JihadJane's impulse

Maybe you've had a bad week. You hate the melting snow, you're recovering from a cold, maybe you hate your job. You're ready to take it out on someone, but it would probably take more than a bad week for you to get the motivation to conspire to kill an artist in Sweden over a cartoon.

Apparently, that's what Colleen R. LaRose, a blonde, green-eyed American from the suburbs of Philadelphia, wanted to do. The woman who called herself "JihadJane" on the Internet is linked to others who were allegedly plotting terrorist acts.

The woman is linked to seven people arrested in Ireland yesterday over a plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks who, in 2007, depicted the head of the prophet Mohammad on the body of a dog. That year, an Al Qaeda leader put a $100,000 bounty on Vilks's head.

Here's more on "JihadJane" from the Los Angeles Times.

The indictment, which also mentioned but did not identify five unindicted co-conspirators, said that LaRose first came to the attention of the FBI in June 2008 when she posted a comment on YouTube under the user name "JihadJane." She stated that she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" Muslim people.

By December of that year, she was allegedly e-mailing one of the conspirators about her desire to become a shahed, or martyr.

A second conspirator e-mailed her in January 2009 about a similar commitment, the indictment alleges. "I tried twice but I wasn't successful . . . [but] I will . . . try until Allah will m[a]ke it easy for me," the conspirator told LaRose.

This is more than just a bad week. Can you guess what the story misses? Everybody say in unison: religion. We have hints here and there that she wanted to help Muslims, but there's no exploration of whether she converted to Islam or what. A reporter talk to the neighbors who suggest she never discussed politics or plots, but did the reporter consider asking about her religious beliefs?

The New York Times report explains a little bit of her desire to help Muslims, but the story doesn't explore her motives.

The indictment said that in mid-2008, Ms. LaRose, using the aliases JihadJane and Fatima LaRose, began posting on YouTube and other Internet sites messages about her desire to help Muslims. A MySpace profile for a woman who refers to herself as JihadJane displays pictures of bloodshed and violence in the Middle East scrawled with messages like "Palestine We Are With You" and "Sympathize With Gaza."

By early 2009, the court papers said, she was exchanging e-mail messages with unidentified co-conspirators in Southeast Asia and Europe and expressed a desire to become a martyr for an Islamist cause.

The Guardian headline suggests that she's a Muslim convert but doesn't offer any proof or further explanation. Why would she kill or die for another religion? There's no need for speculation, but do any of her internet postings reveal anything about her faith? Perhaps the police reports failed to offer clues about her faith, but reporters could indicate that a little better. Unfortunately, people often lump Muslims together as if they are one monolithic group. The more we understand which strains of thought this woman was exploring or what kinds of leaders were influencing her thinking, we can understand the story a little bit more.

Perhaps you remember the Danish newspaper cartoons of Muhammad that sparked protests in Muslim countries in 2006. In these new stories about the Swedish cartoonist, I would've also liked to see an explanation of why depictions of Muhammad would be so upsetting and more details about how Muslims view blasphemy. An Associated Press report about the cartoon includes one simple sentence that the other press ignored.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

A little explanation goes a long way. However, it's worth exploring whether there are differences in Islam over depictions of Mohammed, as Mollie has suggested in the past when she picked up a portion of a column by Charles Moore:

There is no reason to doubt that Muslims worry very much about depictions of Mohammed. Like many, chiefly Protestant, Christians, they fear idolatry. But, as I write, I have beside me a learned book about Islamic art and architecture which shows numerous Muslim paintings from Turkey, Persia, Arabia and so on. These depict the Prophet preaching, having visions, being fed by his wet nurse, going on his Night-Journey to heaven, etc. The truth is that in Islam, as in Christianity, not everyone agrees about what is permissible.

Now if only other outlets would explore the religion element a bit further.

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