Here is a question that your GetReligionistas have often debated among ourselves in the past: When it comes to basic questions about journalism, what is The Daily Beast? Is it an openly progressive advocacy publication, something along the lines of Rolling Stone or Salon (or The New York Times on issues of moral theology)?
Part of the problem is a matter of labeling. There are advocacy sites, on the political right as well as the left, that do plenty of valid work when it comes to reporting news. But when readers call up these sites, it's hard to know what is what. Maybe editors should color code the graphics? Something like blue graphics for advocacy and red for news at liberal sites and the other way around at conservatives sites?
I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately because of the ongoing Beast coverage of the issue of Islamic State leaders openly recruiting women from the West to join in what some have called "bedroom radicalism" or even "bedroom jihad." The latest report along these lines is pretty straightforward, when it comes to describing the case of 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood of suburban Glasgow:
Potential recruits are told their main role in the Islamic revolution will be through matrimony and childbearing, not martyrdom. And Mahmood, using the Twitter handle Umm Layth, has been highly active on Twitter and on her blog trying to persuade would-be “sisters” in Europe and the United States to travel to the Middle East to help ISIS establish its extremist vision of a militant Islamic utopia.
Mahmood ran off last November, according to her parents, who reported her as missing to police, and she is understood to have married a jihadist fighter soon after arriving in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Much of Mahmood’s output has eschewed the gore and the barbaric images frequently included in the general fare of jihadist online posts, focusing instead on the private sphere of being a jihadist wife, but the girl described as peace-loving has also been urging Islamic militants in the West to follow the example of the Boston Marathon bombers, Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and to copy the brutality of the murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death in broad daylight on the streets of London.
That part of the piece does, I admit, read like an op-ed or a magazine essay in terms of its lack of providing clear attributions to sources. However, later on readers do get some help there, including a link to the young woman's online work. It also helps that her stunned Pakistani parents have taken their story straight to the media.
There is quite a bit of color here, most of which seems to have been pulled from European news media coverage. Mahmood used to be into fashion, Coldplay and Harry Potter books until she experienced a religious conversion to a radicalized form of Islam, inspired by an "Australian Muslim preacher." However, did this take place in Glasgow? Online? That could be crucial information, in light of the strong cyberspace theme in this story.
But here is the key passage for me, the one that makes me wonder why this story isn't getting more coverage on this side of the pond.
Mahmood is one of at least 50 British women and girls who are thought by security experts to have joined ISIS in Syria, although some argue the number may be higher. Her parents, through their lawyer, insist that as a middle-class woman and at one time a successful student she is not a “stereotypical” case. But many male and female Western ISIS and al Qaeda recruits come from middle-income backgrounds and are often fairly well educated -- the 9/11 hijackers were.
What is distinguishing ISIS from its rival al Qaeda is the increased role the group is giving women as online recruiters and as enforcers of Sharia religious law in the swath of territory ISIS now controls in eastern Syria and western Iraq. The fear is that the Western women may take on an even more active role as suicide bombers. Olivier Guitta, a terrorist adviser to the British government, says ISIS may be priming female recruits for attacks “in the homeland.” U.S. officials also say they are worried that it is not only Western male recruits who might mount attacks on their return.
Note the strong religion hook there, linked to the role of women in the Islamic State's approach to Shariah law and life. Take a glance at Mahmood's online journal and you can see that, for her, the key to her revolt is that she believes she is now being faithful to the true Islam -- in daily life.
Yes, that is her point of view and millions of Muslims disagree. That's the debate. That's the story.
Here's my main journalistic point: It's crucial to quote the many Muslims who are condemning ISIS and its approach to the Islamic faith. However, it is also crucial for journalists to quote the religious language being used by the radicals themselves, thus giving readers some idea what this debate -- inside Islam -- is all about. Many of the hot-button subjects are linked to women, marriage, family life and what Islamic State leader view as the defense of the true faith.
Please, journalists, quote the voices in these arguments, including the women. If Cosmopolitan (?!?) can cover this story, so can mainstream newspapers and wire services.