All school shootings force journalists to wrestle with images from hell and the information that poured out of Peshawar, Pakistan, was tragically familiar. Here is part of the barrage from the top of a long report in The Los Angeles Times:
When it was over, 132 children and nine staff members were dead ... at an army-run school in this northeastern city in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s troubled history. Many were shot in the temple at close range. One 9-year-old told his father that a classmate’s head was nearly blown off.
Seven assailants wearing explosives-laden suicide vests fought a daylong gun battle with Pakistani soldiers and police commandos, trapping hundreds of students and teachers in the Army Public School compound where the attackers planted bombs to deter the security forces.
The story is packed with the kinds of details news consumers expect in live, dateline reports from major news scenes. If you want the "who," "what," "when," "where" and "how" of this story, you are going to find it in this Los Angeles Times report and in many similar reports in the mainstream media.
But the "why" is another matter. Many journalists seem to assume that readers already know the "why" part of the equation and leave this crucial information unstated.
The key word in the earlier passage, of course, is "public." Why is this particular group of Islamists doing what it is doing? This particular report states the "why" in the following manner.
The Pakistani Taliban, a militant group seeking to overthrow the elected civilian government, claimed responsibility, saying it was retaliation for an army offensive against its hide-outs in the nation’s restive northern tribal areas. ...
The Pakistani Taliban group opposes formal education, particularly of girls, and has attacked hundreds of schools in recent years and — most notably — attempted to assassinate student activist Malala Yousafzai in October 2012 while she was riding on a bus. Malala, now 17, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize last week.
What is the opposite of a "public" school? What is the opposite of a "civilian" government? What is the meaning of the word "formal" in the statement that this Taliban force "opposes formal education" in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation?
Readers who follow global news, of course, know that Pakistan lives under a form of Sharia law and, in particular, its infamous blasphemy laws -- with attempts to enforce the death penalty -- have received quite a bit of coverage, especially when used against members of the nation's tiny Christian minority.
So the "why" in this case is focused on a battle within the complex layers of Muslim culture inside Pakistan, with truly radicalized Muslims striking out against other members of their faith who do not share their commitment to -- what? This is the missing "why" in the story. Why strike "public" schools? What is the alternative to a "civilian" government.
In this case, the brazen and brutal attack brought condemnation from an unusual source that was featured in many media reports. But read the following carefully:
Even the Afghan Taliban, a separate group that is ideologically allied with the Pakistani branch, condemned the attack. “The intentional killing of innocent people, children and women are against the basics of Islam and this criteria has to be considered by every Islamic party and government,” spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement reported by Reuters news service.
What is the goal in Pakistan? It is, of course, the creation of a truly -- in the eyes of those committed to this radical Islamist vision -- "Islamic government."
Thus, the videos and photographs from Peshawar show Muslim men and women, most in traditional dress, weeping over the bodies of their massacred children. Why are they dead? They were not Islamist enough.
Do readers understand this divide, which is also found in so many other crucial stories around the world, such as the horrors in northern Nigeria and Syria and elsewhere?
I have my doubts and, thus, I think it is crucial for journalists to cover the "why" element hiding in their coverage of these events. As your GetReligionistas have stressed in posts over the past decade, there is no one Islam and there are even life-and-death debates among the Islamist armies.