist Press, World magazine, the Christian Post and Human Events. There are also items on FoxNews.com and a Washington Post sub-blog written by someone affiliated with “the Christian right.” So you see a pattern here.

It’s not that this case hasn’t been full of interesting twists and turns. You can read over at the Washington Examiner‘s editorial page about some odd ways the State Department reportedly was handling the case:

State Department officials have reportedly hesitated to intercede on behalf of an American citizen facing trial and perhaps execution in Iran due to his “Christian activities,” in part because Iran refuses to recognize the pastor’s U.S. citizenship.

“I recently learned our State Department informed Pastor Saeed Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, that it could do nothing for her husband’s case because Iran did not recognize his U.S. citizenship,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said in a statement to The Washington Examiner. Abedini’s attorney, Tiffany Barrans of the American Center for Law and Justice, told World the State Department listed that among the reasons it could not help Abedini.

“Let me be clear: under no circumstances should the U.S. State Department allow Iran to determine who is or isn’t a U.S. citizen and who the U.S. should protect,” Franks continued.  “The State Department should be doing everything possible to ensure the safety of its citizens abroad and to defend this U.S. citizen who faces trial in Iran under the harsh Iranian judicial system.” The Iranian-born pastor married an American citizen and has a family in Idaho.

That same paper also wrote up “As D.C. parties, Iran marks Obama’s inauguration by prosecuting American pastor.” Their latest on the matter — “Lawmakers pressure John Kerry to aid American pastor jailed in Iran” — includes this information:

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