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Just a step from GI Joe to jihadi

12 September 2014


THE Church of England press office has hired Martha Linden from the Press Association, which is good for her and for Church House - and rather bad for journalism, since there is going to be no one left who can write with her blend of sympathy and accuracy for the wire services. At a time when no national newspaper has any longer a dedicated religious-affairs correspondent, this further diminishes the quantity of independent and well-informed news sources on whom more harassed generalists can rely.

So it is rather good news that the Boston Globe has struck out against this trend of shrinking religious coverage with an ambitious website covering the Roman Catholic Church in as many aspects as possible. It has hired Thomas L. Allen, the National Catholic Reporter's excellent Vatican correspondent; more originally, it has also hired a Rome correspondent who is an Argentinian, and so a native Spanish speaker.

The site, at www.cruxnow.com, looks to me to be a long-term threat to The Tablet: at least it has become another source for thoughtful and well-informed pieces that take a historical perspective on struggles within the Vatican.

And there is a great deal of money behind it: the Boston Globe is owned by the same man as Liverpool Football Club. He can afford to back his hunch that one future for journalism lies in bundling together really authoritative coverage of defined niche subjects, rather than going for a superficial approach that covers everything in glossy misunderstanding.


THE other notable piece of US journalism was a piece from the Washington Post's site by Michael Muhammad Knight, an American convert to Islam, about how he had been tempted to become a jihadi in Chechnya. In the late '80s, he found himself at a madrasah in Pakistan. "After class, we'd turn on the television and watch feeds of destruction and suffering. The videos were upsetting. So upsetting that soon I found myself thinking about abandoning my religious education to pick up a gun and fight for Chechen freedom.

"It wasn't a verse I'd read in our Qur'an study circles that made me want to fight, but rather my American values. I had grown up in the Reagan '80s. I learned from GI Joecartoons to (in the words of the theme song) 'fight for freedom, wherever there's trouble'.

"For me, wanting to go to Chechnya wasn't reducible to my 'Muslim rage' or 'hatred for the West'. This may be hard to believe, but I thought about the war in terms of compassion. Like so many Americans moved by their love of country to serve in the armed forces, I yearned to fight oppression and protect the safety and dignity of others."

He was dissuaded by the extremely conservative scholars at his madrasah, who told him that he was of more use to God as a scholar than as a warrior.

Apart from the part played by idealism, and the yearning for self-sacrifice in this story, it is also worth noting the appeal to that other adolescent quality: a global grudge against the world, which is picking on you and people like you. I don't for a moment doubt the existence of a great deal of active and articulate prejudice against white people among some Muslim populations here. But it does not help when this prejudice is fanned and reflected by the newspapers.

Consider The Sun's front page after a murder in London: "'Muslim Convert' beheads woman in garden." From the story we learn that "The ranting man, said to be a Muslim convert, attacked 82-year-old Palmira Silva after decapitating cats in a bloody rampage. . . Last night police stressed there was no terrorist connection at this stage."

You have to love "at this stage". It would, after all, be so much better a story for The Sun if Muslim terrorists were being instructed to decapitate random grannies - and cats - as part of their jihad.

It is also worth noting that some schizophrenics are under the impression that God orJesus have told them to murder people. They are not referred to in the press as "Christian converts" or even "Evangelicals".

And, from the Daily Mail, a village outside Solihull is objecting to plans to build Britain's largest Muslim cemetery there. This makes a twist on standard nimbyism, as it suggests that even death cannot stop the Muslims from their assault on English Heritage Britain.


IT IS not all bad news this week, however. The Sunday Telegraph reported that the Charity Commissioners are looking into the workings of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, after Martin Bright, who was hired to run part of its website, complained that it was being used to promote Tony Blair's image as much as interfaith understanding. There is obviously a vacancy there for a really idealistic young person, who can fight for two lost causes at once.

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