At play in China: repression of Muslims or Islamic terrorism?

One side points to a series of brazen attacks attributed to Islamic extremists.

The other side complains of religious and ethnic persecution by government authorities.

Washington Post story last month highlighted worsening relations between Chinese leaders and Muslim Uighurs in that nation’s western Xinjiang region.

Key history from the Post:

For years, many Uighurs and other, smaller Muslim minorities in Xinjiang have agitated against China’s authoritarian government. Their protests are a reaction, Uighur groups say, to ­oppressive official policies, ­including religious restrictions and widespread discrimination.

The government has long denied oppressing Uighurs or any other ethnic group and has blamed terrorist acts on separatist Muslims who want to make Xinjiang an independent state.

In a report titled “Who are the Uighurs?” BBC News noted:

Activists say central government policies have gradually curtailed the Uighurs’ religious, commercial and cultural activities. Beijing is accused of intensifying a crackdown after street protests in Xinjiang in the 1990s, and again in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Over the past decade, many prominent Uighurs have been imprisoned or have sought asylum abroad after being accused of terrorism. Mass immigration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang had made Uighurs a minority in Xinjiang.

Beijing is accused of exaggerating the threat from Uighur separatists in order to justify repression in the region.

The above background helps understand the context of a front-page Wall Street Journal story today that features this provocative headline:

Web Preaches Jihad to Chinese Muslims

(Hint: If you hit a paywall when you click the story link, try Googling the exact words of the headline to get an “article free pass.”)

The top of the WSJ story:

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Major Nidal Hasan talks about faith, like it or not

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Some may disagree, but I think we have reached the point where we can say that journalists in the mainstream press are going to have trouble keeping the religion angle out of the coverage of the Fort Hood trial of U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan.

It will be hard to stay faith-free, now that Hasan wants to be granted the death penalty — to die the death of a martyr. He also has offered his apologies that he didn’t do a better job of representing his holy cause during his act of what the White House at one point called “workplace violence.”

Hasan, of course, has stated that his attack on his Army colleagues at Fort Hood was an act to protect other Muslims, an act carried out after his own solitary preparations to act on what he believed were his duties as a Muslim. It’s crucial to stress the degree to which he stood apart from other Muslims, other than some contacts on the Internet.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to talk about his motives without getting into the religious details of the life of this troubled believer, especially since Hasan is acting as his own lawyer and spokesperson.

But Reuters, among others, is giving it a try. Here’s a key chunk of one report from the courtroom:

Hasan, who opened fire on unarmed soldiers days before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan, also told the jury he switched sides in what he called America’s war on Islam, saying, “I was on the wrong side.” He has previously said he was protecting fellow Muslims from imminent threat.

He spoke quietly from his wheelchair, taking off a green knit cap when the court was in session.

The standby defense team wants to avoid being forced by the court to help Hasan achieve the death penalty, calling such a goal “repugnant to defense counsel and contrary to what our professional obligations are.”

At this point, it would really help to explain to readers why Hasan wants to die, while the representatives of the military want him to live. Why do I think that?

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Reporting on Islam and lone-wolf terror attacks

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Details are continuing to emerge on Wednesday’s murder of British soldier Lee Rigby near the Woolwich barracks in London — a crime described by Prime Minister David Cameron as a terrorist attack.

The killing was carried out by two British nationals of Nigerian origin who converted to Islam from Christianity within the past few years. MI5, the British domestic security agency, is reported to have been aware of the radical nature of their religious beliefs, but until Wednesday the two had not done anything to warrant prosecution. No terrorist groups have yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Like the Fort Hood shooting and last month’s Boston Marathon bombings, the Woolwich killing appears to have been a lone-wolf attack — a terror attack carried out by an individual or small group on the radar of the FBI or MI5 but not under the operational command of the terrorist organization like Al Qaeda or the Taliban. While no evidence has so far been published that connects these local cells with overseas terrorist groups, the radicalization via the internet of the terrorists in Cambridge, London, and Texas draw upon a common religious or ideological indoctrination from the wider jihadist movement.

The British press appears to be following the Greenberg template for reporting on Islamist terror attacks in its coverage of the Woolwich jihad murder. In 2009 GetReligion scribe Brad Greenberg outlined the progression of stories in the American press on Maj. Nidal Hasan and the Fort Hood shootings.

Start with shock and awe. Then, as information starts to get out, report that the suspected shooter has an Arabic name. Confirm that he was, in fact, a Muslim. Once that has settled in, add to the story about motive the possibility of jihad and the references to 9/11. Finally, within short order, fill out the picture with a story about American Muslims condemning the alleged act of their misguided brother.

Some things remain the same. The Muslim Council of Britain has denounced the murder is being unrepresentative of Islam and the Thursday print editions put the killers’ jihadist motivations at the top of their stories.

The Daily Mail led its story with photos of the two knife-wielding killers with this extended caption:  “2.20pm on a suburban high street, Islamic fanatics wielding cleavers butcher a British soldier, taking their war on the West to a new level of horror”.  It opened with:

‘You people will never be safe,’ he declares in a clear south London accent. ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ In broad daylight, he and an accomplice had just repeatedly stabbed and tried to behead an off- duty soldier in front of dozens of passers-by. Throughout the frenzied attack they shouted ‘Allah Akbar’ – Arabic for ‘God is great’ – then demanded horrified witnesses film them as they ranted over the crumpled body. The two black men in their 20s, waited calmly for armed police to arrive before charging at officers brandishing a rusty revolver, knives and meat cleavers.

The Daily Telegraph reported:

“A BRITISH soldier was butchered on a busy London street yesterday by two Islamist terrorists, one of whom proclaimed afterwards: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The Guardian:

A man suspected of staging a terrorist attack that left a British soldier dead near a military barracks in London, was caught on camera clutching a meat cleaver and knife in hands apparently covered in the blood of his victim, as he justified the violence as part of a jihadist-inspired fight against the west.

The Independent:

Terrorism returned to the streets of Britain yesterday when a soldier was murdered by two suspected Islamists who attempted to behead and disembowel him as he left a barracks, in the first deadly attack since the 2005 London bombings. One of the suspected killers, who addressed an onlooker who had a camera, said the pair had carried out the attack “because David Cameron, [the] British government sent troops in Arabic country”.

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