WSJ profiles Nigerian terrorist with no mention of ‘Christians’

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Is there a religion angle on the heartbreaking story of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls?

Of course there is, as GetReligion has made clear in previous posts, including tmatt’s insightful analysis titled “So #bringbackourgirls is finally a news story! Why now?”

From that post:

The bottom line: The girls were taken from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School and the vast majority were Christians and the others were Muslims who were willing to attend a non-Islamic school with Christians, a violation of Boko Haram’s vision of true Islam.

So when a top Wall Street Journal editor touted that newspaper’s front-page profile of the terror group’s leader, I was curious to see if the story would reflect the important role of religion. (Tip: If you get the subscriber-only version when you click the link, Google the headline and you should be able to open the full story.)

Let’s start at the top:

ABUJA, Nigeria — When he appeared in a video on Monday boasting of having abducted more than 200 schoolgirls, the leader of terror group Boko Haram took the occasion to egg on the U.S. Army and get in a dig at ancient Egypt.

“We don’t fear any American troops,” shouted Abubakar Shekau, whose Islamist insurgency has terrorized northern Nigeria and recently drawn search-and-rescue advisers from the U.S. and other countries. “Let even the Pharaoh himself be sent down here! We will deal with him squarely!”

Bombastic and bellicose, Mr. Shekau has shown a boundless appetite for celebrity. He has sought to achieve it through mass murder and most notably through the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in April from a boarding school in the country’s north.

By boasting—and laughing—about these deeds on YouTube, often with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder, Mr. Shekau has attained the distinction that has long eluded him: Africa’s most notorious terrorist.

“He seems to want to distinguish himself by the depth of his brutality,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former counterterrorism chief at the State Department who is currently director of Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. “It is a big part of his calling card.”

Way up high, there’s the reference to “Islamic insurgency.”

A little deeper in the story, the Journal provides this important background:

Mr. Shekau has achieved this ignominious rank through a willingness to slaughter. Boko Haram has killed more than 7,000 people in the past two years alone, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Most of the group’s victims are Muslims deemed too close to the Nigerian state or insufficiently devout. Boko Haram loosely means “Western Education is a Sin” in the local Hausa language.

And later, this:

Mr. Shekau has taken responsibility for the murders of a series of imams who spoke out against him, dubbing what they did as “Boko Halal,” loosely translated as “Western Education is Permitted.” Last week, Boko Haram took responsibility for killing more than 300 villagers near the Cameroon border, many of them huddled in a mosque.

Still deeper in the meaty profile, there’s more:

Mr. Shekau preaches about a state he says has failed its people. In his view, Nigeria has been rendered irredeemably corrupt, first by colonialism then by English-language education and an overly liberal interpretation of Islam.

And finally, this:

For years, Mr. Shekau lingered in obscurity as the second-in-command of Boko Haram. For most of the early 2000s, the group was encamped 2 miles from the Niger border. Members called the community “Afghanistan” and attempted to build an Islamic utopia free from the corruption and crime of everyday Nigeria, said analysts who have followed the group’s emergence.

Residents of his hometown of Maiduguri said Mr. Shekau drove his motorbike while reading a Quran balanced on his handlebars. Many Western and African officials say they believe he traveled to Mali to train with militants there. Mr. Shekau has said he has never left Nigeria.

But among the 1,700 words in the Journal’s mostly enlightening account, one word never appears: Christian.

That seems strange, given that a story in the previous day’s Journal reported on a video claiming that some of the abductees have converted to Islam and included this reference to the girls’ faith:

In the town of Chibok, the father of one of the missing girls said he hadn’t yet been able to see the video, but that he was both hoping to see his daughter on it and worried about the idea of her having converted to Islam.

“Most of the girls who have been kidnapped, they are Christians, and now that they are on the side of Islam, it is very disturbing for all us parents,” said Lalai Mutah, who said he has heard nothing of his teenage daughter since she was taken.

Is there a religion angle on this heartbreaking story? We already answered that question.

Is there a Christian angle? That seems obvious, too, even if this particular Journal story fails to connect the dots.


About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://www.sarahstirman.com/ Sarah S.

    And that is why we need journalists like you. This is a “what do we expect from the WSJ” kind of thing… but so so sad.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Thanks, Sarah!

      Actually, I expected better from the WSJ. It’s one of my favorite newspapers and does a nice job reporting on religion most of the time.

  • David_Throop

    http://www.vox.com/cards/nigeria-kidnapping/basics

    Ezra Klein’s new media venture at Vox.Com has an 8 card review of the kidnapping. It mentions that half of Nigerians are Christian, but make no other mention of Christianity in the story.


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