Yes, it’s crucial that Boko Haram kills and tortures Muslims

YouTube Preview Image

Yes, we need to focus on Nigeria and Boko (“books”) Haram (“forbidden“). Again.

Why? Why keep coming back to the mainstream coverage of this story?

For starters, the scope of the story is only getting bigger with the planned — limited — intervention of the Obama White House in the efforts to find and rescue the 270-plus teen-aged girls who were abducted last month by this terrorist network. Reports about the precise number still being held as slaves and potential forced brides have varied, according to different sources that are trying to determine how many girls have or have not escaped. The vast majority of the girls are Christians, but some are Muslims.

This story has climbed out the obscure back pages dedicated to non-entertaining horrors on the other side of the world and up into the prime ink-and-video terrain noticed by the masses. I also believe that, as this has happened, mainstream journalists have been doing a somewhat better job of dealing with the religious elements of this story. We are past the stage where our most powerful newspaper can say that Boko Haram is doing mysterious things for mysterious reasons while seeking mysterious goals and that is that.

But I still think one crucial element of this story is receiving inadequate coverage. More on that at the end of this post.

To see how the coverage is changing, consider the following background material in a new Los Angeles Times story about the White House involvement:

On Capitol Hill, all 20 women in the Senate signed a letter asking Obama to pressure the United Nations Security Council to acknowledge Boko Haram’s ties to Al Qaeda and to ask the U.N. to consider international sanctions. The group has already been cut off from U.S. financial institutions. …

Boko Haram’s shadowy leader, Abubakar Shekau, has a $7-million U.S. bounty on his head. He said in a video that surfaced Monday that God had commanded him to sell women in the market, adding that girls should marry, not go to school. An April report by the International Crisis Group think tank said Boko Haram “has grown more ruthless, violent and destructive” since Shekau became leader in 2009. The group’s fighters are dispersed in northeastern Nigeria and in nearby Cameroon and Niger.

Covering the evidence of connections between this network and Al Qaeda, and the influence of the Taliban, is a step forward in that it recognizes that this is the kind of group that represents a truly radicalized form of Islamism. It allows journalists to place the religious statements by Boko Haram in a specific context.

Next, readers are told:

[Read more...]

Nairobi: Recite this confession of faith and live

The hellish events in Nairobi’s Westgate Premier Shopping Mall continue to unfold under the digital gaze of the world’s media. However, some of the most poignant and gripping elements of the story are as old as the region’s battles of conquest and conversion.

Soon after the story broke, I noted the following detail in The Washington Post, part of a story that did little to explore the religious elements of the terrorist attacks. That quote:

One injured victim said the attackers had ordered Muslims to leave the premises, in an apparent attempt to target non-Muslims. The victim, an American, told this to a friend, who recounted it to a Washington Post reporter. Other witnesses gave similar accounts to other news organizations.

The al-Shabab militia gunmen ordered Muslims to leave, unharmed. But how did they know who was a Muslim and who was not?

The implication was that — in some cases — the terrorists were challenging some of the hostages and victims in person-to-person confrontations. Thus, I wrote:

It’s very early for specific details, and I get that. The most common statement in these reports is that the gunners simply shouted instructions for non-Muslims to flee and refused to shoot those who immediately responded. However, do not be surprised if, as the terrorists hunted from store to store, the story is more complex than that. In Syria, rebels have been offering Christians the choice to convert to Islam, on the spot, and avoid death.

Anyone who has followed the history of religious persecution in the Middle East, with dominant religious groups crushing religious minorities, could have seen the forced-conversion theme coming.

Surely veteran reporters — after watching recent events in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere — knew to ask those who fled the scene about this fact of death and eternal life?

Meanwhile, here is another related story: Rest assured that if members of ancient liturgical churches died in this massacre, after being urged to convert by the mujahideen, there will be people who will make the case for these victims to be hailed as martyrs. The new martyred saints if Kenya? It could happen.

So what has happened in subsequent coverage?

[Read more...]

Triumph of the stringer in the Nairobi massacre coverage

YouTube Preview Image

African reporters are coming into their own with the stories coming out of Kenya this weekend. If you step back from the reports on the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi — now entering its third day as of the writing of this post — and look not at the content of the news, but how it is being presented, you can see examples the changes taking place in journalism. Advances in technology, newspaper and network business models, and the worldviews brought to the reporting by journalists have resulted in different stories today than would have been written 10 years ago.

Religion is part of the story. In the last week Boko Haram has killed over 150 Nigerians, the Taliban has killed 70 plus churchgoers and the Mall death total is expected to rise.  All of the attacks were undertaken by Muslim terrorist groups, and the initial reports suggest they were targeting non-Muslims.

Twitter and the internet have changed the game. The police, the president of Kenya and the terrorists (if the tweets from the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab which claim responsibility are to be trusted) have taken to Twitter or posted statements on the internet to release information that in the past would have come from press conferences or interviews. This story written by AFP and printed in The Australian as “More hostages freed as explosions rock mall complex” draws on on-the-scene reporting from local stringers and staff, statements posted on the web, Twitter tweets and press conferences.

The quantity of information has increased, but has the quality? By this I do not mean discrepancies such as the Red Cross reports 69 dead and the police report 59, as noted in this Reuters report. Twitter provides immediacy, but no context. The Shabelle Media Network in Mogadishu reports that al-Shabaab has identified the names and nationalities of the killers.  Three are listed as Americans (two from Minnesota and one from Kansas City), one Briton and one Finn amongst the Somali and Kenyan terrorists.  Major news — “Twin City killers in Nairobi Mall Massacre” — but can we trust it? I have no idea who the Shabelle Media Network is, and their report is drawn from a Twitter post.

[Read more...]

Religious facts in the slaughter in upscale Nairobi mall

YouTube Preview Image

Based on the mainstream media reports pouring out of Kenya, it’s clear that the terrorist attacks on the high-end Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi had a lot to do with religion.

CBS News even managed to get one of the most gripping religious details into its lede:

Gunmen threw grenades, fired automatic weapons and targeted non-Muslims at the upscale Westgate mall in Kenya’s capital on Saturday, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens more, a Kenya Red Cross official and witnesses said.

How, precisely, do two trained squads of gunmen, according to reports, specifically target non-Muslims?

It’s very early for specific details, and I get that. The most common statement in these reports is that the gunners simply shouted instructions for non-Muslims to flee and refused to shoot those who immediately responded. However, do not be surprised if, as the terrorists hunted from store to store, the story is more complex than that. In Syria, rebels have been offering Christians the choice to convert to Islam, on the spot, and avoid death.

This is merely one symbolic detail from a hellish scene. However, it is interesting the degree to which some mainstream news organizations downplayed the religious motives in the massacre, stressing the merely political. Here is typical language near the top of an early Washington Post report:

On Saturday night, the al-Qaeda-linked Somali militia al-Shabab appeared to claim responsibility for the assault, saying it was in retaliation for Kenya sending troops to fight in neighboring Somalia, where it remains a key military actor. In a tweet from the group’s official Twitter handle, @HSM_Press, the militia said that it “has on numerous occasions warned the #Kenyan government that failure to remove its forces from Somalia would have severe consequences.”

“The Kenyan government, however, turned a deaf ear to our repeated warnings and continued to massacre innocent Muslims in Somalia,” it said in another tweet.

The militia said that its “Mujahideen” had entered the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall about noon and that they were “still inside the mall, fighting” Kenyans on “their own turf.” In another tweet, the militia said that “what Kenyans are witnessing at #Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military.”

Quite a bit later in the story, the Post team notes:

[Read more...]

Islamist crimes against humanity in Mali

The Washington Post has a tough, but very important, read on the deteriorating situation in Mali. The first point to make is to thank the paper for devoting the resources necessary to bring to light this story about terrorism against vulnerable people. It can’t be easy and it’s deeply appreciated.

The story begins with Fatima Al Hassan being sentenced to 100 lashes with an electrical cord for giving a male visitor to her house. We’re told that “Islamist radicals” who’ve seized the north are to blame. We’re told that a coalition of Western and regional powers are preparing to retake northern Mali within the next year.

But such an action, if approved by the U.N. Security Council, is unlikely to begin until next summer or fall, U.S. and other Western officials say, and political turmoil in the south is adding to the uncertainty. That has raised fears that the extremists could consolidate their grip over the Texas-size territory and further terrorize civilians, particularly women and children.

“The people are losing all hope,” said Sadou Diallo, a former mayor of the northern city of Gao. “For the past eight months, they have lived without any government, without any actions taken against the Islamists. Now the Islamists feel they can do anything to the people.”

Refugees fleeing the north are now bringing stories that are darker than those recounted in interviews from this summer. Although their experiences cannot be independently verified — because the Islamists have threatened to kill or kidnap Westerners who visit — U.N. officials and human rights activists say that they have heard similar reports of horrific abuses and that some may amount to war crimes.

I had previously criticized a piece for writing about the horrors in Mali using a single anonymous source. I liked the way this reporter acknowledged the limits to verifying reports, while doing a great job of working around that problem.

Early in the piece, I hoped we’d learn about what religious beliefs separated these Islamists from the Muslims they’re terrorizing. While that was not as well fleshed out as I may have hoped for, we did get specifics about what the Islamists are doing:

The refugees say the Islamists are raping and forcibly marrying women, and recruiting children for armed conflict. Social interaction deemed an affront to their interpretation of Islam is zealously punished through Islamic courts and a police force that has become more systematic and inflexible, human rights activists and local officials say.

We’re told that the radicals have “imposed a hard-edged brand of sharia law, echoing Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, in this West African country where moderate Islam has thrived for centuries.”

I have suspicions about how moderate sharia and a hard-edged sharia differ but could have used some help spelling it out. Is it a difference in degree of punishment? A difference in what is deemed worthy of punishment? Something else altogether? And the things these radicals are doing — depriving people of basic freedoms, destroying historic tombs, denying children education, ridding the country of doctors and nurses and clinics — what, exactly, is the religious defense for these things? We’re told they’re doing them for religious reasons but I could use some info about the particular religious reasons.

Anyway, the situation sounds just horrific. Roving police squads scour neighborhoods for violations. A healthy amount of the story is devoted to the practices of rape and forced weddings.

[T]he Islamists have … encouraged their fighters to marry women and girls, some as young as 10, and often at gunpoint. After sex, they initiate a quick divorce. In an extreme case that has shocked the country, a girl in Timbuktu was forced last month to “marry” six fighters in one night, according to a report in one of Mali’s biggest newspapers.

“They are abusing religion to force women and girls to have intercourse,” said Ibrahima Berte, an official at Mali’s National Commission for Human Rights. “This kind of forced marriage is really just sexual abuse.”

In a telephone interview, a senior Islamist commander conceded that his fighters were marrying young girls.

“Our religion says that if a girl is 12, she must get married to avoid losing her virginity in a wrong way,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha, the military leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the three radical groups ruling the north. The other two are al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the network’s North and West Africa affiliate; and Ansar Dine, or “defenders of the faith.”

And kudos for getting a military leader on the phone to admit to the practice and explain the religious loophole. We’re also told how the radicals manipulate Muslim sentiment to buy children:

“They give $10 to impoverished parents to recruit their children in the name of defending Islam,” said Gaoussou Traore, the secretary general of Comade, a Malian children’s rights group. “The Islamists tell parents that their children will go to paradise, that they will benefit in the next world.”

I like the use of quotes to quickly explain how this practice works.

A section of the story deals with the practice of destroying or vandalizing businesses deemed unIslamic:

Inside his barbershop, Ali Maiga, 33, had a mural of hairstyles favored by American and French rappers on the wall. The Islamists sprayed white paint over it, he recalled, and warned him that he risks being whipped if he shaves off anyone’s beard.

This just reminds me of my requests for additional information on the trial of Nidal Hasan. He’s claimed he can’t shave his beard for religious reasons. I’ve wondered why this claim hasn’t been explored by journalists. Which schools of Islam teach this?

Anyway, this piece is well worth a read. It’s well written and well reported. The ending is quite powerful, too.

Self censorship at the New York Times

An International Herald Tribune report about Pakistan seems a bit confused as to what constitutes sectarian violence. Written under the title “Christian Aid Worker Is Shot in Pakistan” the article from the New York Times’ international edition ties together three different stories in one article. But it does not want to say why.

This story with a dateline of Hong Kong is a compilation of Pakistani press reports and wire service bulletins. As per its ethical reporting standards, the Times‘ man acknowledges his debt to these sources, though he did make a few phone calls to provide some original material to the stories. As this is a first report on the incidents I am not that concerned with how complete it is or if all the facts are properly nailed down. My interest in in how the reporter laid out his story given what he had in hand.

And it is the construction of the article and the unwillingness to state the obvious that leads me to say the Times has lost the plot.

The shooting of Swedish missionary, an attack on a Ahmadiya graveyard, and the kidnapping of a Jewish-American aid worker all have something in common (it is called militant Islam) but the Times’ reporter appears at a loss as to how to put the pieces together. Last month the New York Times brought on board as its CEO Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC. It also appears to have taken on board Thompson’s policy of treating Islam with kid gloves.

Here is the lede:

HONG KONG — A Swedish woman doing charity work through her evangelical church was shot outside her home in Lahore on Monday, according to news reports from Pakistan. A gunman riding a motorcycle fired at the 72-year-old woman as she got out of her car in the upscale Model Town neighborhood.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The article then goes into the details as they were known of the attack and then links to the second subject with this transitional sentence:

But early Monday morning in Model Town, gunmen tied up the caretakers of an Ahmadi cemetery and desecrated more than a hundred grave markers, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The Times gives details of the attack on the graveyard, notes that Ahmadiya Muslims are “considered heretical by mainstream Muslims”, and recounts past terror attacks and government fostered discrimination against the Ahmadiyas.

The story closes with the tale of a kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein seized by al Qaeda last year. Details of Mr. Weinstein’s plight are offered and a quote from an earlier Times story is offered.

Mr. Weinstein, now 71, also appeared in a video in September, embedded below, in which he appeals for U.S. acceptance of the Qaeda demands. At one point he addresses Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying:

Therefore, as a Jew, I’m appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish state of Israel, one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf. To work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family.

These three stories share the common theme of extremist Muslim violence against religious minorities in Lahore: Christians, Ahmadiyas and Jews. What then is the problem I have with this article, you might ask?

Look at the second sentence of the story.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The choices the Times is offering the reader are: a) the shooting of the Christian missionary was a sectarian act; or b) it was not a sectarian act but somehow linked to the attack by Salafist Muslims against an Ahmadiya graveyard. Perhaps I am thick but I do not see the distinction between a and b. Are they not both sectarian attacks?

And by adding in Mr. Weinstein’s case, which also took place in Lahore and also has a religious element — an American Jew being held captive by Muslim extremists who is forced to make a plea to the Israeli prime minister for his life — the militant Islam links are all there. But the Times does not want to connect the dots.

Why? Maybe the author was in a rush to get something into print quickly and mangled his syntax. Or is this an example of the Times‘ stifling political correctness? Is the Times heading the way of the BBC and self-censoring its stories?

In March 2012 the Daily Telegraph carried a short item reporting on Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast a show that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although the BBC was willing to disregard protests from Christians who considered its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera as an affront, Mark Thompson, its outgoing director-general, is more wary of giving airtime to Can We Talk About This?, the National Theatre’s examination of how Islam is curtailing freedom of speech.

Lloyd Newson, the director of the DV8 physical theatre company which staged the new work, challenged Thompson to screen his production during a platform discussion at the theatre.

He pointed out that Jerry Springer: The Opera was a lot more controversial because it was a “satire”, whereas his work, consisting of a series of comments and factual statements set to dance, is “a factual piece”.

Thompson’s spokesman tells me: “We are currently working with the National on various ideas. There are currently no plans to broadcast Can We Talk About This?, but this is not due to the play’s content or themes.”

In the past, Thompson has conceded that there is “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam”. He claimed that because Muslims were a religious minority in Britain, and also often from ethnic minorities, their faith should be given different coverage to that of more established groups.

Has more than Mark Thompson crossed the Atlantic from London? While the Times has long been a bastion of PC reporting, its aping of the BBC’s supine stance on Islam is disappointing. The hiring of Mark Thompson did not cause the New York Times to engage in self-censorship on Islam — but I suspect courage will not be one of the strengths he will bring to his new post.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X