Sad, but true. Mainstream European newspapers, as a rule, pay much more attention to foreign news than their American counterparts (unless, of course, a particular story involves Americans who are overseas). In recent years, it also seems that European newspapers are being much more candid about the role that religion plays in many international stories.
Want to see an example? Let's contrast two examples of coverage of the hellish Holy Week massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya, one from England and one from America. Let's start with The Telegraph, and then look at the main story in The Washington Post, which seems to have buried some key details.
At least 147 people have been killed after Islamist terrorists attacked a Kenyan university, singling out Christian students to murder.
A five-man cell of the Somali-based al-Shabaab group stormed into halls of residence at Garissa University College, 200 miles east of the capital Nairobi, Thursday morning, shooting at students before taking others hostage. ...
Many of those who had been killed had their throats cut, according to one source who had spoken to morgue workers. The report could not be immediately verified.
Security analysts feared that the gang intended to keep their remaining hostages overnight ahead of further violence on Friday, to maximise attention for their attack during the Easter holidays.
That is terribly blunt stuff. I thought it was crucial that -- consistent with the vast majority of reports in world media -- the Telegraph editors made the decision to put the word "Christian" in the lede and also, within a few paragraphs, to note the rather obvious Easter-holiday timing factor in the attack.
Later, quoting sources similar to those in most global coverage, The Telegraph noted that the rebels, at first:
... stormed student dormitories and began firing indiscriminately before reportedly slowing their attack to ask Christians and Muslims to separate, a hallmark of recent al-Shabaab attacks in majority-Christian Kenya. ...
Collins Wetangula, vice-chairman of the university’s student union, thinks he was saved by the sudden appearance of Kenyan troops as the gunmen were working their way through his dormitory. The attackers opened the doors and asked if the people who had hidden inside were Muslims or Christians. "If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die,” said Mr Wetangula.
A CNN report added an additional detail about the first moments of the attack, which is that one witness claimed the attack actually interrupted a worship service.
Joel Ayora, who was on the campus and witnessed the attack, said gunmen burst into a Christian service. Taking hostages from the service, they then "proceeded to the hostels, shooting anybody they came across except their fellows, the Muslims."
The attackers separated students by religion, allowing Muslims to leave and keeping an unknown number of Christians hostage, Agence France-Presse reported.
The main Washington Post story on this massacre took what I thought was a rather shockingly different approach to many key details. Here is how it opens. What is missing here?
NAIROBI -- Rescuers removed bodies of students from dormitories at a university in eastern Kenya Friday and airlifted injured survivors to the capital, one day after al-Shabab Islamist militants stormed the dorms and killed at least 147 people, most of them sleeping college students.
Thursday’s massacre at Garissa University College at about 5:30 a.m. local time was the worst terrorist attack on Kenyan soil in nearly two decades and renewed fears that al-Shabab can still wage significant -- and horrific -- operations from its strongholds in neighboring Somalia.
A student at Garissa University, who asked not to be named because of fears for his safety, said the government was retrieving bodies Friday. He said casualties littered the dormitory floors, most of them suffering from bullet wounds.
What is missing? Both the testimony of witnesses that Christians were singled out and the highly symbolic timing for the attack.
But the Post team knew about the nature of the attacks and, in the 15th paragraph, readers were told that there was some doubt about what happened:
Ogutu Vquee, a student at the university, was sleeping in his dormitory when the gunmen arrived. He said there was indiscriminate shooting of both Muslims and non-Muslims, though there were reports that Muslims had been separated from Christians, who were said to be targeted. “When they attacked us, most of us were asleep, so we were woken by the gunshots,” he said. “I am totally in fear and confusion.”
Al-Shabab fighters separated the victims according to their religion and “mercilessly executed the Christians,” al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage told Radio Andalus in Somalia Friday, the Bloomberg news agency reported. If true, that would mirror a tactic used in at least one previous assault -- in Mandera in northern Kenya last year when 28 bus passengers were shot dead.
I guess, at this point, the key question for Post editors would be this: Does the spokesperson for al-Shabaab actually speak for al-Shabaab?
Now, there may be other news accounts of this massacre that took a similar approach to the Holy Week angle of this story. However, I could not find one that buried the "Christian" angle deeper than the Post story.
Meanwhile, compare the Post account with that of America's dominant newspaper, The New York Times. Here is the top of its main report:
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Somali militants burst into a university in eastern Kenya on Thursday and killed nearly 150 students in the worst terrorist attack since the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy here, laying bare the nation’s continuing vulnerability after years of battling Islamist extremism.
A small group of militants, most likely between four and 10, roved from dorm to dorm, separating Christian from Muslim students and killing the Christians, the authorities said. Students described being awakened before dawn by the sound of gunfire and fleeing for their lives as masked attackers closed in.
The Times report also noted, trusting that the spokesman for the rebels actually spoke for the rebels:
In an audio message soon after, a Shabab spokesman, Ali Mohamoud Raghe, said the attack had been carried out because “the Christian government of Kenya has invaded our country,” a reference to the Kenyan military’s 2011 incursion into Somalia to oust the Shabab from its strongholds.
He said the university had been targeted because it was educating many Christian students in “a Muslim land under colony,” a reference to the large Somali population in a part of Kenya that Somalia once tried to claim. He called the university part of Kenya’s “plan to spread their Christianity and infidelity.”
Want one more contrast with the Post approach? Here is the top of a main story from Al Jazeera:
Al-shabab gunmen who killed 147 people at Garissa University College in Kenya as they shouted "God is great" appeared to have planned extensively, even targeting a site where Christians had gone to pray, survivors have said.
One of the first things the fighters did when they attacked the campus early on Thursday, survivor Helen Titus said, was to head for a lecture hall where Christians were in early morning prayer. Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based armed group with ties to al-Qaeda.