Newsweek Feeds Fear


Newsweek was once a better magazine than last week's cover story discloses it is now. That's a real shame, Parham writes.
Newsweek's cover story trumpeted, "The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World."

The once dependable weekly news magazine has of late been slipping from news to opinion, from civil discourse to pages peppered with profanity, and from substantive news coverage to trendy cultural meanderings.

The alarming headline is but another example of what happens when a magazine moves toward the tabloid world.

"Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm," wrote Ayaan Hirsi Ali, claiming the war on Christians is an "unrecognized battle."

Asserting media intimidation, she said that the "conspiracy of silence" had to stop for the "fate of Christianity" was at stake.

"[A] fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other," wrote Ali.

She referenced the situation in Nigeria, where a radical Islamic group has attacked churches and killed church members. But she failed to mention that Nigerian Christians have killed Muslims.

She failed to note that the highest-ranking Islamic leader in Nigeria condemned the attacks.

"We are totally against what has been happening, we totally condemn all these. Nobody can take anybody's life, it's un-Islamic, it's ungodly, nobody can take anybody's life, all lives are sacred, must be respected and protected by all," said Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto.

Nor did she mention that the Islamic Society of North America condemned the Christmas Day bombing.

Ali did reference the killings of Christians in Iraq since 2003 and the fact that scores of Iraqi Christians have fled the country, although she did so without noting that under Saddam Hussein the Christian community had a shield of protection.

She skirted the role the U.S. invasion, with its veneer of Christianity, played in spiking anti-Christian fever in Iraq.

That dynamic is one EthicsDaily.com addressed on a number occasions. For examples, click here and here.

"It should be clear from this catalog of atrocities that anti-Christian violence is a major and underreported problem. No, the violence isn't centrally planned or coordinated by some international Islamist agency," said Ali. "In that sense, the global war on Christians isn't a traditional war at all. It is, rather, a spontaneous expression of anti-Christian animus by Muslims that transcends cultures, regions and ethnicities."

She concluded, "Instead of falling for overblown tales of Western Islamophobia, let's take a real stand against the Christophobia infecting the Muslim world."

Nina Shea, in the National Review Online, praised the story, saying Ali deserved "credit for breaking the silence of the mainstream media on the rising persecution of Christians in much of the Muslim world."

Cited as an authoritative source in the Newsweek piece, she threw a punch at the Obama administration.

"The persecution of Christians globally is finally getting some notice in the mainstream press," blogged Rob Schwarzwalder for the Family Research Council, a James Dobson-founded organization. "[E]ven the Left has to acknowledge that Christians are under the gun – quite literally – throughout the developing world."

Without doubt, Christians have been killed and brutalized by Muslims around the world. Without question, the White House ought to use its bully pulpit, and the government ought to apply its considerable pressure in places where religious persecution exists and religious freedoms are denied.

But the narrative that says Christians are always victims and Muslims are always the perpetrators is a false one.

After all, many U.S. Christians framed the war in Iraq as a Christians-versus-Muslims conflict.

The Pentagon used Bible verses to create a crusade mentality. An M1A1 Abrams tank had "New Testament" scrawled on the tank barrel. Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin spoke in terms of "our God" being mightier than their God. U.S. Congressman Robin Hayes said converting Iraqis to Christianity was the key to stability in Iraq.

From such evidence, may one conclude that "American Christians" killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians?

The narrative of a global war on Christians is a cousin of the myth about a war on Christmas and the myth of a drip of persecution of Christians in America.

For whatever reason, some U.S. Christians need to think and feel that they are persecuted. Maybe it makes them believe they are more akin to figures of faith in the Bible.

Aside from untruthfulness, the theological problem with the narratives that claim Christians are being targeted by Muslims and secularists is that they misread human sinfulness.

They assume that their "tribe" is righteous and the other is evil. They fail to confess their own sinfulness, their own violence, their own self-righteousness.

Victor Rembeth, an Indonesian Baptist leader, told me a story at the 2008 Baptist World Alliance meeting in Prague.

When some Indonesian Muslims were looting and threatening churches, Muslim women protected Rembeth's wife when he was out of the country.

"Up to that point, I had been struggling even to relate to my Muslim friends," Rembeth said in an interview. Their act "really gave me an idea there are some good Muslims, even though there are some bad Muslims, just much as there are some good Christians and bad Christians."

Newsweek was once a better magazine than last week's cover story discloses it is now. That's a real shame.

We already have enough religious conflict and self-righteousness without one of the nation's foremost weekly publications feeding fear and hatred.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1.

Editor's note: Click here to learn more about "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims," an EthicsDaily.com documentary showing how some Baptists and Muslims in the United States have sought and found common ground.

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