It's a logical question: At this point, does it really matter whether the children burned alive in the latest Boko Haram attack were Muslims or Christians?
On one level, the answer is clearly, "no." It's clear that the forces of Boko Haram -- now loyal to the Islamic State caliphate -- kill anyone who stands in the way of their movement. Perhaps it doesn't matter whether those dying are crying out to Jesus or to Allah.
Yet I would like to argue that this detail does matter. At the very least, I think it is significant that editors at the Associated Press -- who prepare the copy read by most consumers outside of elite news markets -- think that readers do not want to know that detail.
Stop and think about that. America contains a significant number of Christians. If those who died were Christians, are we to assume that many readers would not want to know about these new martyrs and confessors, some of them children?
However, if you look at the images, it certainly appears that the village burned in this attack was a majority Muslim community. I would argue that it is just as important for American news consumers to be reminded -- again and again -- that Boko Haram is slaughtering just as many Muslims, if not more, than Christians. Why? We will come back to that.
I read the following AP report all the way through before it hit me that the identity of the victims was left completely and utterly vague, as if this fact didn't matter. Here is how the report opens:
A survivor hidden in a tree says he watched Boko Haram extremists firebomb huts and heard the screams of children burning to death, among 86 people officials say died in the latest attack by Nigeria's homegrown Islamic extremists.
Scores of charred corpses and bodies with bullet wounds littered the streets from Saturday night's attack on Dalori village and two nearby camps housing 25,000 refugees, according to survivors and soldiers at the scene just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the biggest city in Nigeria's northeast.
The shooting, burning and explosions from three suicide bombers continued for nearly four hours in the unprotected area, survivor Alamin Bakura said, weeping on a telephone call to The Associated Press. He said several of his family members were killed or wounded.
And it ends like this:
Eighty-six bodies were collected by Sunday afternoon, according to Mohammed Kanar, area coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency. Another 62 people are being treated for burns, said Abba Musa of the State Specialist Hospital in Maiduguri.
Boko Haram has been attacking soft targets, increasingly with suicide bombers, since the military last year drove them out of towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria. The 6-year Islamic uprising has killed about 20,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes.
And that is that. This is just another collection of bloody, charred facts -- with no need to discuss motive or the logic of the attack.
Believe it or not, editors at The Los Angeles Times (just to visit another source) also felt that readers consuming their product didn't need to know whether the victims were Christians or Muslims -- or a combination of the two, in this heavily Muslim region.
I don't think we're seeing a conspiracy here. I just don't think the editors think that religion has much to do with why these people are dying or why the Islamic State and its allies are doing what they do. Seriously?
Then again, maybe journalists are still confused about Boko Haram. You may recall that The New York Times once printed the following (quoting from an earlier post):
The group’s mission, over the course of a nearly five-year insurrection, is mysterious, beyond a generalized goal of destabilizing the Nigerian state.
Mysterious? In that post, I pointed readers toward a BBC explainer that added crucial, factual, material:
Nigeria's militant Islamist group Boko Haram ... is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state. Its followers are said to be influenced by the Koranic phrase which says: "Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors".
After all, the official name of Boko Haram is not confusing or mysterious -- it's Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad. That's Arabic for "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad."
So can you see why it is so important for AP and other major newsrooms identify the victims, even if they are Muslims? It's crucial to note that these radicalized Muslims kill all who stand in their way, including -- or even especially -- if they are Muslims who reject their approach to Sharia law and Muslims who welcome a state in which Christians and Muslims worship as equals.
Maybe I am wrong. At this point, after all of these attacks, is it acceptable -- or perhaps even preferable -- for the children who are being burned alive to remain, as I would say, generic in terms of the faith claimed by their families?