In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

The monstrous, history-making events in northern Iraq can overwhelm reporters and audiences alike, as our own tmatt noted a few days ago. But rather surprisingly, coverage has broadened in breadth and depth and enterprise.

A huge variety of outlets -- from Time to Vox  to Fox to the BBC to The Guardian to Al-Arabiya  to the New York Daily News -- have weighed in with coverage, analysis and background. They're not all equally good, of course.

An outstanding example of perspective is in the Washington Post, where veteran reporter Terrence McCoy examines the reasons for the brutal, merciless warfare waged by the Islamic State. He cites several sources who say that the crucifixions, beheadings and mass killings are no mere battlefield excesses -- they were planned as tools to paralyze some people, polarize others.

One of the more fearsome excerpts:

The glorification of extreme violence using social media is one of the defining aspects of the Islamic State. The Sunni militants wield savagery like a tool, analysts say. It’s neither extemporaneous nor undisciplined. It’s concerted. It’s tactical. It’s evil. And that’s the point.

“There’s a strategic reason behind the executions,” wrote the Washington Institute’s Aaron Zelin. “And the gruesome pictures posted online for all to see.”

The seeds of today’s brutality were perhaps sown long ago in a 2006 book called “The Management of Savagery,” wrote expert Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker. The book, written by a radical Islamist thinker named Abu Bakr Naji, details patterns of “abominable savagery” witnessed in both the Islamic State and its earlier incarnations. According to this English translation, it calls for an “administration of savagery” and a merciless campaign to polarize the population, attract adherents and establish a pure Sunni caliphate. “We must make this battle very violent, such that death is a heartbeat away, so that the two groups will realize that entering this battle will frequently lead to death,” the book says.

Just think, none of that came from Fox News.

Sometimes, the sheer numbers can crystallize an overview. Huffington Post  supplies 15 of those. A few samples:

* Miles controlled by the Islamic State: 13,000, roughly the size of Belgium.

* Fighters of the Islamic State: 30,000-50,000.

* Assets: $3 billion, thanks to the banks the Islamic State has looted and property it has seized.

* Christians in Mosul: Zero, since the recent mass expulsion.

* Jailbreaks carried out by the Islamic State: 3, freeing 1,500 insurgents, "likely including leaders, bomb makers and other militants."

The Yazidis, members of a ancient, syncretic religion (merging beliefs from other religions), are the subjects of literally millions of recent reports. Among the best is HuffPost again, with a primer on the religion, its people and their prospects for survival.

The link-rich story gives brisk, solid info on Yazidi demography, theology and religious practices.  It also explains the deific Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel, the basis of the Muslim accusation that Yazidis are devil worshipers.

I'm especially grateful for HuffPost adding this: "In the months since its rise, the Sunni-identified Islamic State has gone after many religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria, including Christians, Shiite Muslims, Shiite Turkmen, Shiite Shabaks, and of course the Yazidi." Lately, many media have gotten so fascinated with the Yazidis, they ignore the many other victims.

A brisker, more visual presentation of Yazidi beliefs comes from the BBC. In a little over a minute, the video shows a masterful montage of stills, music and text on these ancient, threatened people.

Not that all of the reports are equal, of course. USA Today offers a typically surface treatment, offering infobits on Yazidi numbers, location and the plans of the Obama administration to rescue them. Religiously, the most USA Today can say is that their faith "includes elements of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam."

The Financial Times compiles several reports into a long analysis, majoring on geopolitics and showing little interest in the religious dimensions. One of the few exceptions is this paragraph:

The lightning advance of these Sunni supremacists has caught defenceless minorities, such as Christians and the Yazidi sect, in its path, facing them with the ultimatum to convert or die. Isis openly threatens the Shia – a majority in Iraq but a minority in Islam – with extinction. Fanning out with discipline and deliberation from its cross-border stronghold in the upper Euphrates valley, battle-hardened in Syria and tactically astute, Isis is well on the way to creating a new Afghanistan in the heart of the Middle East, and opening a corridor to the east Mediterranean.

Reuters has an intriguing story out of Brussels, where foreign ministers in the European Union are scheduled to meet over Iraq today (Friday). The article has them planning to discuss a united front, including counterattacks both military and financial.

An anti-ISIS front could include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, even Iran, the article says. Unfortunately, it's all from an unnamed source.

 

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