The stories have become tragically familiar. A band of jihadists enters a school or some other public facility somewhere in the Muslim world and massacres a large number of people. Mainstream media offer readers a few numbers and a heart-tugging human detail or two.
The latest nightmare unfolded this week in northwester Pakistan. As I read several news reports, a familiar detail was repeated time after time. This led to a question in my mind, one that I think some journalists need to ponder: "Why would radical Muslims shout 'Allahu akbar!' as they massacre other Muslims?"
In other words, if the basic goal in these stories is to provide the "who, what, when, where, why and how" facts, why not pursue the "why" issue? Some of the stories I read took at shot at this ultimate question and others did not.
The first story I saw was in USA Today. This is as close as it came to talking about this "why" issue:
Basit Khan, a computer science student, said he heard the terrorists through the fog and saw them in classroom buildings.
“They were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great) when they started firing,” Khan said. “There were attackers in the stairwell and we had no arms to counter them. In the Pashto Department and Computer Science blocks, I saw at least three attackers.” ...
And later there was this:
A Taliban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, the Associated Press reported. Mansoor was the mastermind behind the deadly December 2014 attack on the Peshawar school.
A spokesman for the main Taliban faction in Pakistan, however, disowned the group behind the attack. The spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, said Wednesday’s attack was “un-Islamic” and insisted the Pakistani Taliban were not behind it. Such statements among the Taliban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions, tje AP reported.
Khurasani said the Taliban “consider the students in the non-military institutions the future of our jihad movement” and would not kill potential future followers.
That was that. So why did the radicals attack this "non-military school"? No clues.
Editors at The Los Angeles Times left the same massive hole in its their report. The key to the "why" question, apparently, was a clash between an "anti-government" insurgency and the leaders of an anti-terrorism program. It is also clear that the attacks have something to do with education.
As militant violence has risen in Pakistan over the last decade, educational institutions have been particularly vulnerable. Since the 1970s, more people have died in attacks on schools in Pakistan than in any other country, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. ...
Wednesday’s attack came on the anniversary of the death of the university’s namesake, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan, a pacifist who led nonviolent campaigns against British colonial rule.
So what does "Allah" have to do with this? Why are these issues a matter of life and death -- over and over again -- in a clash INSIDE Islam?
When I hit The New York Times the basics began to fall into place -- starting right there in the lede. While hesitating to talk about Islam, and differences of theology (the foundation for ideology in this case), the team behind this report at least gave readers some basic, essential information about motives.
Attacks on education have long been a signature atrocity of the Pakistani Taliban, whose militants have set schools on fire, banished girls from classrooms and gunned down students at their desks in a quest to impose an extremist ideology on Pakistani society.
The height of the attacks seemed to come in December 2014 when gunmen swarmed through a school in Peshawar, massacring dozens of schoolchildren in an assault that prompted widespread revulsion and a fierce military crackdown on militants.
But on Wednesday, Pakistanis were drawn back into their national nightmare. At least four Taliban attackers stormed a university campus in another northwestern town, gunning down at least 20 people, most of them students and teachers.
Later on, there was this additional background material. Try to find something similar in whatever stories you read about this event.
For the Taliban movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan, attacks on education were an early marker of their extremist ideology and ruthless methods. Schools, as all-in-one symbols of government authority and a modernist view of the future that jihadists loathe, provided easy targets and maximal shock value.
But those tactics have become something of a liability over the years, winnowing the extremists’ support even among conservatives who might otherwise support their goal of harsh Islamic rule.
As always, there are quite a few labels there that leave readers wondering, for example, "What's the difference between a "conservative" Muslim and a "jihadist' Muslim?" Still, there is some clear information about motive.
So why shout "Allahu Akbar!" when killing these students? Because they are not worshiping and serving Allah in the proper manner. This is a battle between true Islam and false Islam, even in a nation with a notoriously strict approach to Sharia law. It is always important to remind readers how many Muslims are dying in these conflicts, as well as Christians and members of other religious minorities.
The story offered by The Washington Post didn't provide as much context as that in the New York Times, but it did introduce another helpful, concise term -- "seminaries."
Pakistan remains vulnerable to major attacks because government leaders have not mounted a widespread offensive against the roots of militancy, including conservative religious seminaries. ...
The attack is also refocusing attention on the vulnerabilities of schools, both in Pakistan and the West. Schools are generally less well-guarded than government buildings and are tempting targets because “when you hit students and kids, the pain is more,” said Saad Muhammad, a retired Pakistani army general and Islamabad-based security analyst.
“Terrorists hate” schools, Muhammad added, “because they say this is Western education and it’s un-Islamic.”
In other words, the "why" question is linked to clashes over religion and culture. It's impossible to probe why these attacks continue to take place in Pakistan, and similar cultures (think Nigeria), without digging into the religious issues.
Why praise Allah when killing children? Because the children are not being taught to serve Allah in the proper way, in order to build the right kind of Islamic society. In this case, the New York Times and Washington Post foreign desks gave readers a chance to learn about that crucial motive that loomed over this tragic event. Others?