Anti-Muslim Bias on Get Religion   3 comments

Content Note: Islamophobia, Anti-Muslim Bias, Blasphemy Laws, Flag Burning Laws, Down’s Syndrome, Mob Violence, Drone Attacks, Qur’an Burning

So the website, Get Religion, is very popular in some circles. The premise of the site is that the mainstream media does not “get religion,” and therefore someone should be looking over their shoulder to make sure they get it right. I do not personally like Get Religion. I think that half of their complaints amount to, “I want more information from this story but I’m not going to do any research myself.” They’re constantly asking for context (even about stories that have plenty of context), and not providing it themselves. But I follow Get Religion because they cover stories that often don’t pop up elsewhere.

Anyway, I’m writing today because Get Religion is very poorly named. The contributors to the site are all Christian, and all either American or British. The site is very sympathetic to conservative Christianity, and treats liberal Christianity as if it isn’t Christianity at all. Not only does the site not “Get Religion,” it doesn’t even get a broad spectrum of Christianity.

But one of the most appalling features of the site is its anti-Muslim bias. For a website about bringing understanding of religious issues to the media, poor coverage of Islam is inexcusable. Well, today we have an example of that in spades.

This article is problematic before it even begins. Some of the big features of the article Angry Muslim Mobs, Persecution of Christians, and Blasphemy Laws. Now, I don’t object to these issues being covered. They’re important issues for anyone who wants to understand the world we live in. What I object to, is that Get Religion seems to dig these stories up. Sure, they’ll talk about how the Ramadan fast affects Muslim Olympic athletes, but they’ll only do that after the mainstream media gets to the story. Get Religion seems to look for Angry Muslim stories before they become important in the mainstream. That is, Get Religion is going out of its way to cover stories about Muslim violence and only covering other stories when they have to. Now, I’m sure Get Religion is making these selections because they think the violence stories are more important, but the end result is a very narrow view of Islam. They don’t cover Muslim celebrations, or the diversity of Islamic culture, or Muslim peace activists. In the final analysis, Get Religion makes it more difficult to “get Islam,” and that’s a problem.

The article, for what it is, begins fine. It talks about a story of 11 year old Pakistani Christian girl who may have burned a Qur’an. The girl might also have Down’s Syndrome. Anyway, an angry mob formed, the girl was arrested, and other Christians in the neighborhood fled their homes. Get Religion then asks an important question:

The suggestion is that charges were filed against the girl in order to protect her from the angry mob that was about to execute vigilante judgment against her… That the government got involved to protect her — if my reading of this report is correct — means something different than if they were leading the charge to execute a Christian 11-year-old with Down syndrome on blasphemy charges.

This is a good, fair question. It turns out that yes, it does look like the girl was arrested (and her family taken into protective custody) for safety rather than as a prelude to punishment. But at about this point when I’m reading the article, I get frustrated. We’re reading about this angry mob, upset at the treatment of a Qur’an, and I want more context. Because I’m sick of Get Religion and other organizations like it portraying Muslims negatively in a vacuum. Pakistan isn’t the best place to be if you’re a Christian right now. But why is that? Why are Muslim places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq facing such problems? Is it because they’re Muslim places?

No. It’s not because they’re Muslim places. I was in Morocco less than a year ago, and I didn’t face any problems because I was American or Christian. I didn’t even get any dirty looks. I went to church, dressed like a foreigner, and faced zero intolerance.

So why are Muslims in Pakistan upset? Why are they so riled up and defensive? Could it be that all the bombs we’re dropping on them has made them feel like they’re under attack? Could it be that Bush’s calling our troops “Crusaders” years ago, and our talking about Islamic Radicalism, our burning of Qur’an’s, and, oh yes, our dropping bombs on them, has made some Pakistani Muslims sensitive about what Christians are doing to their religion?

And I’m not making this up. Iraq’s Christian population was cut in half after our invasion because American violence makes Christians look bad. When we drop bombs (as we’ve done in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, all Muslim countries), Christians in those countries tend to have a harder time. So I’m sick of hearing about all these Muslim mobs, and not hearing about what’s provoked them. Can I have that context, please?

And the last paragraph is just a real peach. Get Religion quotes a story from CNN that quotes a statement from Pakistan’s president warning against “misuse of blasphemy laws,” another from the president’s spokesperson warning against abuse again, and a third from the president of a Pakistani political party that claims that sending an 11 year old to prison is against the spirit of Islam. So here’s how Get Religion responds:

Of course, given how widespread the support for these blasphemy laws is, it would be more helpful to have quotes from those defending them. It can be very difficult for readers outside the country to grasp the basis for and support of these capital blasphemy laws. Knowing that a few politicians carefully oppose them doesn’t exactly do much to further our understanding. Still, a helpful report and more is needed as this story progresses.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are supported, but there’s also been a great deal of controversy surrounding them. And it seems more helpful to me, when covering a particular story, to have quotes from people talking about that story. Quotes from Pakistan’s president seem relevant, as do quotes from the president of Tehreek-e-Insaf, possibly the most popular political party in Pakistan (a fact which I learned after about thirty seconds on Wikipedia). Characterizing these quotes as being from “a few politicians” who “carefully oppose” capital blasphemy laws is insulting. It is minimizing the importance of the “few politicians involved” (remember, Get Religion was probably looking for “moderate Muslims” to condemn terrorist attacks a few years ago), and saying that their opposition is “careful” for absolutely no reason. The quote from the political party president begins, “Shameful!” which doesn’t seem particularly careful to me.

And then again, flag burning in many places in the United States was illegal until about twenty years ago. If you want to understand blasphemy laws, look no further than that. Except that you have to consider the place of the Qur’an in Islam. It is often compared with the Bible in Christianity, but that isn’t quite right. The Qur’an, in some Muslim thought, is the direct, unmediated word of God. It is divine revelation, not divinely inspired revelation. It could be more appropriately compared to Jesus Christ than the Bible. So burning a Qur’an is a much bigger deal than burning a flag.

In summation, Get Religion has anti-Muslim bias in its story selection, in its lack of context (for Islam in general and Pakistani Muslim mobs in particular), and in its bizarre minimizing of the statements of Pakistan’s President and the leaders of one of Pakistan’s political parties. And the sad thing is, this post is probably less anti-Muslim than the average Get Religion post that deals with Islam.


3 responses to “Anti-Muslim Bias on Get Religion

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  1. This was a very refreshing read. The problem is, at least in my view, that most of Pakistan is uneducated and susceptible to religious propaganda. Understand that Pakistan was created as a result of Hindu oppression (By the time the British and the Hindu majority were done with us, and this was by the start of the 20th century, We were only slightly better than the blacks of America) and so the whole country is very sentimental about its religion.
    For most here Pakistan means Land of the Pure and by the pure, a land that represents a great minority of India that was under great oppression. Obviously securing a nation for our self does not justify us treating our minorities (Hindu, Christians and Parsis and The shia Sect of Islam) like we were once treated. In fact since we were once the oppressed we should know better! But the problem is since this country was created out of sheer frustration with the British government of India and the Congress party of Hindu interest (I am not being biased here unfortunately the bias was very real and still exists-I recommend reading Arundhati Roy’s field notes on Democracy) we our selves have become very sentimental and our sentimentality clouds our minds.
    The Congress and The British Raj are not the only oppressors the Pakistani People have faced, it’s relationship with the international community has also been very odd. Especially with America who supports Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Yes there is a lot of anti christian sentiment in the country and Yes it is not the best place for a christian to be today but I tell you this as a Pakistani and a somewhat religious Muslim that you are indeed right, the problem isn’t the Muslim’s hate for Christians or their intolerance, the problem is how easy it is for an oppressed majority to become the oppressor (Israel’s occupation of Palestine would be a good example of oppressor oppressing) through propaganda and the wrong sort of agitation.
    I really thought your views were very refreshing, its great to see American’s talking common sense. It was wrong of the Angry mob to get so worked up and even if they were worked up they should have filed a complaint, but so is the nature of mob mentality. I for one am very glad that the police took the child in custody and hope that she stays safe. You are indeed right when you say that Imran Khan and the PTI are very popular and we should indeed be glad that the ruling parties and even the recent military dictator’s even though have been cautions about upsetting religious sentiments are sane people who talk logically when it comes to these matters. I can assure you of one thing, and I am glad to say it, there are not many capable politicians in the country and democracy has a long way to go here but no one here would promote hate!
    The president’s comments have never been contested, the blasphemy law should indeed never ever be misused.

  2. Thanks for your input. I try to do the best I can with these issues, but I’m neither Muslim nor have I spent time in Pakistan, which means I’m very happy to get confirmation from someone who knows much more about it than I do.

    And I also find the dynamic of the oppressed becoming the oppressor discouragingly common. It’s one of the reasons I have so much respect for Nelson Mandela and the way South Africa transitioned from apartheid.

  3. You can see their bias readily in how they have been handling the recent story of the anti-Muslim movie and the ensuing riots worldwide. They have posted many times on the topic, always politically slanted against the “liberal media,” but also anti-Muslim and even anti-Obama administration (which should tell you what the site is really all about). Earlier this year I commented on an analysis they ran of a story on fracking within a Native American reservation. The analysis belittled the religious claims of Natives on the reservation who opposed fracking and was even more misinformed/naive about native spirituality than the news story they were trying to critique! Seeing them go pro-big oil was very telling. It’s not even just about social conservatism apparently, but political conservatism all around – party politics. I can’t believe that Patheos gave them a home and did so without making them be more honest about what they are doing. Shame on Patheos.

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