At this point in the growing Iraq crisis, I think it is safe to say that European journalists, in comparison with their American counterparts, are much more comfortable putting the words “caliphate,” “sharia” and “decapitated” at the top of their news reports. Soon to come, bold references to the fate of “apostates” and perhaps even “Christians.”
Consider this sprawling headline in The Daily Mail:
ISIS butchers leave ‘roads lined with decapitated police and soldiers’: Battle for Baghdad looms as thousands answer Iraqi government’s call to arms and jihadists bear down on capital
At the same time, journalists are — accurately — stressing the looming clash between Shia and Sunni groups, especially with threats to Shiite holy places. They seem less willing to deal with the truly historic exodus — word carefully chosen — of thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities who are being forced to flee their ancient centers in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Where are they going?
So what is happening now in the mainstream coverage? The second-day Washington Post story is a good place to start. Note, at the very top, that al-Qaeda is back in the picture:
IRBIL, Iraq — Iraq was on the brink of falling apart Thursday as al-Qaeda renegades asserted their authority over Sunni areas in the north, Kurds seized control of the city of Kirkuk and the Shiite-led government appealed for volunteers to help defend its shrinking domain.
The discredited Iraqi army scrambled to recover after the humiliating rout of the past three days, dispatching elite troops to confront the militants in the central town of Samarra and claiming that it had recaptured Tikrit, the home town of the late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, whose regime was toppled by U.S. troops sweeping north from Kuwait in 2003.
But there was no sign that the militant push was being reversed. With the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria now sweeping south toward Baghdad, scattering U.S.-trained security forces in its wake, the achievements of America’s eight-year war in Iraq were rapidly being undone. Iraq now seems to be inexorably if unintentionally breaking apart, into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish enclaves that amount to the de facto partition of the country.
So, essentially, are the Kurds now the keepers of the region’s “safe” zone? What does Turkey have to say about that?
The most sobering details in this Post report have been placed way down in the text, as opposed to being featured in bold headlines backed with links to horrifying video reports.
Meanwhile in Mosul, one of Iraq’s most important cities, ISIS set about asserting its control, issuing an 11-point charter spelling out the creation of an Islamic state along with new laws, punishments and incentives. Alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are outlawed, citizens will henceforth be required to pray five times a day, thieves will have their hands amputated and women must stay indoors except in cases of emergency, the charter said.
“To those of you who ask, who are you? The answer: We are the soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria … who took it upon ourselves to bring back the glory of the Islamic Caliphate and turn back injustice and indignity,” the charter announced.
It also struck a conciliatory note, telling citizens that those who embraced its vision would be forgiven. “Whoever hated us yesterday is safe, unless he rejects, fights or abandons Islam,” the charter said. Those who oppose their new rulers, however, will be “killed, crucified or have their hands and feet cut off,” it added.
In other words, these kinds of details were — in previous days — elements of “conservative” and “religious” media reports. Now they are creeping into the lower reaches of mainstream American reports.
It’s clear that the mainstream scribes are trying to figure out how to describe ISIS, working with the assumption — accurate — that the radical fringes of Islam in Syria and Iraq have not been getting in-depth mainstream coverage on this side of the pond. Thus, we have a massive ISIS explainer from CNN, under the headline, “ISIS: The first terror group to build an Islamic state?”
This piece is very strong on history and is essential reading, if for that reason alone. Consider this:
In 2006, al Qaeda in Iraq — under the ruthless leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — embarked on seemingly arbitrary and brutal treatment of civilians as it tried to ignite a sectarian war against the majority Shia community.
It came close to succeeding, especially after the bombing of the Al-Askariya Mosque, an important Shia shrine in Samarra, which sparked retaliatory attacks.
But the killing of al-Zarqawi by American forces, the vicious treatment of civilians and the emergence of the Sahwa (Awakening) Fronts under moderate Sunni tribal leaders nearly destroyed the group.
Nearly, but not quite. When U.S. forces left Iraq, they took much of their intelligence-gathering expertise with them. Iraqi officials began to speak of a “third generation” of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Please help us survey the waves of coverage in the next few days. The key: Has anyone dedicated ink and journalistic manpower to finding out what is happening on the roads north from Mosul? I am seeing next to nothing, in terms of facts. Yes, I am — as an Eastern Orthodox Christians — especially concerned about this angle of this regional tragedy. I admit that up front.