10 Reasons Why the Israel Lobby AIPAC is So Dangerous

 Medea Benjamin / February 28th, 2012 / Dissident Voice

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of the most powerful lobby organizations in the country. AIPAC’s clout helps fuel a never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East.

Here are ten reasons why AIPAC is so dangerous.

1. AIPAC is lobbying Congress to promote a military confrontation with Iran. AIPAC – like the Israeli government – is demanding that the U.S. attack Iran militarily to prevent Iran from having the technological capacity to produce nuclear weapons, even though U.S. officials say Iran isn’t trying to build a weapon (and even though Israel has hundreds of undeclared nuclear weapons). AIPAC has successfully lobbied the U.S. government to adopt crippling economic sanctions on Iran, including trying to cut off Iran’s oil exports, despite the fact that these sanctions raise the price of gas and threaten the U.S. economy.

2. AIPAC promotes Israeli policies that are in direct opposition to international law. These include the establishment of colonies (settlements) in the Occupied West Bank and the confiscation of Palestinian land in its construction of the 26-foot high concrete “separation barrier” running through the West Bank. The support of these illegal practices makes to impossible to achieve a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

3. AIPAC’s call for unconditional support for the Israeli government threatens our national security. The United States’ one-sided support of Israel, demanded by AIPAC, has significantly increased anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East, thus endangering our troops and sowing the seeds of more possible terrorist attacks against us. Gen. David Petraeus on March 16, 2010 admitted that the U.S./Palestine conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.” He also said that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

4. AIPAC undermines American support for democracy movements in the Arab world. AIPAC looks at the entire Arab world through the lens of Israeli government interests, not the democratic aspirations of the Arab people. It has therefore supported corrupt, repressive regimes that are friendly to the Israeli government, such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Events now unfolding in the Middle East should convince U.S. policy-makers of the need to break from AIPAC’s grip and instead support democratic forces in the Arab world.

5. AIPAC makes the U.S. a pariah at the UN. AIPAC describes the UN as a body hostile to the State of Israel and has pressured the U.S. government to oppose resolutions calling Israel to account. Since 1972, the US has vetoed 44 UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. President Obama continues that policy. Under Obama, the US vetoed UN censure of the savage Israeli assault on Gaza in January 2009 in which about 1400 Palestinians were killed; a 2011 resolution calling for a halt to the illegal Israeli West Bank settlements even though this was stated U.S. policy; a 2011 resolution calling for Israel to cease obstructing the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees; and another resolution calling for an end to illegal Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights.

6. AIPAC attacks politicians who question unconditional support of Israel. AIPAC demands that Congress rubber stamp legislation drafted by AIPAC staff. It keeps a record of how members of Congress vote and this record is used by donors to make contributions to the politicians who score well. Members of Congress who fail to support AIPAC legislation have been targeted for defeat in re-election bids. These include Senators Adlai Stevenson III and Charles H. Percy, and Representatives Paul Findley, Pete McCloskey, Cynthia McKinney, and Earl F. Hilliard. AIPAC’s overwhelmingly disproportionate influence on Congress subverts our democratic system.

7. AIPAC attempts to silence all criticism of Israel by labeling critics as “anti-Semitic,” “de-legitimizers” or “self-hating Jews.” Journalists, think tanks, students and professors have been accused of anti-Semitism for merely taking stands critical of Israeli government policies. These attacks stifle the critical discussions and debates that are at the heart of democratic policy-making. The recent attacks on staffers at the Center for American Progress is but one example of AIPAC efforts to crush all dissent.

8. AIPAC feeds U.S. government officials a distorted view of the Israel/Palestine conflict. AIPAC takes U.S. representatives on sugar-coated trips to Israel. In 2011, AIPAC took one out of very five members of Congress—and many of their spouses—on a free junket to Israel to see precisely what the Israeli government wanted them to see. It is illegal for lobby groups to take Congresspeople on trips, but AIPAC gets around the law by creating a bogus educational group, AIEF, to “organize” the trips for them. AIEF has the same office address as AIPAC and the same staff. These trips help cement the ties between AIPAC and Congress, furthering their undue influence.

9. AIPAC lobbies for billions of U.S. taxdollars to go to Israel instead of rebuilding America. While our country is reeling from a prolonged financial crisis, AIPAC is pushing for no cuts in military funds for Israel, a wealthy nation. With communities across the nation slashing budgets for teachers, firefighters and police, AIPAC pushes for over $3 billion a year to Israel.

10. Money to Israel takes funds from world’s poor. Israel has the 24th largest economy in the world, but thanks to AIPAC, it gets more U.S. taxdollars than any other country. At a time when the foreign aid budget is being slashed, keeping the lion’s share of foreign assistance for Israel means taking funds from critical programs to feed, provide shelter and offer emergency assistance to the world’s poorest people.

The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has influence on U.S. policy out of all proportion to the number of Americans who support its policies. When a small group like this has disproportionate power, that hurts everyone—including Israelis and American Jews.

From stopping a catastrophic war with Iran to finally solving the Israel/Palestine conflict, an essential starting point is breaking AIPAC’s grip on U.S. policy.

(networkedblogs.com / 28.02.2012)

Dutch donation to boost Palestinian trade

Netherlands to supply 2 state-of-the art container scanners; sign of Israeli-PA cooperation despite talks’ breakdown.

Truck carrying fruit leaves Kerem Shalom crossing

While Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are stalemated, economic cooperation continues between the two sides with the Netherlands announcing this week it will supply two state-of-the art container scanners to facilitate Palestinian trade.

According to a joint agreement signed Sunday by Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen Eitan Dangot, the scanners are to “promote the economic development of the Palestinian Authority through expanded trade flows, while safeguarding” Israel’s security.

The first scanner will be installed at the Allenby Bridge “as fast and efficiently” as possible, expected within six to nine months, and the second one – possibly at the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza — at a later date. In a unique form of cooperation, the scanners will be donated to and owned by the Palestinian Authority, but will be operated by Israel “to maintain and ensure” its security requirements.

According to a statement put out by the Dutch embassy, the scanners will boost Palestinian trade by “reducing transit costs for businesses and increasing the volume and range of goods allowed through the crossings.” The statement said that the scanner at the Allenby Bridge could increase the amount of trade flowing through the crossing by up to 33%, something that will “help the Palestinian economy grow.”

Currently, if glass manufacturers in Hebron want to export pitchers abroad they must load them into boxes and onto wooden pallets that are then placed on trucks. The trucks then go to the Allenby Crossing where each pallet is individually scanned by a pallet scanner at the site, and then loaded onto Jordanian trucks waiting on the other side of the border. These trucks then drive to Aqaba where the palletsare unloaded again, the boxes of pitchers taken out and then re-packed into containers for ship export.

Exporters complain that this significantly increases both their cost, and the time it takes for their goods to get to market, since each pallet must be unloaded at Allenby, and then at Aqaba the boxes of pitchers must be repacked into containers. The re-packing itself into containers is an additional expense.

The new container scanners will allow the manufactures to load their product at their factories directly into the containers, and the goods will not have to be touched again in shipment, reducing the risk of damage in handling, theft, and exposure to the elements.

Since the scanners are expected to lead to greater volume of import and export into the West Bank, it is also expected to raise additional tax revenue for the PA. An estimate from the office of Quartet envoy Tony Blair, which was instrumental in brokering the deal, the introduction of container scanners at Allenby could increase Palestinian trade by $35.5 million a year, which would yield the PA an additional  $10.4 million a year in tax revenue.

Talks about putting container scanners into place have been ongoing for years. Veldkamp said it was the “trust and friendship between Israel and the Netherlands” that was able to seal the deal at this time.. “This benefits Palestinian economic development, and takes into account Israel’ssecurity needs, which we really care about,” he said.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal announced the deal in Brussels on Monday at the monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers. The issue was discussed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte when they met last month in Holland.  Rutte and Rosenthal previously discussed it  with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

(www.jpost.com / 28.02.2012)

UN: Syrian forces killed ‘well over’ 7,500

AMMAN, Jordan (Reuters) — Syrian forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since a revolt against President Bashar Assad began, a UN official said on Tuesday, and Hillary Clinton, the top US diplomat, suggested the Syrian leader may be a war criminal.
The military again bombarded opposition strongholds, killing at least 25 people, Syrian activists said, though a wounded British news photographer managed to escape from the besieged city of Homs.

“There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children,” UN Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the UN Security Council.

“The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people.”

Syria’s government said in December that “armed terrorist groups” had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.

As world dismay mounted over the bloodshed, France said the Security Council was working on a Syria resolution and urged Russia and China not to veto it, as they have previous drafts.

Secretary of State Clinton told the US Senate it could be argued that Assad is a war criminal, but said using such labels “limits options to persuade leaders to step down from power.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had said on Monday it was time to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court and warned Assad that he would face justice.

However, Tunisia, where a revolt toppled a president last year, would be willing to offer Assad asylum if this would help stop the bloodshed, a senior Tunisian official said.

Security Council resolution

Juppe told the French parliament that work had begun at the Security Council on a resolution that “could order an immediate halt to the hostilities and (allow) humanitarian access while also renewing support for the Arab League plan.”

“I solemnly call on Russia and China not to block this Security Council resolution,” he said.

Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution on February 4 that would have backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had discussed the situation with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, now the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria.

“He is charged with promoting a political solution and I hope he will bring his persuasive powers to bear on Russia and China as well,” he said in response to questions in parliament.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the US ambassador to Moscow had discussed Syria’s “acute humanitarian issues” with a Russian deputy foreign minister on Tuesday — an indication they may have explored a potential UN Security Council resolution.

The Cairo-based Arab League will host an international conference to coordinate humanitarian aid to Syria on March 4, Laila Nagm, a League official, told Reuters.

British photographer Paul Conroy, of London’s Sunday Times, was spirited safely out of Homs into Lebanon. “He is in good shape and in good spirits,” the newspaper said.

Conroy had been among several foreign journalists trapped in Baba Amro, where Marie Colvin, a veteran war correspondent also with the Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a bombardment on Feb. 22.

Confusion surrounded the fate of wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier. President Nicolas Sarkozy initially said he had been informed that Bouvier had been evacuated, but later said it was not clear. “It has not been confirmed that today she is safe in Lebanon,” he said.

Opposition groups say hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded in the siege of Baba Amro and other rebellious districts in Homs, where terrified residents are enduring dire conditions, without proper supplies of water, food and medicine.

The Syrian military’s latest bombardment of Baba Amro was the heaviest in a 24-day-old assault, activists said, adding that tanks from an elite armored division, which is led by Assad’s brother Maher, had moved into Homs overnight.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 people were killed in Homs on Tuesday, a day after 84 were killed in the city, out of an overall death toll of 122 civilians across Syria. The British-based group said 29 security force members had been killed in clashes with rebels on Monday.

In Hama province, security forces bombarded the town of Helfaya, a centre of anti-Assad protests, killing 20 people.

The reports could not be independently confirmed. Syrian authorities tightly restrict media access to the country.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had delivered food and other aid to Homs and Idlib, but called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” to improve access.

New constitution

Assad, projecting an aura of normality in a land ravaged by conflict over his right to power, promulgated a new constitution on Tuesday after officials said nearly 90 percent of voters had endorsed it in a referendum two days earlier.

Opposition groups and Western leaders seeking Assad’s removal denounced the vote as a charade. Assad says the new constitution will lead to multi-party elections within three months.

Russia repeated its calls for Western and Arab nations to press armed opponents of Assad to stop fighting.

“Thanks to our work with the Syrian authorities, it was possible to lead them to interact with international humanitarian organizations, but we are not seeing similar signals addressed to the militants,” Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying in Geneva.

Trying to “instill democracy through force is doomed to disaster,” Gatilov to the UN rights forum in a swipe at Western interventions, notably in neighboring Iraq.

Syria’s UN ambassador in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, stormed out of the session after calling on countries to stop “inciting sectarianism and providing arms” to Syrian rebels.

He said foreign sanctions were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel. The European Union imposed additional punitive measures on Tuesday.

The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection by army deserters and others.

Foreign powers have argued over whether to arm Syrian rebels, but there is little appetite in the West for any Libya-style military intervention. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have advocated sending weapons to anti-Assad insurgents.

Assad says he is battling a foreign conspiracy featuring “armed terrorist groups” and al Qaeda militants. His opponents scorn his calls for dialogue as meaningless while Syrian security forces are violently repressing dissent.

(www.maannews.net / 28.02.2012)

New extreme right plan: How to `Annex all of Judea and Samaria` and maintain Jewish supremacy



Arutz 7 (settler radio) short news item in English

Knesset Member Uri Ariel`s Hebrew Press Release – translated by Adam Keller
MK Uri Ariel presents a political program at the Jerusalem Conference: `Annex all of Judea and Samaria`

In a special panel on `Alternatives to a Palestinian state` at the [extreme right] Jerusalem Conference, MK Uri Ariel today introduced his political program, which means annexation of the whole of Judea and Samaria to Israel and giving a chance to a 100% of the residents there to obtain Israeli citizenship.

According to this program, the entire territory will be annexed and all Judea and Samaria Arabs will have the status of permanent residents in Israel. This will give them the very same status enjoyed by 284,000 residents of East Jerusalem, of whom many opinion polls indicated that if given a choice between the State of Israel or a Palestinian state they would choose for Israel.

This status will give them: a blue identity card, social security, health services and all other services given to every citizen in Israel, and the vote in municipal elections for the municipal authority within whose borders they live – but no right to vote in Knesset elections.[Emphasis by translator.]

Any Arabs of Judea and Samaria interested in having a full Israeli citizenship would be able to get it after a five years` waiting period, as in getting the United States citizenship, at whose end they will have to undergo a citizenship test and a Hebrew language test and to sign an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel. After that they would be able to vote to the Knesset.

In order to maintain a Jewish and democratic state, the electoral system will be adapted into a proportional-regional system. When the constituency boundaries are determined, there should be created a situation in which Judea and Samaria will not constitute a single electoral district, as that would give the Arabs a significant representation in the Knesset. Rather, Judea and Samaria will be divided among several constituencies – e.g. Jenin will be incorporated in the Afula Constituency, Nablus – in the Metropolitan Tel Aviv Constituency, Ramallah – in the Greater Jerusalem Constituency, and so on. Thus, a democratic Jewish majority in the Knesset will be maintained.

MK Uri Ariel rejects the suggestion that within 30 years Arab demography will overcome the Jewish one: `This is a fundamental mistake derived from years-long scare propaganda. The trend is reversed, already years they give birth to less and less children, while in the Jewish sector the birth rate is steadily rising. If we also take Aliya into consideration, a two-thirds Jewish majority can be maintained for a considerable period.

MK Uri Ariel continued by emphasizing the importance of a strong economy in the territories. A major element to the success of the program is the ability of Israel to provide equal services and a strong economy for all the Arabs of Judea and Samaria. `There are many indications that the Arab population itself is very tired of the terrorism and lawlessness which prevail over them since Oslo. Experience shows that inside Israel – in the Galilee, Negev and East Jerusalem – the Arabs very much don`t want to give up their blue Identity Cards and the privileges associated with them. It is of great importance that all Judea and Samaria Arabs who become part of Israel will be given an adequate level of services, including good education, welfare, infrastructure, and of course employment. A good and strong economy and equal services are the condition for success.`

MK Uri Ariel summarized the plan and said: `It is clear that it would be difficult to get this idea accepted in the public mind, but what`s a better choice? A Palestinian state in the 1967 lines, with all the dangers which this entrails? And anyway, is it possible to reach a Palestinian state in the present reality? It`s time to stop fearing to exert our rule. The Government of Israel should govern the Jews, the Arabs, the Palestinians and the Druze, and every person who lives in Israel – no longer constantly make efforts to find easy, useless solutions. It`s time we stop burying our heads in the sand. We can continue to blab on Palestinians statehood, but if we don’t put our act together now we will find ourselves in a bi-national state which would be forced upon us and where somebody else will make the rules. If only we stop fearing to seriously govern this country, we can get to that bi-national state with us setting the rules and defining how it would look like. The idea of Palestinian statehood west of the Jordan River was conceived by the Left and quite few Right-wingers were dragged into it, who nowadays try to justify themselves by asserting that you must be `realistic`. But this idea had been tried, and it failed. It`s time to change reality, to present a new alternative and bring the Israeli public – in the end, even the left – to this idea. If only we manage to muster a bit of courage, in a few years we could have a majority supporting full Israeli sovereignty west of the Jordan. That is the best option`.

(occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com / 28.02.2012)

Palestinians in Gaza demand release of female prisoner

Palestinians hold a picture of female prisoner Hana Shalabi outside the United Nations office in Gaza City on February 28, 2012.
Palestinians have gathered in front of the United Nations office in the Gaza Strip to demand the release of a female detainee held in an Israeli prison.
On Tuesday, demonstrators gathered outside the UN office in Gaza City to demand the release of Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi.

The female prisoner is one of the detainees re-arrested by Israeli forces over the past few weeks. The detainees were freed from Israeli jails in October and December last year under a deal mediated by Egypt to free 1,027 Palestinian inmates in exchange for Hamas-captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalabi has reportedly been on a hunger strike since February 16, when she was re-arrested at her home in the occupied West Bank. She has been under “administrative detention” and her lawyer says she has been put in “solitary confinement as punishment for the hunger strike.”

Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza expressed solidarity with the female prisoner. They also chanted slogans against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and censured the United States for supporting Israel.

Meanwhile, a similar demonstration was also held outside the Red Cross office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday

(www.presstv.ir / 28.02.2012)

Investigate Israel’s Misuse of U.S. Supplied Tear-Gas


Weekly Demonstration in Bil'in
Above: Palestinian demonstrators in Bi’lin marching against Israeli land confiscation.

Your phone calls, emails, and letters to Members of Congress will help us hold Israel accountable for gross human rights violations committed with U.S.-supplied weapons.  Below are some talking points to use during your phone call with Members of Congress, and when educating people in your community about this issue.
Talking Points

1.  Hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S.-supplied high-velocity tear-gas canisters along with Egypt and Bahrain in the State Department’s upcoming report to Congress on tear gas.  Israel should be held to the same standard as all other countries. Don’t single Israel out and thereby facilitate more human rights abuses by exempting  the Israeli military.

2.  The pattern of abuses by the Israeli military  against civilians and non-violent demonstrators will continue unless it is held accountable by the supplier of the weapons in question.

3.  The Israeli military has repeatedly fired high-velocity tear gas canisters directly at protesters in violation of the military’s own rules of engagement.  By using these weapons to deliberately target civilians with disproportionate force, causing grave injuries and deaths, the Israeli military is violating both U.S. and international laws to commit human rights abuses with these tear gas canisters.

4.  For the United States to be a credible advocate for human rights, freedom, and equality, we need to back our words with action, and ensure that U.S.-supplied weapons are not being used against non-violent civil rights activists.

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Israeli warplanes intensify flights over Gaza

GAZA, (PIC)– All types of Israeli warplanes were seen filling the skies over Gaza Strip on Monday evening as Palestinian security agencies evacuated their buildings in anticipation of possible air strikes.

Quds Press quoted field sources as saying that big numbers of Israeli F-16s, Apache choppers, and drones were seen flying over all areas of the Strip.

The sources pointed out that the warplanes flew at low altitudes, which spread fear among Gazans that they intend new invasion or raids on the enclave.

(occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com / 28.02.2012)

Khader Adnan ‘stable’ after surgery

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Khader Adnan is in a stable condition after undergoing surgery on his intestine after his 66 day hunger strike, a lawyer for the Palestinian detainees’ center said Tuesday.

Raed Mahamid said after visiting Adnan in Zeev hospital in northern Israeli town Safed that his condition is good, and he is recovering from the anesthesia used during the operation.

Adnan underwent surgery after reporting severe pain in his abdomen two days ago, caused by an intestinal blockage, after he went for two months without food.

Israeli officials announced last week that they intend to release Adnan on April 17, shortly before his administrative detention term was set to end, and would not renew the order.

In return, Adnan agreed to end his hunger strike, the longest ever held by a Palestinian prisoner.

Female prisoner Hana Shalabi, who is being held under the same regulations permitting detention without charge, started a hunger strike on Feb. 16 after she was re-arrested, despite being freed in a prisoner swap deal in October.

(occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com / 28.02.2012)

Interview: Doc Jazz drie jaar later

Tariq Shadid a.k.a. Doc Jazz a.k.a. gastarbeider bij Wijblijvenhier.nl is een activist in hart en nieren, Palestijn van bloed, chirurg van beroep en muzikant van gevoel. Exact drie jaar geleden verruilde hij Nederland voor de Arabische Emiraten: “alsof je na jaren moeilijk ademen in een zuurstofrijke omgeving terechtkomt”.

Umar Mirza: Het is vandaag exact drie jaar geleden dat je uit Nederland vertrok. Heb je ooit overwogen om weer terug te verhuizen?

Tariq Shadid: Het is inderdaad drie jaar geleden. Ik heb eerlijk gezegd geen moment de neiging gevoeld om weer terug te gaan. Ik heb het in mijn huidige baan en leefomgeving uitstekend naar de zin. Het enige minpunt is dat je je familieleden mist, maar verder ontbreekt het me hier aan niets. Ik mag wel zeggen, mijn emigratie is een drastische vooruitgang geweest in onze kwaliteit van leven.

UM: Hoe blik je terug op de afgelopen 3 jaren van Nederland?

TS: Dat is voor mij eerlijk gezegd enigszins moeilijk te beoordelen. Ik weet uiteraard dat Nederland nu geregeerd wordt door een kabinet Rutte met gedoogsteun van de PVV. Ik kan me daar slechts met moeite een voorstelling van maken, maar ik meen via media en online sociale contacten te kunnen bespeuren dat het de sfeer in het land – voorspelbaar – niet ten goede is gekomen. Naarmate de tijd verstrijkt staat het allemaal steeds verder van me af, al blijf ik me de positie van allochtonen in Nederland aantrekken op de momenten dat ik met nieuwsfeiten daaromtrent word geconfronteerd.

UM: Je bent Nederland wel echt gaan verafschuwen he? Waarom?

TS: Ik weet dat ik kritisch ben en geen blad voor de mond neem, maar ik zou het jammer vinden als daar de indruk uit zou zijn ontstaan dat ik Nederland ‘verafschuw’. Dit is zeker niet het geval. Ik ben er geboren, opgegroeid, en heb er de eerste vier decades van mijn leven doorgebracht. Ik zie het zelf anders: ik ben juist kritisch over Nederland vanwege mijn warme band met het land, en vanwege het feit dat ik het als een deel van mezelf beschouw. Ik heb er prachtige en heerlijke momenten beleefd, die niemand me meer af kan nemen.

Ik heb twee hoofd-issues met Nederland, die echter flink wat roet in het eten gooien. Ten eerste is er de manier waarop de meerderheid in Nederland zijn fanatieke loyaliteit aan ‘Israel’ met het grootste gemak ten koste laat gaan van rechtvaardigheid en gelijkwaardigheid, twee begrippen waar men verder beweert enorm veel waarde aan te hechten. En de tweede grote issue is dat Nederland niet weet hoe om te gaan met de toenadering tussen verschillende volkeren en culturen, en discriminatie en racisme in allerlei andersgenaamde jasjes hult om – opnieuw tegen de eigen principes van de rechtsstaat in – deze hun uitwerking te laten hebben op de maatschappij.

Dit zijn allebei issues waar ik dagelijks mee geconfronteerd werd, en ik kan je verzekeren dat de afwezigheid van dit soort ellendige fenomenen in mijn huidige leven voelt alsof je na jaren moeilijk ademen in een zuurstofrijke omgeving terechtkomt.

UM: Je bent nog altijd even strijdlustig als het aankomt op de Palestijnse zaak. Wat beweegt je?

TS: Ik ben nooit bang geweest om op te komen voor principes waar ik voor sta. De Palestijnse zaak is geen ver van mijn bed show, maar iets dat mij op directe en persoonlijke wijze treft en bezighoudt. Mijn band met Palestina gaat buitengewoon diep, en ik voel me volledig thuis als ik daar ben. Qua karakter en opvoeding ben ik niet iemand die zich als slachtoffer opstelt en over problemen gaat zitten jammeren, maar iemand die oplossingen zoekt en problemen met beide handen aanpakt. Ik beschouw het dan ook primair als de verantwoordelijkheid van de Palestijnen, inclusief mijzelf, om zich voor onze eigen belangen in te zetten. Gezien de lawine van geweld en onrecht die de door racisme en landhonger gemotiveerde Zionistische staat over de Palestijnen uitstort, al zoveel jaren lang, is mijns inziens ‘strijdlustigheid’ een eerste vereiste. Niet alleen voor mij, maar voor ons allemaal.

UM: Hoe gaat het met Doc Jazz, jouw muzikale alterego?

TS: Het gaat momenteel heel goed daarmee ! Zoals het er nu naar uitziet, belooft 2012 een druk jaar te worden voor ‘Doc Jazz’. Ik merk echt dat er een stijging is in termen van bekendheid en aanhang. Ik vind het erg leuk om te zien dat er de laatste tijd onder ‘Arab Americans’ in de Verenigde Staten een opvallende toename van aandacht is voor mijn muziek. Juist gisteren nog is mijn muziek op KUNM radio gedraaid, in de USA. Die zender is onderdeel van het landelijke Amerikaanse NPR-netwerk.

Qua muziekstijl (inclusief Arabische invloeden in meerdere van mijn nummers) en de boodschap kan ik me heel goed voorstellen dat dit bij hen aansluit. Het aantal leden van de Doc Jazz Facebook-pagina is de 20.000 inmiddels al ruimschoots overschreden. Er zijn optredens in de planning voor mei (Amsterdam en Athene), in de zomer in Palestina, en in het najaar twee optredens in de Verenigde Staten (Californie).

Mijn meest recente nummer ‘Right of Return’ dat ik in December uitbracht is erg goed door de achterban ontvangen, en heeft naar mijn vermoeden ook een positieve rol gespeeld bij deze toegenomen aandacht. Ik heb ook zeer recent weer een Arabisch nummer uitgebracht in de Palestijnse folkloristische traditie, Ya 7alali ya Mali, echte ‘hard-core’ Palestijnse zang van het platteland, waarin vele van de dagelijkse problemen van de bevolking onder bezetting worden benoemd. Die traditie heeft qua methodiek – niet qua melodie, ritme en stijl – veel gemeen met rap, maar is uiteraard veel ouder dan dat.

UM: Je hebt een aardig dynamische tijd voor je. Zo zit je straks in de jury van een Palestijnse talentenjacht. Hoe is dat verlopen?

TS: Ja, nogal onwennig idee, maar het lijkt me wel een grappige ervaring hoor! Ik wist wel dat als songschrijver/muzikant mijn grootste achterban bestaat uit Palestijnen in Palestina en Jordanie. Via de statistieken van mijn Facebook-pagina kan ik dat gelukkig zien. Kennelijk vonden de programma-makers me interessant genoeg als beoordelaar van Palestijnse aspirant-zangers en zangeressen tussen de 16-25 jaar om mij vanuit de Emiraten speciaal voor deze audities over te laten komen. Het programma ‘Ghaneeha’ is de tweede jaargang van de Palestijnse versie van ‘Idols’ en wordt via dezelfde formule uitgevoerd, voor een van de landelijke TV-zenders. We zullen audities houden in Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron en Jeruzalem. Ik ben zeer benieuwd; ik heb natuurlijk nog nooit zoiets meegemaakt.

UM: Wanneer kunnen we je weer in Nederland verwachten?

TS: In de maand mei kom ik – insha Allah – weer een paar dagen naar Nederland, om een chirurgisch congres bij te wonen. Een groepje mensen is tevens bezig om in diezelfde tijd een mooi evenement in Amsterdam te organiseren waar ik aan zal deelnemen, met als thema iets dat met de emancipatie van minderheden in Nederland te maken zal hebben. Dat belooft echt iets unieks te worden. Bij deze weten jullie er alvast van, en jullie zullen er ongetwijfeld op korte termijn meer over horen .

(www.wijblijvenhier.nl / 28.02.2012)

Religion in the News: Islam and Politics Dominate Religion Coverage in 2011

ANALYSIS February 23, 2012

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The biggest religion stories of 2011 involved tensions over Islam and questions about faith in presidential politics, especially Mormonism, according to an annual review of religion in the news by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Events and controversies related to Islam also dominated U.S. press coverage of religion in 2010. However, coverage of some stories faded in the past year, notably coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, which received much more media attention in 2010.

Compared with topics such as politics and the economy, religion does not typically receive a lot of attention from the mainstream news media, and 2011 was no exception. When religion did make news, it was often because of accusations about extremism or intolerance. For instance, among the biggest individual stories of 2011 were a controversial congressional hearing about the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism and the fallout after a Florida pastor staged a Koran burning. And one of the top religion and politics stories of the year centered on an incident in which a Texas minister called the Mormon faith a “cult.”

The discussion of religion in social media in 2011 was quite different than the coverage in the traditional press. None of the top religion-related subjects among bloggers in 2011 was a top story in traditional media outlets. While the presidential campaign and political incidents involving Islam captured the attention of the traditional press, bloggers focused on such topics as the Rapture predictions of a Christian radio host and science and religion. Bloggers also tended to cover religion in a less sustained way than the mainstream media.

These are among the findings of a new study that examines news coverage in a broad range of mainstream media sources, as well as in blogs and on Twitter, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2011.

Among the key findings of the study:

  • Religion accounted for 0.7% of all mainstream media coverage studied in 2011, down from 2.0% in 2010. In the 52 news outlets monitored throughout the year, including the evening TV news programs, newspaper front pages, top cable news programs, top news websites and top radio programs, religion received about as much coverage as race/gender/gay issues (0.8%) and immigration (0.7%).
  • Islam has become a bigger part of the media’s focus on religion in recent years. Six of the top 10 religion stories in 2011 were about Islam. This continues a trend first seen in 2010, when four of the top five religion stories involved controversies related to Islam. In 2007-2009, by contrast, Islam-focused stories generally accounted for a much smaller share of the coverage.
  • Viewed from another angle – the specific religious faiths on which media coverage focused – Islam again ranked at the top. It was the subject of nearly a third (31.3%) of the religion ”newshole” – the amount of space and time devoted to religion news online, in print, on television and on the radio – in 2011. This was nearly three times the amount that focused on Catholicism (11.3%) and more than three times the amount that focused on Mormonism (9.6%).
  • While a variety of stories about Islam collectively accounted for the biggest share of media coverage about religion in 2011, the largest single storyline involving religion was the presidential election campaign. The campaign accounted for 13.1% of all religion coverage studied. But while it ranked first for the year, coverage of religion in the presidential election was down considerably from four years earlier, in the run-up to the 2008 election, when campaign news made up 23.8% of 2007 religion coverage.
  • An analysis of the past five years of religion coverage suggests that interest in religion tends to be heavily event-driven, at least at the top of the media agenda. In 2008, for instance, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States accounted for about 37% of all religion coverage during that year, though the visit itself lasted for only six days in April. And 82.3% of the stories about the visit were published or broadcast within that six-day window.
  • Users of another social media platform, Twitter, gave less prominence to religion in 2011 than they had the previous year. Only during one week in 2011 did a religion-focused story appear among the top five stories discussed on the micro-blogging tool. (Interest was triggered by a BBC report on a group of scientists who predicted that religion was headed for extinction in certain parts of the world.)

This examination of religion coverage in the media is built from two separate areas of research. The study of traditional news sources analyzed nearly 46,000 stories from newspaper front pages, home pages of major news websites, the first half-hour of network and cable television news programs and the first half-hour of radio news and talk shows. (For details, see the methodology.) The content of new media was analyzed separately by aggregating and coding a sample of blogs, tweets and other sources monitored by Tweetmeme, Technorati, Icerocket and Twitteruly, which track millions of blogs and social media entries. (For details, see the New Media Index methodology.)

Religion Coverage Overall in 2011

Overall, religion received somewhat less media attention in 2011 than it did a year earlier.

Of the entire universe of news content analyzed by PEJ on an ongoing basis, religion-related issues and events accounted for 0.7% of the total “newshole” or amount of space and time devoted to news online, in print, on television and on the radio in 2011. That was down from 2.0% in 2010.

religion_news-9PEJ monitors 25 different general topics in the news. At the top of the list in 2011 were government agencies/legislatures and politics/elections, followed by U.S. foreign affairs and the economy.1Religion ranked 22nd, receiving about the same level of attention as immigration, transportation and race/gender/gay issues. By comparison, coverage of science and technology, the environment and education slightly outpaced coverage of religion this past year.

Most of the religion coverage in 2011 (74.6%) dealt with stories that took place in the U.S. Less than a sixth of the coverage (15.2%) had an international focus, while 9.1% of the coverage had both domestic and international dimensions.2 The coverage of domestic stories was slightly higher in 2011 than it was in 2010, when 70.3% of religion coverage was focused on domestic topics.

Top Religion Stories of the Year

Tensions With Islam Are Becoming a Bigger Story

Six of the top 10 religion stories in 2011 focused at least in part on Islam – the highest number since PEJ and the Pew Forum began monitoring religion news in 2007. Nearly one-third of all religion coverage focused on Islam or Muslims in the U.S. or abroad. In 2010, four of the top 10 religion stories focused on Islam, and these stories accounted for 47.9% of religion coverage. Prior to that, Islam had appeared less often among the top 10 stories of each year and accounted for far less coverage: three of the top 10 stories in 2007 (3.9% of coverage), two of the top 10 in 2008 (2.2% of coverage) and one of the top 10 in 2009 (2.0% of coverage).

religion_news-2Congressional Hearing on Radical Islam 

The top Islam-related story of the year was the congressional hearing organized by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on the subject of radical Islam in the U.S., accounting for 9.4% of religion coverage. It was the No. 2 religion story overall, behind the presidential campaign.

King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, announced the hearing in December 2010. He later defended his decision to single out American Muslims, arguing that radical Islam posed a special threat to national security. “[U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder is not saying he’s staying awake at night because of what’s coming from anti-abortion demonstrators or coming from environmental extremists or from Neo-Nazis. It’s the radicalization right now in the Muslim community,” King told CNN.

The March 10 hearing included testimony from supporters of King’s premise as well as critics, among them Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, one of two Muslim members of Congress, whose emotional defense of the patriotism of American Muslims was recounted by many journalists.

The media coverage of the hearing characterized it as emotional and combative. A March 10 New York Times story said the hearing was “attacked by critics as a revival of McCarthyism, and lauded by supporters as a courageous stand against political correctness.” A Washington Post headline about the hearing declared: “Plenty of drama, less substance.”

Nonetheless, for a single congressional hearing, the King event was a big story, filling 5% of the newshole – the total space and time devoted to news coverage – for the week of March 7-13, enough to make it the fourth-biggest story of the week.

Polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that Americans were moderately interested in the hearing. During the period March 10-13, 18% of those polled said that they were following the story closely. By comparison, 15% said they were closely following the presidential campaign at the time and 52% said they were closely following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Anti-Muslim Sentiment

The third-biggest religion storyline of the year involved anti-Muslim sentiment that was not tied to any particular event. Some of these stories articulated anger or distrust of Islam, while others included defenses of the faith. Collectively, they made up 6.7% of all religion coverage in 2011.

Stories about anti-Muslim sentiment often found a home on cable TV talk shows. For example, the Feb. 2 edition of the Fox News program “Hannity” featured Imam Anjem Choudary, co-founder of the Islamist organization al-Muhajiroun, in a shouting match with Sean Hannity, the program’s host, over sharia law.

On Feb. 3, MSNBC host Chris Matthews played a clip of conservative commentator Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, speaking about the influence in the United States of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Gaffney suggested was a serious threat to domestic security. After watching the clip, Matthews expressed indignation. “Isn’t this what it’s about – pure, utter fearmongering?” he asked.

Coverage in this category also included stories about attempts by groups in Tennessee and elsewhere to counter the perceived threat of sharia law.

9/11 Commemorations 

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 provided the media with an opportunity to reflect on the experiences of Muslim Americans since the attacks. Collectively, these stories accounted for 4.2% of religion coverage for the year. That made it the fifth-biggest religion storyline of the year.

Some of the coverage was triggered by a Pew Research Center poll that found that more than half of Muslim Americans (55%) say life has been more difficult for them in the years since the attacks.

Other stories explored ways that Muslims are trying to improve their interactions with fellow Americans. According to a Los Angeles Times story from Sept. 3,  “The decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon has seen a shift in the way many American Muslims negotiate their delicate position as a minority group associated, fairly or unfairly, with the perpetrators of the deadliest acts of terrorism in the nation’s history.”

Violence Sparked by Koran Burning 

Another major Islam-focused storyline in 2011 was the plan by Florida pastor Terry Jones to stage a Koran burning. The story first surfaced in 2010 but culminated in March 2011 when Jones carried through on his threat. The act itself, however, received far less coverage than Jones’ prior talk about it, amounting to 3.7% of religion coverage for the year, down from 14.5% in 2010 when the pastor first threatened to burn the Islamic holy book. “It’s like people forgot about us,” Jones was quoted as saying in a Washington Post story on April 2. Not everyone ignored the incident, however. The event incited violence in Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of more than a dozen people, including United Nations workers. That made it news again in the United States.

On the April 4 broadcast of “NBC Nightly News,” anchor Brian Williams raised some questions about “this incident, which no one in this country knew about.” To one of NBC’s foreign correspondents, Williams asked, “We didn’t know this Koran had been lit. …. How did it then explode into violence overseas?” The correspondent went on to discuss the strength of the overseas intelligence operation of the Afghanistan insurgency, which presumably found out about the Koran burning before many Americans did.

For the year as a whole, the Koran burning episode and its aftermath were relatively small components of religion coverage, receiving about a quarter of the media attention that Jones’ threat had garnered in2010, when it first became something of a sensation.

International Stories Focusing on Islam 

Two stories among the top 10 focused on Islam and foreign affairs.

One of these, which made up 3.4% of the religion coverage, had to do with the so-called Arab Spring revolutions that swept countries including Egypt and Libya in 2011. In Egypt, for instance, a component of the coverage of these protests focused on religion, particularly on the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and the plight of Coptic Christians.

A May 30 New York Times story described fears among Egyptian Christians in the wake of the revolution. “The revolution has empowered the majority but also opened new questions about the protection of minority rights like freedom of religion or expression as Islamist groups step forward to lay out their agendas and test their political might.” Such stories appeared throughout the year on the front pages of major national newspapers.

The other major foreign story of the year involving religion related to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (1.7% of the religion coverage). A Washington Post story from May 2 focused on the ritual aspects of the death and burial of bin Laden after he was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan and his remains were disposed of at sea. A “CBS Evening News” story from May 4 explored reactions to his death by members of a Muslim family in Dearborn, Mich., a city with a high concentration of Muslims.

Other Top Stories

Campaign Coverage Focuses on Romney, Mormonism

As noted above, the single biggest religion storyline of the year was the U.S. presidential election campaign, which accounted for 13.1% of religion coverage.

More than half of the coverage of religion and the campaign focused on a single Republican presidential candidate – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith. One incident in particular drew a lot of media attention.

On Oct. 7, Texas evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry, himself an evangelical, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. In his remarks, Jeffress implied that Romney’s faith should be a concern for voters. After the event, Jeffress spoke to reporters about the matter, calling Romney’s Mormon faith a “cult.”

As NPR reported, “The Mormon religion, and the dim view of it held by so many evangelical Protestants, has mostly been below the radar so far in the 2012 presidential race,” but “Rev. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas opened a closet that had stayed pretty much closed until now….”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper challenged Jeffress during an interview, saying “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does – they consider themselves Christian, and on their website they say they accept Jesus Christ as their savior, as their redeemer, and they say, ‘each of these titles points to the truth that Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can return to live with our heavenly father.’”

Jeffress maintained his position, but added, “I think it’s better to have a non-Christian like Mitt Romney who embraces biblical values than to have a professing Christian like [President] Barack Obama who embraces unbiblical positions.” He cited Obama’s position on abortion as an example.

While the bulk of attention to Romney’s faith in 2011 clustered around the Jeffress incident, some of it lingered later into the fall. After a Pew Research Center poll revealed skepticism among some GOP primary voters about Mormonism, CNN’s Erin Burnett asked on her Nov. 23 broadcast, “Is the Mormon issue going to hurt [Romney] again?” to which CNN analyst David Gergen responded, “We’ve wondered why Mitt Romney has had a hard time breaking out as a front-runner, which typically Republican front-runners do. This poll suggests that in the mix – I don’t think the driving force, but in the mix – there is the question of Mormonism.”

While there is no clear connection between media coverage of Romney’s faith and attitudes of the public toward Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has called on the U.S. media to resist letting others speak for it. At a December Poynter Institute for Media Studies event for reporters on the subject of religion in the election, church spokesman Michael Otterson made a direct plea to those in attendance on the eve of the primaries: “Engage us directly. Include us in your sources. While you obviously will have multiple sources, please allow us to define our own beliefs and practices.”

Over the course of the year, some stories focused on which candidate would gain the most backing from evangelical voters, and some described aspects of the Mormon faith as journalists acquainted readers with Romney’s biography. Occasionally, Islam and Catholicism appeared in campaign coverage, too. But the Jeffress controversy was by far the single biggest religion story in 2011 campaign coverage, echoing some of the patterns that emerged in the 2008 campaign, when religion coverage spiked whenever there was a controversy involving a religious leader or cleric.

(For his part, Obama was the subject of little religion-related campaign coverage in 2011, just as was the case in 2007, during the run-up to the 2008 election. While half of 2007 religion-related campaign stories focused on Romney, just 5% focused on Obama.)

Westboro Baptist Church Ruling 

On March 2, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the First Amendment protects the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to conduct anti-gay protests at military funerals. News about the group comprised 4.4% of the religion coverage studied, making it the fourth-biggest religion storyline of the year.

Many of the news reports noted that the court ruling was controversial, pleasing civil libertarians but angering others, including veterans and their families. The church, based in Topeka, Kan., had become notorious for protesting at funerals of soldiers as a way of drawing attention to its position against homosexuality. During the week of the Supreme Court ruling, the church accounted for 78.5% of all religion coverage.

The ruling was closely followed by the public, with 24% of Americans saying they were following it closely, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. That was about the same percentage that said they were closely following the heated discussion about the federal budget deficit (26%).

Catholic Priest Abuse Scandal 

The scandal over sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests received less coverage in 2011 than a year earlier, though it continued to be one of the larger ongoing stories of the year (No. 6 overall). In total, 3.9% of the religion coverage studied related to the subject, down from 18.8% in 2010.

religion_news-3In 2011, 29% of the religion coverage that focused on the Catholic Church was about the sexual abuse scandal. Much of the media narrative centered on the Philadelphia archdiocese’s suspension of 21 priests in March as part of a sex-abuse investigation. A grand jury report in February had accused the archdiocese of covering up the abuse.

The rest of the coverage of the Catholic Church focused on a range of topics, including the steps being taken to declare Pope John Paul II a saint and the Vatican’s adoption of new media technology.

Religion and Education 

Rounding out the top 10 was a mix of unrelated stories about the intersection of religion and education. Collectively, these stories accounted for 2.1% of the religion coverage in 2011.

Coverage of Specific Religious Traditions

Another way of looking at religion coverage is to assess which religious groups received the most attention from the media. Here again, Islam featured prominently, accounting for 31.3% of coverage studied. That was nearly three times as much coverage as Catholicism received (11.3%) and somewhat more than was devoted to Protestantism (20.1%), including evangelical Protestantism, mainline Protestantism and African-American church traditions.

The Mormon faith was the subject of 9.6% of religion coverage in 2011, most of which focused on politics, as discussed above.

religion_news-4Themes in 2011 Religion Coverage

Still another way of examining religion coverage is to parse stories according to the broader themes they raised. All religion stories are included in this examination (a total of 302), whether they were part of continuing storylines, focused on a single event or were feature pieces.

A quarter of the coverage (25.0%) focused on religious beliefs and practices, touching on many different faiths. Nearly equal in attention was the theme of religious violence and extremism, which was found in 21.6% of the coverage studied. The vast majority of these stories focused on concerns about extremism in the Muslim community.

religion_news-5Another theme was religious tolerance, which accounted for 9.0% of the religion coverage and also included many stories dealing with Muslims. Other themes receiving significant attention were church-state issues (14.6%) and religion and politics (16.8%). And 4.1% of the coverage focused on religion-related scandals.

Religion Coverage by Sector

Does one medium cover religion more than another? This was not the case in 2011, at least when religion rose to the top of the news agenda – the front page of newspapers, the top stories online, the nightly newscasts and top cable shows. There was little variance between the media sectors, though overall, newspapers were somewhat more likely to cover religion, while the network news programs were least likely to do so.

religion_news-6The religious dimensions of the 2012 presidential campaign got the most airtime on cable, where the subject accounted for 22.2% of the coverage that related to religion in 2011.

Five Years of Episodic Religion Coverage

PEJ and the Pew Forum now have five years of content analysis data about religion in the news. That time frame is enough to look beyond the events that drive news coverage in a particular year and to provide some sense of structural patterns about how the U.S. mainstream media – at the top of its news agenda, at least – treats the subject of faith.

A few conclusions emerge. In a country that is highly religious, the subject is not a major focus of the news. In the 60 months studied, the percentage of stories on religion in any given month rarely fluctuated above or below 1-2% of the space online, in print, on television and on the radio. Another conclusion is that religion tends to make news when it engenders controversy. Deeper questions of faith and its meaning are not, typically, news. Rather, much of the coverage is event-driven. The two biggest religion stories over the past five years were the intense controversy over plans to build an Islamic center, including a mosque, near the World Trade Center site, and Florida pastor Terry Jones’ announcement that his church would burn a Koran. The third-biggest story during that time was a visit by the pope to the U.S.

religion_news-7Religion as a topic generally receives so little attention at the top of the news agenda that these momentary events often account for a large share of all the attention given to faith in the press.

For instance, Benedict’s six-day visit to the United States in April 2008 accounted for 37% of all religion coverage that year. More than 80% of the stories were published or broadcast within a six-day window around the pope’s visit.

In 2010, similarly, the Park51 Islamic center and mosque controversy was the No. 1 religion story of the year, accounting for more than a fifth (22.7%) of all religion coverage. Nearly three-quarters of the stories about the subject (72.4%) were published during a two-week period in August, after Obama gave a speech supporting the efforts to build the center. Arguably, the story was as much about presidential politics as about religion.

In 2011, this cycle was less pronounced but still noticeable. King’s congressional hearing on Islam accounted for 9.4% of the year’s religion coverage (it was the No. 2 religion story, after the U.S. presidential campaign). More than 90% of the coverage was concentrated in one week in March. (King held another hearing in June with a focus on the radicalization of Muslims in American prisons, but that event barely registered in the media.)

Religion in Social Media

As with traditional media, religion received less attention in social media in 2011, particularly in blogs. Overall, religion was among the top five subjects covered in the blogosphere for only five weeks of the year.3 That is about half the number of times religion appeared among the top five weekly topics in 2010 (12 weeks) and 2009 (11 weeks).

For the three years that PEJ and the Pew Forum have conducted such tracking, the discussion of religion in social media generally has aligned with the coverage in mainstream media. That was not the case in 2011, however. None of what emerged as the top religion stories in the mainstream media were hot topics in the blogosphere during the year.

religion_news-8The subjects that moved bloggers included the Judgment Day prediction by Harold Camping, head of the Family Radio broadcast network. Camping predicted that Saturday, May 21, would be Judgment Day and the Rapture would occur, transporting faithful Christians directly to heaven and leaving behind others on Earth to suffer through the Tribulation, as some Christians believe is prophesied in the Bible. When the day came and went, many bloggers characterized Camping’s followers as naïve. But a number of religious bloggers also discussed the incident with more sympathy for Camping, and a few commentators also said they felt badly for those who had devoted so much time and energy to the cause.

The second-biggest religion story in the blogosphere, as measured on a week-by-week basis, was a July 18 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that discussed the “psychological mechanisms behind faith.” The op-ed was the second-most linked to story in the blogosphere for the week of July 18-22, accounting for 17% of blog attention.

Twitter users did not focus very much on religion in 2011. In only one week during the year did a story about religion rise to the ranks of the top five most-tweeted topics, and that was during March 21-25, when the future of religion was much discussed on Twitter. It was instigated by a BBC story about a team of researchers who studied census data worldwide and predicted that religion is headed for extinction in such countries as Australia, Canada and Ireland.

About this Study 

The Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life made use of two primary data sources for this study. The analysis of mainstream media coverage of religion relies on data from PEJ’s News Coverage Index content analysis (see the methodology). Analysis of new media treatment of religion uses data from PEJ’s New Media Index content analysis (see the methodology).


1 PEJ’s coding distinguishes between what is called a broad topic and a big story. The entire universe of media coverage is accounted for with the list of broad topics, such as the environment, foreign affairs or government. Big stories, by contrast, are used to track discrete media narratives around singular events, for instance, the 2012 presidential campaign, the tsunami and earthquake in Japan or the 2011 federal budget showdown. Not every story in PEJ’s sample is automatically coded as a big story. (return to text)

2 An additional 1.2% of religion news content was local in nature, representing a handful of religion stories that appeared on the front pages of newspapers in the sample. (The sample is designed for the study of national and international news.) (return to text)

3 PEJ tracked the blogger news agenda for 49 of the 52 weeks in 2011. (return to text)

(www.pewforum.org / 28.02.2012)