JihadJane’s impulse

Maybe you’ve had a bad week. You hate the melting snow, you’re recovering from a cold, maybe you hate your job. You’re ready to take it out on someone, but it would probably take more than a bad week for you to get the motivation to conspire to kill an artist in Sweden over a cartoon.

Apparently, that’s what Colleen R. LaRose, a blonde, green-eyed American from the suburbs of Philadelphia, wanted to do. The woman who called herself “JihadJane” on the Internet is linked to others who were allegedly plotting terrorist acts.

The woman is linked to seven people arrested in Ireland yesterday over a plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks who, in 2007, depicted the head of the prophet Mohammad on the body of a dog. That year, an Al Qaeda leader put a $100,000 bounty on Vilks’s head.

Here’s more on “JihadJane” from the Los Angeles Times.

The indictment, which also mentioned but did not identify five unindicted co-conspirators, said that LaRose first came to the attention of the FBI in June 2008 when she posted a comment on YouTube under the user name “JihadJane.” She stated that she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” Muslim people.

By December of that year, she was allegedly e-mailing one of the conspirators about her desire to become a shahed, or martyr.

A second conspirator e-mailed her in January 2009 about a similar commitment, the indictment alleges. “I tried twice but I wasn’t successful . . . [but] I will . . . try until Allah will m[a]ke it easy for me,” the conspirator told LaRose.

This is more than just a bad week. Can you guess what the story misses? Everybody say in unison: religion. We have hints here and there that she wanted to help Muslims, but there’s no exploration of whether she converted to Islam or what. A reporter talk to the neighbors who suggest she never discussed politics or plots, but did the reporter consider asking about her religious beliefs?

The New York Times report explains a little bit of her desire to help Muslims, but the story doesn’t explore her motives.

The indictment said that in mid-2008, Ms. LaRose, using the aliases JihadJane and Fatima LaRose, began posting on YouTube and other Internet sites messages about her desire to help Muslims. A MySpace profile for a woman who refers to herself as JihadJane displays pictures of bloodshed and violence in the Middle East scrawled with messages like “Palestine We Are With You” and “Sympathize With Gaza.”

By early 2009, the court papers said, she was exchanging e-mail messages with unidentified co-conspirators in Southeast Asia and Europe and expressed a desire to become a martyr for an Islamist cause.

The Guardian headline suggests that she’s a Muslim convert but doesn’t offer any proof or further explanation. Why would she kill or die for another religion? There’s no need for speculation, but do any of her internet postings reveal anything about her faith? Perhaps the police reports failed to offer clues about her faith, but reporters could indicate that a little better. Unfortunately, people often lump Muslims together as if they are one monolithic group. The more we understand which strains of thought this woman was exploring or what kinds of leaders were influencing her thinking, we can understand the story a little bit more.

Perhaps you remember the Danish newspaper cartoons of Muhammad that sparked protests in Muslim countries in 2006. In these new stories about the Swedish cartoonist, I would’ve also liked to see an explanation of why depictions of Muhammad would be so upsetting and more details about how Muslims view blasphemy. An Associated Press report about the cartoon includes one simple sentence that the other press ignored.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

A little explanation goes a long way. However, it’s worth exploring whether there are differences in Islam over depictions of Mohammed, as Mollie has suggested in the past when she picked up a portion of a column by Charles Moore:

There is no reason to doubt that Muslims worry very much about depictions of Mohammed. Like many, chiefly Protestant, Christians, they fear idolatry. But, as I write, I have beside me a learned book about Islamic art and architecture which shows numerous Muslim paintings from Turkey, Persia, Arabia and so on. These depict the Prophet preaching, having visions, being fed by his wet nurse, going on his Night-Journey to heaven, etc. The truth is that in Islam, as in Christianity, not everyone agrees about what is permissible.

Now if only other outlets would explore the religion element a bit further.

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  • Jerry

    My local paper had a picture of her wearing a hijab. Is this picture worth a story full of words?

  • Mollie

    This coverage has been so frustrating. This story, for instance, is all about how LaRose’s boyfriend says she wasn’t religious but then, out of the blue, it describes her as a “convert to Islam.”

    There’s very little substance in these reports. This other CBS report only mentions Islam in conjunction with Nadal Hassan.

  • Noora

    Nice post. To try and answer your question at the end regarding the cartoon depiction and images in Islam, the problem was regarding defamation of an honorable person. The cartoonist recently said the cartoon was somewhat of a criticism of all religions. In a way, that is true, at least for Muslims. A Muslim would never defame Jesus, whom we hold as a Messenger of God, and we know that true Christians would also not defame holy men of other traditions. So, in effect, the cartoon was against religion, as defamation is not what religious people do, period.
    I think the point brought out about this woman is very, very valid and raises a similar point: was she religious. As a Muslim, I would say, of course not as, again, this is not how religious, God-conscious, people behave -regardless of faith.
    From the pictures, with and without a scarf, she appears mentally unhinged.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for the feedback. Yes the photos suggest there’s more to the story. Let us know if you see further good or bad coverage in the coming days.

  • Martha

    Well, I’m still in a complete state of gobsmackedness, seeing as how those seven people arrested in Ireland are actually based around here where I am.

    I don’t even know what exactly is going on; first reports said that some of them were from Morocco and Yemen, and now the local news is saying that there is a Croatian man and American woman.


    “9th March: Seven people are in Garda custody in Waterford tonight, in connection with an investigation into a suspected plot to commit murder in another country.

    The operation – across Counties Waterford and Cork – followed co-operation between authorities here, Europe and the United States.

    It’s believed the intended victim of the conspiracy was the Swedish cartoonists Lars Vilks

    His cartoon depicting the Prophet’s Mohammad head on a dog caused outrage when published by a newspaper in Sweden.

    An Al-Qaeda leader had offered a hundred thousand dollars for anyone who killed him.

    However Superintendent John Gilligan of the Garda Press Office refused to confirm that today.

    This morning, detectives arrested three men and two women in Waterford and Tramore and another man and woman at Ballincollig, near Cork city.

    It’s understood those arrested may have links to north Africa and the Middle-East while another is thought to be a Muslim convert from a European country.

    They are being held for questioning under Section 50 of Criminal Justice Act 2007 at garda stations across Waterford.”

    “11th March: Seven people being questioned about an alleged plot to kill a swedish cartoonist have period of detention extended Last Updated Mar 2010

    Two people arrested over an alleged plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist have appeared in court in Waterford.

    Three men, their wives and one other man were detained in Waterford and Cork for suspected involvement in an international plot to murder Lars Vilks, who controversially depicted the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog.

    The Croatian man and American woman who appeared before Waterford District Court today, had their period of detention extended – they can now be held for a further 72 hours.

    The other five suspects appeared for a closed court hearing last night and can also now be held for a further 72 hours of questioning.”

    I would not have said that my county was a hotbed of international terrorism (the homegrown variety is another matter) so yes – very surprised, to say the least.

  • Martha

    It’s also sounding as if politics is involved, though with the reporting restrictions over here, there is little information percolating out as yet.

    Besides the Crotian man and American woman, the other five are “three Algerians, a Libyan and a Palestinian”, so we’re seeing a connection with North Africa and the Middle East, and tying in with what your news report says about this woman’s alleged sympathy for Gaza and Palestine, it sounds as if this is not merely about the Danish cartoons themselves, but part of some wider – well, wider what? Message to the West? Attempt to claim the bounty as a war chest for some other plot?

    I have no idea what is going on here and I really would like to know more, seeing as how it’s on my front door step (up to last Summer, my sister and her family lived in Tramore, where one of these conspirators was arrested).

  • Maureen

    Why are you even bothering with the news organizations? They’re not the ones with the story. Jawa Report are the ones who reported “Jihad Jane” to the FBI.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Maureen, we deal with mainstream journalism at GetReligion. Do you have links for better stories out there that deal with religion?