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
"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
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
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
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