Some media fixate on the land or tribal alliances. Some dig into history or listen to Washington. Few look at religious roots of the conflict.
The new angle is that the leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has rebranded his jihadist group the Islamic State and declared the birth of a modern-day caliphate, an old-fashioned transnational kingdom ruled by Islamic law. Since the caliphate was run by the Sunni branch of Islam, religious and historical currents clearly underlie the announcement.
Unfortunately, many reports keep those currents way under the surface.
Typical of the brisk-but-shallow approach is that of the Washington Post. Here’s how they styled the new events:
BAGHDAD — The extremist group battling its way through swaths of Iraq and Syria declared the creation of a formal Islamic state Sunday, building on its recent military gains and laying down an ambitious challenge to al-Qaeda’s established leadership.
In an audio statement posted on the Internet, the spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria announced the restoration of the 7th-century Islamic caliphate, a long-declared goal of the al-Qaeda renegades who broke with the mainstream organization early this year and have since asserted control over large areas spanning the two countries.
The Associated Press, to my surprise, did a little better in their story on the rebranded ISIS. The article spells out the Islamic State’s actions in classic shariac terms:
The showcase of the extremist group’s vision of its Islamic state is Raqqa, a city of 500,000 in northern Syria along the Euphrates River. Since expelling rival rebel groups this spring from the city, the militants have banned music, forced Christians to pay an Islamic tax for protection, and killed violators of its interpretation of Islam in the main square, activists say.
Elsewhere, the story skips a little lightly over facts that would help us understand the violence: