Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Religion and US Media Coverage of the Tsunami

Hi Again,

Many of you may have noticed that while the overwhelming majority of victims of the tsunami are South and South East Asians, most of the people being interviewed by the US media are either Americans or other westerners. One announcer on CNN had the decency to be embarrassed about it and try to make an excuse about not having access to anyone else (what ever happened to investigative journalism??). I've begun to notice another development. The few non-western people being interviewed have an strong tendency to be Christians. CNN even did a prolonged interview with a guy from Sri Lanka who believes he stopped the tsunami in mid air by shouting Bible verses at it. Another story about 2 widowed sisters made a point of mentioning that they were Christians. Interviews with aid organizations and refugee centers have been predominantly run by Christians. Prayer vigils among the Sri Lankan immigrant community in the USA are shown to be led by Christian ministers. I have watched A LOT of this coverage since I'm on vacation and I have not seen any interviews with Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim clergy (check out recent cartoons by Danziger on the link to the right). From the coverage one might get the impression that Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand have large Christian populations. I have to admit, I didn't know for sure and I've heard that South Korea actually does have a surprisingly high percentage of I looked it up in an atlas I got on sale at a local book store. Here are the religious affiliation percentages for the most seriously effected countries:

Indonesia: 86.9% Muslim, 9.6% Christian, 1.9% Hindu, 1% Buddhist, .6% other
Thailand: 94.4% Buddhist, 4% Muslim, .5% Christian
Sri Lanka: 69.3% Buddhist, 15.5% Hindu, 7.6% Muslim, 7.5% Christian, .1% other
India: 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.4% Christian, 2% Sikh, .7% Buddhist, .5% Jain, .4% other
Maldives: 100% Sunni Muslim

There are some Christians but they are nothing like a large part of the population.

Comments? Discussion?


Raised By Republicans said...

CNN recently did a story about how hard the Tsunami is hitting Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia (thousands are missing and this will likely be by far the deadliest disaster in Scandinavian history since a volcano in Iceland destroyed half that country in the 1700s). They did the entire story from the santuary of the Cathedral in Stockholm - as if to say, "these poor Swedes are so troubled by the disaster that they are turning to their faith blah blah blah."

Now, I've lived in Scandinavia before and I can tell you that few things have less relevance to modern Scandinavians than religion. The vast majority of Scandinavians NEVER go to church. While the technically join the state church out of a sense of tradition, they do not practice. Indeed, during the CNN story the church was notable for its relative emptiness.

The media seems to be over compensating for their under coverage of the role of religiosity in the 2004 election. In other words, the so called "liberal" media has capitualated in the Culture War.

US West said...

NPR this morning made a slight remark that these were heavily Muslim areas. The context was a discussion with and NPR reporter about the usefulness of the US Pledge of $350 mil. He said, of course, would perhaps go far in increasing the good will in this part of the world. He also mentioned that it was the largest pledge besides that of Japan, which was at $500 mil. And who will give me $550 mil? Anyone? Anyone? I have $530 mil from the large country at the back of the room. It is a wonderful disaster to own, folks. Do I hear $550 mil?

Dr. Strangelove said...

Nicely put, USWest. It does feel like an auction. (World Bank goes to $250, Bush jumps to $350, and then Japan steals our thunder with $500 mil.) Now the trick is to make sure we all actually follow through with our pledges. Ask the Afghanis how much pledges of $ from the west can be worth...

Anonymous said...

Try watching fox news . They mention over and over again that the areas most effected have a high muslim population.Although I am not a christian I have to say that the presence of christian care groups in these muslim areas can not be discounted.You might be heartened by the large donations being given by private citizens from the U.S..The donation numbers so far are staggering.It looks like this will break all records .

US West said...

I tend to be critical of my countryfolk. But it is worth thinking about some of what makes Americans great: our generosity. One thing Americans are always ready to do is help and no one in the world gives as much private donations as Americans do. Most average Americans are aware on some level of how lucky we are, and we do sense a responsibility to share a little. Thus, we were all told to clean our plates since so many in the world had nothing to eat. And I think that part of Americans is underappreciated.

Another thing: When we give aid numbers, we often forget the aid that isn't counted, such as equipment donations, etc. The UK, for instance, donated cranes and lifts so that aid packages could be removed from the planes, and as noted previously, Fed Ex donated a plane. That is hugely important. It is really about a lot more than money. All the money in the world is useless if you can't get logistical equipment on the ground. Providing aid is a complex process that requires great deals of coordination.

As for Christian groups providing the aid: I am sure there are Muslim groups also helping. These are often the very organizations that have local connections and the logistical resources to provide aid. And I know that historically in the Middle East, American Missionaries were present, but did not actively try to convert. In fact, most of them (I am talking about back in the 1800s, I can't speak for now) figured out that trying to convert Muslims was pointless. And instead, if the likes of Robert Kaplan is to be believed, they rather enjoyed the lifestyle they had in places like Lebanon.

So let's not be too quick to be skeptical of religious groups helping out.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I keep waiting for the Religious Right to claim that the Tsunami happened the day after Christmas because these people were not Christian. So if they would accept Jesus as their personal savior, he would stop killing them, including the little unbaptized babies. I'm sure they've already said it, but even Fox News is afraid to put it out publicly.

US West said...

In case there was any doubt about US motivations:

From an AP article today quoting Colin Powell:

"I hope that as a result of our efforts, as a result of our helicopter pilots being seen by the citizens of Indonesia helping them, that value system of ours will be reinforced," Powell said.

The United States bankrolls humanitarian relief in part "because we believe it is in the best interest of those countries and it's in our best interest," Powell said. "It dries up those pools of dissatisfaction that might give rise to terrorist

Raised By Republicans said...

I'm not against Christian based groups giving aid to those who need it.

But I am dissappointed at the disproportionately Christian face that is being put on this disaster both with regard to the victims and the aid agencies. If its being done because editorial boards believe aid won't be forthcoming unless Americans think it will go to Christian victims or be chaneled through Christian organizations then I suppose we'll have to sadly accept that.

What I'm afraid of is that this will be seen as an opportunity for conversion and missionary work. During the depression Christian relief organizations like the Salvation Army were famous for forcing poor people to sing hymns before they could get food or shelter. Christians like to talk about God's love being unconditional, but their Earthly support rarely comes without significant strings attached.

That the US media is so completely sold on this Christianization of everything agenda makes me fear for American society. Was the 20th century just an aberation? Something to be wholy undone!?

Dr. Strangelove said...

I also worry about the Christianization (Christification? Christianitism?) of the U.S. media and popular culture... but I have a feeling RbR's fears are unwarranted in this case. A veritable tsunami of assistance (is that in bad taste?) is hitting the disaster area, provided and administered by organizations, nations, and people of all faiths.

I suspect that the abundant, positive references to Christianity in the U.S. media stem largely from an unconscious effort to counter the symbolism (remarkably un-remarked-upon by the U.S. media) of another mega-catastrophe occuring on Christmas weekend.

US West said...

It could also be a way to downplay the real motivation, which is to buy Muslims with gifts of aid. But the cat is out of the bag. See my earlier post.

I also suspect that for journalists, it is easier to get access to Christians for some reason. Maybe the Christians are more willing to speak to journalists, or maybe journalists tend to stay in more "Christian" dominated areas. But I can't really back this up with anything. It is an honest specualtion on my part. If anyone has an answer, I'm interested.

US West said...

Actually, the thought occured to me that religion shouldn't even matter here at all. I am a little surprised that people are even going to the trouble to state that victims are Christian or otherwise, anymore than you state that the victims were dark skinned vs. white. And this, RBR, is the trend that bothers you. Rightfully so.

It is true that American networking talk (the type we all do in bars to find employers and lovers) used to be your name, your job, where your were from, and your education. Now it's your name, your job, your religion, and the rest. It does represent a shift in the American psychie. And it is a shift brought, I think, by increasing exposure to places and cultures (such as the Middle East) where religion is an issue.

US West said...

Sorry about blogging 3 times in a row, but Le Monde is reporting that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has suspended collection efforts over concerns about how the money would be spent. MSF has collect some 40 mil Euro, which it says is more than enough to finance the programs directed at the tsunami disaster. Its argument is that the contributors are giving funds for the Tsunami victims and thus, surplus funds should not be shifted to other disasters as this would be dishonest. You can imagine that MSF is under fire from other aid organizations. But it points to the problems we encounter is giving and distributing aid. It is a gutsy move by MSF, but a correct one, I believe.

Dr. Strangelove said...

USWest: I remember hearing about MSF on NPR. I still don't understand why the other organizations are upset, really. I think the message from MSF should simply be:

"Thanks everyone for all your generosity! Actually, we're overwhelmed by it. We're not that big an organization and believe it or not, you've filled us up. Even if you were to donate more money to us, I'm afraid we just couldn't do any more than we already are for the tsunami victims. But trust us, there are lots of really good organizations, larger than ourselves, that really need your help on this. Please, please donate to them instead!"

Well, if they haven't made that clear, they should. Seems simple enough to me!

Anonymous said...

Latest from Oz: the Australian government has pledged $1 billion (USD ~$800 million) in aid to Indonesia. This is a package over five years, including direct donations and low interest loans, on top of existing donations and requests that the Indonesians decide how it will be used.

The following comes from The Age newspaper. Oxfam policy director James Ensor, who is in Jakarta, said Australia had set a fine example for other nations. "There are some important aspects to this announcement other rich countries should follow at today's summit," he said. "Firstly, the aid package consists of new aid money and will not involve reallocating aid away from other humanitarian crises such as that in the Darfur region of Sudan. Secondly, the five-year package represents a long-term commitment to reconstruction and poverty alleviation in Indonesia."

Personally, so far, I am impressed. A substantial, long-term commitment where we work with the country receiving aid, rather than telling them what to do with it. It should be interesting to see what happens given the summit about to occur in Jakarta today.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I heard the Norwegian diplomat who called USA's first offer of $4 million "stingy" remark today that if he had anything to do with setting off the round of "competitive compassion" surrounding the tsunami relief funds then he was thankful for it.

The AUS pledge is stunning. I can't help thinking that the specific round-number amount of the pledge was designed to make a point as well as to contribute--but I was most impressed that (a) the aid is for the long term, and (b) they are asking the Indonesians how best to spend it. (Presumably the Sri Lankans will also be asked at the Jakarta summit). How nice to *ask* the recipients what they want for the long haul.

I hope this sets a new international standard. And heck, I hope the U.S. does even more. It would not be appropriate to try to claim that the U.S. was the most compassionate nation on Earth, but we are certainly among the most competitive--and if AUS wants to take us on in the realm of money, they will lose... and the people of Indonesia will win! :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd go with another competition with the USA. Let's be fair and make it $/capita. We'll assume that your per capita GDP being 50% higher than Australians is balanced by the neocons in the Whitehouse (after all apparently Bush eats kittens).

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