Time, Reuters Refer to 'Martyrs' with Scare Quotes in Stories Noting Fatal Persecution of Syrian Christians

January 8th, 2014 5:15 PM

Apparently to Time magazine and Reuters, using the term "martyr" to refer to a Christian slain for the sake of his or her faith -- often at the hands of "radical Islamists" -- is deserving of scare quotes.

"Deaths of Christian 'Martyrs' Doubled in 2013," reads the top item in the "latest headlines" sidebar at Time.com. Clicking the link takes you to a story by Charlotte Alter at Time.com, who in turn referenced reporting by Reuters:

Reports of Christians dying for their faith almost doubled between 2012 and 2013, with more Christians martyred in Syria last year than the worldwide total for 2012.

Open Doors, a non-denominational group that supports persecuted Christians, said Wednesday that 2,123 Christians were killed because of their faith in 2013, up from 1,201 last year, and that 1,213 martyrs were recorded in Syria alone, Reuters reports.

The organization named North Korea as the most dangerous country for Christians for the 12th year in a row, followed by Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S.-based group also said that radical Islamists were the main source of persecution in many of the countries on the list, and that hostility towards Christians was increasing in Africa.

To Alter's credit, she herself did not use scare quotes in her story, although her editors used them in the story's headline. The original story by Reuters  did deploy scare quotes in both headline and the story itself.

Here's an excerpt of Reuters religion editor Tom Heneghan's January 8 story, "Reported Christian 'martyr' deaths double in 2013: report":

Reported cases of Christians killed for their faith around the world doubled in 2013 from the year before, with Syria accounting for more than the whole global total in 2012, according to an annual survey.

Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, said on Wednesday it had documented 2,123 "martyr" killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. There were 1,213 such deaths in Syria alone last year, it said.

"This is a very minimal count based on what has been reported in the media and we can confirm," said Frans Veerman, head of research for Open Doors. Estimates by other Christian groups put the annual figure as high as 8,000.

The Open Doors report placed North Korea at the top of its list of 50 most dangerous countries for Christians, a position it has held since the annual survey began 12 years ago. Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were the next four in line.

The United States-based group reported increasing violence against Christians in Africa and said radical Muslims were the main source of persecution in 36 countries on its list.

"Islamist extremism is the worst persecutor of the worldwide church," it said.

Of course, this is one organization's count and it's possible that some of the documented cases are killings motivated by things other than religious animus, although, as Heneghan noted, it's far more conservative an estimate than other Christian groups have made. That being said, Heneghan could have written something like, "Open Doors claims it has found evidence of 2,123 martyr killings in 2013 compared with 1,201 in 2012." That language would convey a modicum of skepticism without cavalierly dismissing the plight of persecuted Christians in the way that scare quotes communicates.

The harsh and often fatal persecution of Christians around the world -- but particularly in heavily Muslim countries -- is a legitimate and underreported story in the media. Shame on Time and Reuters for spitting on the graves of those executed for the crime of peacefully exercising their faith.