If you thought the story of Bryant Neal Vinas, the Long Island Muslim convert who joined Al Qaeda and quickly rose through the ranks before being arrested last fall, was bad for Muslim public relations, the news emerging today of a North Carolina Muslim gang is a PR nightmare. Not helping the situation is the way in which the indictment of these seven individuals, who allegedly planned to wage "violent jihad," is being reported.
This, for example, comes from a relatively short story from The Washington Post:
At the center of the ring is Daniel P. Boyd, 39, who trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s before fighting the Soviet Union, authorities said. Boyd, a Muslim convert, returned home and three years ago allegedly began recruiting a group of men to wage jihad.
Also known as "Saifullah," or sword of God, Boyd raised money to send his acolytes on a visit to the Middle East, according to an indictment handed up by a grand jury last week and unsealed Monday.
The indictment mentions conversations between Boyd and another defendant who shared his views, and e-mail messages that Boyd sent to a third defendant that "extolled the virtues" of dying a martyr.
Members of the group "radicalized" younger converts to believe that "violent jihad was a personal obligation on the part of every good Muslim," the indictment said. The defendants, who include Boyd's sons Zakariya and Dylan, could all face life imprisonment if convicted.
The reporter implies that what Boyd taught these members is contrary to the values extolled in most American mosques. But that's not actually explored.
I hoped that Boyd's local Raleigh News & Observer would offer more, but, alas, it did not.
In fact, the most detailed report on this case came from the Daily Mail:
Boyd's beliefs did not concur with his Raleigh-area moderate mosque, which he stopped attending and instead began meeting for Friday prayers in his home, said Holding.
"These people had broken away because their local mosque did not follow their vision of being a good Muslim," Holding said. "This is not an indictment of the entire Muslim community."
In 1991, Boyd and his brother were convicted of bank robbery in Pakistan -- accused of carrying identification showing they belonged to the radical Afghan guerrilla group, Hezb-e-Islami, or Party of Islam.
Each was sentenced to have a foot and a hand cut off for the robbery, but the decision was later overturned.
Their wives told reporters in an interview at the time that the couples had U.S. roots but the United States was a country of "kafirs" -- Arabic for heathens.
Wow. There is a treasure trove of unexplored stories in those five paragraphs. Home prayer services -- is that common? A moderate mosque -- care to elaborate? Convicted of bank robbery -- uh, what would Muhammad do?
And, as was the case with the mosque that Vinas frequented, the story quotes someone saying this is not a charge against the Muslim community but never says what made these folks different.
I imagine few American Muslims dream of being martyred in Jordan -- Jordan? -- or Kosovo -- isn't that war over? -- but we're not actually shown the differences between a group of rogues and mainstream Muslims. And, as we've learned in the past, even mainstream Muslims can have some surprising ideas about when violence and martyrdom are acceptable.
Take for instance this conversation that I had with a Muslim student after the Pew Research Center reported two years ago that 26 percent of Muslims, ages 18-29, thought suicide bombings were at least sometimes justified:
"Muslim or not Muslim, we all fear death. Blowing yourself up is not something everyone can do or something that everyone has the courage to do," said Billoo, the outgoing president of Long Beach's Muslim Student Association. "But don't get me wrong: I'm not saying we should all go around America doing that; Palestine is a different situation. There is a huge difference between saying we should do it and saying I'm going to be a suicide bomber. I just think it is something that Islam justifies."
One thing these stories never seem to do is explore what Islam really teaches. And maybe that is because there is such disagreement and maybe it's because some of the Quran's passages are violent to the point of objectionable. (The Bible has some of those too.) But what are we, the uneducated, non-Muslim readers supposed to learn from these stories if reporters tell us there are differences between radical Muslims and moderates, but don't actually show it?
"Jihad for Dummies" from Flickr