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"the spiritual leader"

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 24, 2004

Thanks to Terry Mattingly for the link to probing questions raised by Jeff Sharlet concerning the reporting about the recently killed Sheik Ahmed Yassin:

Why has our press ignored the "spiritual" dimensions of this "spiritual leader"? Two possibilities. One is that the journalists assigned to cover the Middle East are political reporters. They approach religion as simply a veneer for political motives, and rarely bother to learn its intricacies.

The other, deeper problem, is with the narratives available for religion stories even when a reporter tries to pay attention. Most religion writing is divided between innocuous spirituality and dangerous fanaticism, with subcategories for "corruption," "traditionalism," and wacky.

Yassin's broad support amongst Palestinians forces the press to concede that he was not purely a psychopath channeling his aggression through religion. And yet he was certainly not "innocuous." Corruption can't explain him, as he was revered for his honesty with Hamas funds, and, despite the use of empty terms such as "fundamentalism," nor can traditionalism, since his violence grew out of his rejection of tradition.

So what does our press do? Nothing. A major enemy of peace in the Middle East has just been killed, and yet we learn almost nothing about what made him fight or why he is mourned. Opponents and supporters of the Palestinians remain in the dark, uninformed by a press incapable of breaking the narrative to investigate -- and perhaps help eradicate -- the roots of terrorism. It's easier to stick to the "he-said/she-said"-with-guns version of events that reduces it all to retaliation, to hopeless spirals of violence and ancient ethnic hatreds, to enmity without reason.

This suggests a collateral point. If we accept Max Weber's distinction between leadership and authority, should the men we call (informally, not canonically) our "spiritual leaders" lead?

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Mar. 24, 2004 5:08 PM ET USA

    Calling Yassin the spiritual leader of Hamas is akin to calling Adolf Hitler the spiritual leader of the National Socialists. For God's sake, we're not talking about the Knights of Columbus here! In any case, Yassin's supporters should not be mourning his passing. According to his own "spiritual" teaching, he has died a martyr and is now in Heaven eating sweet cakes and cavorting with virgins. God is indeed great.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Mar. 24, 2004 4:25 PM ET USA

    I have simpler explanation: the media allows spiritual leaders to self-identify so Al Sharpton (a little bit violent and a little bit nutty) is one as well. More in my blog.

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