ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State, whatever it's called this week, is supposed to be the "in" thing, a "more authentic" organization, according to a recent piece from Reuters.
Like how? That's where it gets murky.
There is a link between the successes IS has had so far in Iraq and the activities here in Germany and the propaganda and canvassing activities aimed at young jihadists," said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany's BfV domestic intelligence agency.
"The Islamic State is, so to speak, the 'in' thing - much more attractive than the Nusra Front, the al Qaeda spin-off in Syria," the BfV chief told Deutschlandfunk public radio.
"What attracts people is the intense brutality, the radicalism and rigor. That suggests to them that it is a more authentic organization even than al Qaeda," he said. "Al Qaeda fades besides the Islamic State when it comes to brutality."
OK, we get it. ISIS is brutal and radical. All of us who have read stories of their rhetoric, or seen videos of their murders -- including that of Steven Sotloff just yesterday -- have noticed. But ... a "more authentic organization"?
More authentic in terms of loudness or effectiveness? Just maybe. Al-Qaida, the estranged parent of ISIS, has favored big targets like the World Trade Center and the U.S. embassies in eastern Africa. Al-Qaida also hasn't targeted other Muslims and blown up their mosques, as ISIS has.
More authentically religious? Reuters doesn't say. And it's important for Germany to know given the numbers in this story:
German intelligence estimates that at least 400 Germans have joined the IS insurgency in Syria and Iraq. Maassen said there was evidence that five German citizens or residents had carried out suicide attacks for the insurgents there in recent months.
The BfV has estimated that there are some 43,000 Islamists in Germany, with the numbers of the ultra-conservative Salafi movement seeing particular growth. The agency says the Internet plays an important role in recruiting youngsters.
But the article doesn't get to the bottom of the appeal of ISIS in Germany. And tossing in a phrase like "ultra-conservative Salafi movement" doesn't clear things up.
And as I've often said on GetReligion, the writer and/or editor could have easily found background on the Internet. Like this 2012 piece in Foreign Policy. The article said Salafis hold a "strict interpretation of Islam is considered close to the puritanical Wahhabism of the Saudis and others."
Foreign Policy also quoted an Egyptian journalist saying that the Salafi movement is fragmented, including moderates as well as extremists. And it predicted, correctly, that some Salafis would aggravate antagonism between Sunnis and Shiites.
Reuters could have asked also about some of the more militant-sounding verses in the Quran, such as the oft-cited surah 8:12: "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip."
Those verses, of course, also have explanations -- like this one from online apologist Sami Zaatari, who says the verse deals with a specific battle in Muhammad's time. Reuters no doubt could have gotten quotes from Islamic scholars in Germany.
Shirley Sotloff herself showed knowledge of Islamic beliefs in her video appeal for ISIS to spare her son's life.
"I've learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others," she tells the camera. She says also that Muhammad "protected People of the Book," using the Islamic term for Jews and Christians, monotheists whose revelations predated Islam.
Sure, journalists have to produce more stories these days. Some news staffs in the United States are half the size they were before the Great Recession. But if you want to impart understanding, not just facts, you have to go further. And if you're going to add background facts, you need to spell out what the facts mean to us.