In recent times, several conservative commentators have complained about the lack of positive stories coming out of Iraq. But to judge by this morning’s paper, nobody can accuse the editors of the Washington Times of not doing their darndest to put a positive spin on nuggets of information coming out of the region.
Case in point: this morning the Times published a front-page story under the optimistic headline, “‘Good news’ from northern Iraq.”
So what was the cause for optimism?
According to the Times, these days, with Saddam Hussein safely behind bars, hundreds of Kurds in Northern Iraq are converting from Islam to Christianity, and doing so safely.
This was not one of those much-maligned stories reported from the safety of a hotel balcony in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Rather, the Times had gotten this scoop by sending a reporter out onto the mean streets of Northern Virginia.
There, on Monday night, in a church in McLean, a retired Iraqi general turned evangelical Christian lectured the gathered congregation about the progress of reconstruction vis-a-vis Iraqis’ conversions to Christ.
“Retired Iraqi Gen. Georges Sada, a former fighter pilot turned Christian evangelist, says Kurds are converting to Christianity ‘by the hundreds’ in northern Iraq,” reported the Times.
Leave aside for the moment the question “Good news according to whom?” (It hardly seems likely that, say, patriotic Americans who happen to also be devout Muslims would consider such conversions “good news.”)
“The ‘good news’ from Iraq’s turbulent religious scene, consisting mainly of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim militias battling each other, is from the Kurds,” Sada reported, according to the Times. “Kurds are creating a constitution that does away with Shariah, or Islamic law, a move counter to trends in other Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, where leaving Islam is a capital offense and Christian converts are often killed.”
How many Christian converts are there in northern Iraq? The Times never really tells us. According to the story’s single Iraqi source, there are “growing numbers of evangelical Christians in the Kurdish city of Irbil,” where recently 854 Christians gathered for a conference.
And how exactly has life in Northern Iraq improved for these converted Christians? We never learn. Basically, the Times’ story hinges on a lone quote, which the general — who currently serves as the president of the National Presbyterian Church in Baghdad — attributes to the prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in Irbil, who supposedly said that he’d rather have Kurdish Muslims convert to Christianity than to become radical Muslims.
Unfortunately for the Times a single, second-hand quote does not a convincing trend piece make.
Which is not to say that the topic of how Christians are currently fairing in Iraq doesn’t interest us.
Back in May, 2005, Susan Taylor Martin wrote a captivating piece for the St. Petersburg Times about how, in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, life had gotten much more dangerous for many Iraqi Christians. As a result, according to Martin, as many as 20,000 Iraqi Christians had taken refuge in nearby Syria, where their religion is, in general, tolerated.
So are Christian Iraqis now also migrating to the Kurdish-controlled north? Once again, the Times doesn’t tell us. And, in general, the newspaper’s editors haven’t done anything close to the amount of reporting needed to confirm that Christians in northern Iraq are, in fact, better off these days.
In their rush to put the “good news” from Iraq on the front page, the editors at the Times seem to have overlooked one minor detail — actually gathering the news.
And as far as we can tell, you’re unlikely to gather and confirm that information by sitting for a few hours in a church pew in Northern Virginia.