Issue

Religion & Power

Religious faith is central to the lives of billions, a driving force in everything from family structure to relationships within and among the world’s nation states. It is also the venue, and often the source, of conflict.

Religion and Power presents Pulitzer Center reporting on these themes from throughout the world—from the explosive growth of megachurches in Africa and Latin America to intra-Islam schisms of the Middle East, to the self-immolation of Tibetan Buddhist monks and Buddhist soldiers running roughshod over the rights of Burmese Muslims, to the struggles of faith groups everywhere to come to terms with human sexuality.

In some parts of the world, notably China, governments that long suppressed religious expression are now invoking those traditions as part of the solution to environmental and other challenges. Elsewhere, from majority-Catholic Philippines to Muslim Indonesia, religious doctrine on issues like reproductive rights is in uneasy dialogue with the forces of modernization and globalization.

In Religion and Power, we aim for reporting that tackles these tough, core issues—but without the easy stereotypes and caricature that too often make journalism a tool for demagogy. In the Pulitzer Center reporting presented here we seek instead to be a force for understanding.

The Pulitzer Center’s reporting on religion and public policy issues is made possible through the support of the Henry Luce Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, and other Pulitzer Center donors.

 

Religion & Power

Waiting In Amman

Fans swing back and forth on their columns.The pale woman with dyed black hair, alone in the lobby, staring off into space.The worn wooden desk, the framed portrait of the Hashemite King, the row of keys for rooms that have not been rented in years, the plastic ashtrays scarred by the cigarettes of decades of people left waiting here - just as we are waiting.

She turns, startled, 'Any news from Susan? - We went to school together in Chicago - you know her, I'm sure. . .. . .I'm sure you know her.'

Jameel picks me up in his taxi, on the edge of the third circle. In his wallet is a picture of his father's house in Al Khalil.

The tense heavy feeling of life clotted on hot asphalt - Saadi says - 'like harbor air clots in sea-shells'.

In Mahata, Jawad, sits in his room. The muhabarrat have raided the markets again, and it is not safe to work. . . the scars from his torture have faded now and no Western embassy will take him. Every day he waits for the knock on the door that will send him home to die.

Eight circles of Hell in Amman, you reach the ninth through the airport to Baghdad.

Communications, complications, frustrations

I shouldn't have time to blog this, but I do. That's because we are sitting in the hotel again, with nowhere to go. So far today, Plans A, B, C and our ad hoc plan D have all fallen through. This is due to a mix of not being able to reach people we were supposed to be able to reach, and having some people who promised us meetings having decided against it at the last minute. Everything must be carefully coordinated ahead of time, and it's usually the case that more important things come up for many people than hosting a couple of journalists.

The communications in Iraq, despite the introduction of cell phones
in the post-invasion period, are notoriously bad. There are three
competing cell phone networks across the country which work depending
on the situation and your location, and we have also bought a satellite phone. The general lack of electricity contributes to the problem. 

"In Iraq, you can have four wives and four phones," one of my friends jokes.

So reviled and ubiquitous is the message that plays when a phone cannot be reached ("the number you are calling is either turned off or out of the coverage area") that I've heard otherwise reasonable Iraqis say they'd swear allegiance to the mujahedeen if they were to assassinate the woman who recorded it.

David Enders reports on fighting between Sadrists and the US military in Baghdad

13 people were killed in the second day of fighting between Jeish al-Mehdi and U.S. and Iraqi troops. The U.S. military says it has targeted Iraqi militants linked to Iran in East Baghdad during the last two days, sparking firefights that have left at least twenty-seven people dead, including a Reuters photographer. Today, U.S. troops fought and killed at least six Iraqi police in the neighborhood of Fadhilia. Click the image below to download the RealPlayer radio report.

Listen to this report.

Three more journalists killed

The streets were quiet as we drove back to our hotel this afternoon. Eerily quiet. It was a bit disconcerting until we remembered that the Iraqi football team was playing Australia in the Asian cup.

Iraq won 3-1, provoking celebratory gunshots after the game. Afterwards, as I walked to a nearby restaurant to get dinner, the streets in the neighborhood around the hotel were full of kids playing soccer. The harsh midday sun had given way to the soft light of evening, and I enjoyed a peaceful moment in what had otherwise been a depressing day, spent investigating a round of fighting on Thursday that had led to the deaths of a Reuters photographer and his assistant, as well as a dozen fighters and civilians, depending on whose account one believes.

The incident is another example of how hard it is to get to the bottom of things here, and it didn't help that the amount of time we were able to spend in the neighborhood was limited by the potential that the people giving eyewitness accounts might decide to vent their anger on us rather than to us.

Also today, a journalist working for the New York Times was killed.

That brings the official total of press and support staff killed to 150, though likely it is higher.

Alamin

According to residents, US fire directed at this minibus during a firefight in Baghdad's al-Amin Ithania neighborhood killed seven, including two Reuters employees.

Funeral

Residents of al-Amin Ithania prepare for the funerals of three people killed on Thursday.

Ninth circle

Navigating Amman is usually done by referencing its traffic circles, most of which have been assigned numbers: you get into the cab and ask to go to the 7th Circle, 3rd Circle, whichever. I'm not the first to riff off Dante with regards to Amman, but it was hard for Rick and I to ignore that the last circle (which is on the way to the airport) is the 8th Circle, suggesting that, as you travel further east, the 9th Circle is... do I need to say it?

Anyway, day two in Baghdad was a wash. We spent most of it in the hotel as the translator we hired was confined to his neighborhood by a US military raid against the Jeish al-Mehdi, which might explain why so many mortars hit the Green Zone today. (The BBC reported 12, al-Jazeera international reported 30.)

Am finding as I speak with people about what is possible that it is far more difficult to move around here than it was the last time I was here, in May 2006. The increasing tensions between the Sadrists and the government, as well as continued fighting between the Jeish al-Mehdi on the military, have everyone on edge and expecting worse.

And Dante was wrong about the ice in the 9th Circle. It's toasty here.

Jordan

We arrived in Baghdad from Amman yesterday. Today has been spent so far on logistics such as getting cell phone SIM cards and setting up interviews, so I'll reflect quickly on Jordan and begin blogging about Iraq in my next post.

Related Events