The Times answers its own question

Tragic news in Pakistan a few days ago. According to the The New York Times, 70 people were killed in religious violence in an attack by the Taliban:

Gunmen and suicide bombers stormed two mosques belonging to a minority sect during Friday Prayer in Lahore, seizing hostages and killing at least 70 worshipers and wounding 78, the city coordinating officer said.

More than three hours after the attacks began, the police took control of the mosques, where they found bodies strewn across the main floors and verandas, the coordinating officer, Sajjad Dhutta, said.

Yeah, I know -- what sect are we talking about? Five paragraphs in we get this explanation:

The attacks, which took place within minutes of each other at the mosques located a few miles apart, were clearly aimed at the Ahmadi community, which considers itself Muslim but is severely discriminated against under Pakistani law. Pakistan does not recognize the Ahmadi sect as part of Islam.

Given that explaining all the tribal relationships and religious affiliations in this part of the world would require a flow chart and the better part of an afternoon to understand, they should probably explain who the Ahmadi are and what they believe. Yet, the story did no such thing.

However, as I sat down to lay into the Times for the shameful lack of context here, I went back to the story. Lo and behold, the story had been freshened up considerably since it was originally filed. The later version of the story helpfully explains the Ahmadi:

The target was the Ahmadis, a group of about two million Muslims in Pakistan who are considered heretical by many mainstream Muslims because the Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded their movement in 1889, was the messiah foretold by Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

Note that the online version of the story even includes a link to "The Official Website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community" where they provide an overview of their beliefs. The later version of the story also provided a lot more context to the legal and religious persecution of the sect. So if the Times dropped the ball in the initial report, they more than made up for it with the updated version of the story. Well done.

However, the Times link to the Ahmadi website does bring up an interesting doctrinal issue that's relevant to the story at hand. Here's how the Ahmadi describe one of the tenets of their faith:

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the leading Islamic organization to categorically reject terrorism in any form. Over a century ago, Ahmad(as) emphatically declared that an aggressive "jihad by the sword" has no place in Islam. In its place, he taught his followers to wage a bloodless, intellectual "jihad of the pen" to defend Islam. To this end, Ahmad(as) penned over 80 books and tens of thousands of letters, delivered hundreds of lectures, and engaged in scores of public debates. His rigorous and rational defenses of Islam unsettled conventional Muslim thinking. As part of its effort to revive Islam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to spread Ahmad's(as) teachings of moderation and restraint in the face of bitter opposition from parts of the Muslim world.

I would like to see a follow-up about this. If the Ahmadis are explicitly non-violent and living in the midst of the Taliban, that's an interesting story, no?

And while I'm at it, let's take a look at the The Washington Post's coverage. They had a briefer story, but on the whole it was not bad. Until I got to this:

An estimated 2 million to 5 million Ahmadis live in Pakistan. They believe their founder was a savior sent by God, an idea considered blasphemous under Pakistani law and anti-Muslim to many fundamentalist Islamists. That makes the Ahmadis a valid target in the eyes of radicals.

Emphasis mine. This is the fourth time this year we've noted the Post referring to Muslim "fundamentalists" (see items one, two and three). As has been noted many times before, "fundamentalist" has a specific meaning in religious contexts. The AP Stylebook explicitly condemns this kind of vague usage of the word, saying "In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself." Why the Post insists on doing this, I do not know.

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