It’s been a few days since I posted, as I’ve been trying to transition to my new life as a GA — general assignments — reporter.
I’ve been busy roaming around around, talking to people about the war in Afghanistan. Should we increase troops, pull the troops out or what? My story is out today, on the anniversary of 9/11 (which I’ll get to in a moment).
I have to say that I really appreciate the many emails and phone calls I’ve gotten from people about the demise of the religion beat here at LoHud/The Journal News. It means a lot to hear that people appreciated my coverage of religion for the last 12-plus years.
I understand that people feel it’s a mistake for LoHud/TJN to stop covering religion. But I also understand the very difficult challenges facing this business. We’re cutting back in many ares and trying to do other things well. Sometimes, there are no easy answers.
This is a tough week for me because the Religion Newswriters Association is holding its annual conference, in Minneapolis this year, and I’m not there. I’ve been to 8 or 9 conferences and really enjoyed getting to know a group of reporters dedicated to covering religion as best they could.
It’s a smaller gathering this year, as many newspapers have been cutting out their religion coverage. The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, who is in Minneapolis, writes on his blog about the religion beat being “endangered” (and has a few nice words to say about me).
So today it’s 9/11.
It was in the days after the attacks — and the weeks and months — that many people wrote and said that religion coverage was especially important to highlight and explain everything happening in the world today.
And explain we did.
Much of the coverage has focused, of course, on Islam, which was still a pretty mysterious (world) religion to most people before the attacks. I think it’s safe to say that people who want to know something about Islam now do.
Covering Islam has been no easy task for most journalists in this country. Why? We talk to and write about Muslims in America, who often see the world very differently from Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Iraq.
Many of the outrageous things we read about Muslims in the world — people being stoned, people being arrested for converting, a woman facing trial for wearing pants — are outrageous to Muslims who live and work in the U.S. And I can tell you, American Muslims are beyond tired of having to explain and apologize for the actions of people far, far away.
A new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that Americans, by and large, see Muslims as facing a great deal of discrimination — more than any group in society other than gays and lesbians.
Forty-five percent of the public says Islam is no more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Thirty-eight percent say that Islam is more likely to encourage violence.
But which Islam are we taking about? How it’s practiced in Pakistan or in Ohio?
A surprise to me: 45 percent of Americans say they know a Muslim personally. I would have expected 20 percent or something like that.
But get this: Only 41 percent of those polled could identify the name Muslims use for God (Allah) and their holy book (the Koran). I mean, what have you been doing for the last eight years?
Regardless, if you want to relive the emotions that Americans felt after 9/11 and the many questions that people asked, check out some of the video excerpts and interviews that made up the PBS special “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.”
Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, the prominent theologian from NY, said this:
What does that mean? It means a boundary has been broken that opens up the floodgates to unstoppable horror, because human is all we are, all we can be, all we can appeal to. It’s our safety net. … But here, the more you show your humanity, the more you’re hated. I’ve never seen anything like this. And I saw it.
To me, to distract one from this, to look for explanations, is obscene. It’s an offense against the reality of what happened — an offense against our humanity — to look for political explanations, economic explanations, diplomatic explanations. “Oh, it’s American foreign policy. It is the arrival into our shores of the Palestinian-Israeli fight. It is globalization. It is the cultural wars. It is American imperialism.” All of that is proposed by the “Yes, but” brigade who got to work immediately after the explosion. It is obscene and irresponsible, because we were facing an attack, a hatred of humanity which is what we all have in common. It’s our line of defense, our only one. And now that was gone. …
The people who did this, who planned it, who brought it about, I don’t know what their theology or their ideology is. I take them at their word; they died with the name of God on their lips. People say they were sincere; well, yes, they were. They believed. This is an act for them that was a sincere act, the worship of their God. I take them at their word. Does that make them any less evil? Oh, but no, that precisely is the monstrosity. If they were not sincere, it would be a terrible thing, but … it is the sincerity, it is the free will. I mean, they willed this to happen. They willed the destruction of humanity, of humanness, of everybody in that place on that day at the World Trade Center. This was a freely willed act, very sincere. And this sincerity is one of the horrible characteristics of the face of evil I saw that day. …