Our GetReligion guru, tmatt, likes to complain how news media talk about "generic Christians" in the Middle East. Well, much of the coverage of Saturday's mass murder in Kenya goes one further -- making the victims into generic "non-Muslims."
Here's the lead of the widely used version by the Associated Press:
Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, Al-Shabab, attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan police said.
Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, a survivor told The Associated Press.
AP later says the killers "separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims — mostly non-Somalis — from the rest." Their source for much of this? A "non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera [who] survived the attack." (Emphasis mine.)
The Los Angeles Times account follows suit in 800 distressingly vague words. It says the killers "separated Muslims from non-Muslims," then shot the latter. Even when giving background -- saying the attack "follows the pattern of previous terror attacks in Kenya in which Muslims have been spared" -- it's fuzzy on Muslims as opposed to whom.
If the victims' religion made a difference, what was it? Buddhism? Hinduism? The answer should be obvious to anyone who checks a database like the World Factbook by the CIA: 82.5 percent of Kenyans are Christian. While the nation also includes people of "traditionalist" faiths, and 2.4 percent are "nones," it's safe to say the main targets last weekend were Christians.
Especially when the Times quotes an Al-Shabab spokesman using the term "crusaders":
“As for the Kenyan crusaders, you are fighting a losing battle against Islam, you have previously tasted the bitter reactions of your crusade campaign, and just as we have warned you before, we reiterate to you that you will have no safety until you cease your hostilities against Muslims.”
The quote clearly echoes Osama Bin Laden, as in this article in The Guardian, in which he calls Muslims to oppose "a Christian crusade against Islam." Knowing (or remembering) that fact could have led to some insightful remarks from Kenyan pastors -- especially in the towns along the border of Somalia, home of Al-Shabab.
Reuters' follow-up yesterday, if anything, does a little worse than AP and the Times:
Somalia's Islamist al Shabaab militants have claimed responsibility for the attack Saturday, when gunmen ordered passengers on the bus to recite Koran verses and shot dead non-Muslims -- 19 men and nine women -- who could not.
That's the only reference to the religion of the victims. Reuters cares more about what kind of equipment the Kenyans destroyed in the counter-raid.
Which organization did better on this story? A faithful reader spotted one: Bloomberg News, which usually concentrates more on business. Its brisk, 505-word story identifies the killers, victims and motives right in the lede: "Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militia, said it carried out an attack on Christians traveling on a bus in northeastern Kenya, killing 28 people."
A jihadi source even spells out the religious motive to Bloomberg:
“The Mujahedeen intercepted a bus, which had on board a group of Christians that enjoyed the killing and the maiming of Muslims,” al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rageh said in a statement read on Radio Andulus, a pro-al-Shabaab broadcaster.
But the difference doesn't come down to different sources. Yes, AP quotes the Kenyan police chief and a teacher who was on the bus. And Reuters quotes a different spokesman for Al-Shabab than Bloomberg, but the Times quotes the same one -- Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rageh -- although it spells the name differently.
We should give a point to AP for saying that the victims were shot for being unable to recite the Shahada. The Times and Reuters say Al-Shabab wanted to hear one or more quranic verses. (Do they know the difference between the Quran and the Shahada?)
However, AP incorrectly defines the Shahada as "an Islamic creed declaring oneness with God." The creed actually says, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the prophet of God."
And why did Al-Shabab commit the murders in the first place? AP says merely that it was retaliation for "raids by Kenyan security forces carried out earlier this week on four mosques at the Kenyan coast." Nothing on why the mosques were raided. The Times and Reuters make clear that Kenyan police say the raids found weapons and literature to recruit more jihadis.
Bloomberg nailed the religious angle for that, too -- again, from the Al-Shabab representative:
“That attack is payback for the actions of their fellow Christian soldiers in Kenya that killed many innocent Muslim at prayers in a mosque in Mombasa over the past week,” Rageh said.
It's not like news media are religiophobic. Remember all the stories out of Iraq, reporting how the Islamic State was targeting Yazidis? So I have to ask: Why do so many reporters and/or editors seem to avoid mentioning Christians as targets?