The massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya is now fading into media memory, which is not the case for those of us who continue to be haunted by photos and stories that circulate on Twitter and Facebook among human-rights activists who are growing increasingly concerned about the persecution of the church in Africa and the Middle East.
For the most part, journalists around the world spotted the religious themes in this hellish drama -- with stunning exceptions like the early coverage in The Washington Post.
I was left asking one question: Would this story have received more coverage in television news if someone, early on, had accurately called this the "Holy Week massacre"? There was, after all, evidence that the al-Shabaab gunmen specifically targeted a pre-Easter worship service that had been announced on campus. The bloodbath took place on Maundy Thursday, for Catholics and Protestants in the churches of the West.
Sometimes, all reporters have to do to cover the religion angles in this kind of story is open their eyes and ears and take notes. I was struck -- in a positive way -- by some of the powerful details in a New York Times foreign-desk piece late last week built on live coverage of one of the first funerals for the victims.
Don't get me wrong: This piece does not pound away at the religion themes. But this was a worship service, in a church, and that's that. Here is an early chunk of the story, which focused on the role that education plays in modern Kenya, as opposed to Somalia:
Last week, Kenya’s promise generation collided with Somalia’s generation chaos. Four young militants on a suicide mission claimed by the Shabab burst into Garissa University College and shot to death scores of students, sparing the Muslims and telling the Christians to lie down, eyes closed.
The Shabab are Kenya’s new plague. One of the most murderous offshoots of Al Qaeda, they have claimed responsibility for slaughtering hundreds of Kenyans in recent years, striking street markets, country buses, rural police posts, a rock quarry and the country’s fanciest mall. But this was the first time they specifically went after Kenya’s students. The gunmen were about the same age as their victims, officials said.
On Friday, Kenya began to bury its dead. This weekend will be a long one. Slow processions of freshly washed vehicles will chug into just about every corner of this country, coming to rest in front of country churches.
In this case, reporters were allowed to attend the funeral of 21-year-old Angela Nyokabi Githakwa, who had actually tried to leave the college because of the rising level of threats from Islamic radicals. Note the simple, powerful details here:
Standing barely five feet tall, thin, with caramel colored skin, she wore a silver rosary necklace that never came off. Many of her friends think the Shabab might have seen that.
“She was executed because of her strong Catholic faith,” her funeral program said.
At the very end, the Times team included an actual detail from the service. I am often amazed that mainstream reporters cover worship service and pay zero attention to the actual words that are being spoken and sung (unless, of course, some kind of political leader delivers a eulogy). Hymns are especially important, I think, because they represent the voices of people in the community, often sharing words that bind the generations.
Thus, the story ends:
On Friday afternoon, Ms. Githakwa was laid to rest. Her grave sits under a banana tree, the hillsides all around steep and quilted with rows of crops -- pineapples, beans, coffee and tea.
“This is the way, this is the way to heaven,” people sang.
A light drizzle began to fall and people praised the rain. It was the beginning of the rainy season. The clumps of earth shoveled onto the coffin fell quietly, damp and soft.
A question for readers: Have you seen television-news coverage of these events? Any details -- positive or negative -- to share?