Boko Haram

When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has torn up communities all over northern Nigeria, not to mention Cameroon, Niger and Chad, has been making more headlines recently.

This coming week includes the Oct. 15 deadline they have given for the Nigerian government to meet certain demands before they execute Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old girl who was one of dozens of female students captured in February by Boko Haram. All the girls were released except her, mainly because she refused to give up her Christian beliefs as a condition for her release. She’s since become an international cause celebré, the subject of a book and potential Christian martyr.

At the same time, BBC has released a gorgeously produced piece on what life is like for the girls who are forced to become suicide bombers after being captured by Boko Haram. What we learn from the narrative is that poorly educated girls are imprisoned for months while being inundated with teachings from the Quran, then talked into getting a fast track to heaven by becoming a martyr to the cause.

I’ll begin first with the BBC piece, then cut back to Leah’s case. The former is headlined: “Made up to be beautiful: Sent out to die.”

Falmata is getting a full beauty treatment – a thick paste of henna, with its delicate pointed swirls, adorning her feet.

While it dries, a woman is batting with her hair. Comb in hard, she is stretching and straightening Falmata’s tight curls.

“We were allowed to choose any style for the hair and the henna,” remembers Falmata … (who) knows she’s going to look beautiful. But there’s a deadly consequence.

Once she’s made up, a suicide bomb will be attached to her waist.

So, these girls are being brainwashed into thinking they’re “marrying” martyrdom. She was told that if she killed non-believers, she’d go straight to paradise.

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Dapchi crisis: CNN is only U.S. network to follow up on missing Leah Sharibu

Dapchi crisis: CNN is only U.S. network to follow up on missing Leah Sharibu

Typically, the international media often tires of a crisis after a few months and departs the scene, leaving the rest of us to scan more local outlets to find out what happened to the victims.

But the story of more than 100 Nigerian school girls kidnapped in February by a terrorist group is different. Not only were nearly all these girls returned a few months later, there was one left behind. This was one Christian girl who refused to convert to Islam in exchange for her freedom. Not surprisingly, her plight has caught the attention of many.

Including the U.S. president. According to Vanguard Media, a Nigerian outlet, we learn that Leah’s captivity was discussed in talks between Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and President Donald Trump when the former was in Washington this month.

Meanwhile, CNN was the lone U.S. network to send a reporter to Nigeria to find out who is this 15-year-old girl who defied a terrorist army. She may pay for her bravery with her life. Their story begins thus:

Dapchi, Nigeria (CNN) - Under normal circumstances, Leah Sharibu would have shared a special birthday meal with her family under the bamboo covering protecting them from the Sahara desert dust swirling around them at their home in northeast Nigeria.

At some point during the celebration, they would have bowed their heads in prayer, asking God to bless Leah on her birthday and to make her dreams come true.

But this birthday, her 15th, was different and her family spent the day crying and fervently praying. They don't know where she is. 

Leah was one of the 110 schoolgirls kidnapped by members of the terrorist group Boko Haram in February from their school in Dapchi, in northeast Nigeria.

All the other kidnapped schoolgirls from Dapchi have been freed -- except Leah who her friends say refused to renounce her Christian faith to Boko Haram.

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When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. Boko Haram has struck again.

It was bad enough in 2014 when 276 girls were kidnapped from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Half the world, it seemed, demonstrated and hashtagged #BringBackOurGirls in favor of these children.

Not that it did a whole lot of good. Four years later, more than 100 of those girls are still missing. And now it’s happened again and, as always, there are many religion questions that journalists need to be asking. From BBC

The grounds of the boarding school in Dapchi town are eerily quiet. Instead of the high-pitched chatter of 900 schoolgirls, there's only the bleating of goats as they wander through empty classrooms.
Thirteen-year-old Fatima Awaal is walking down the dusty path. She walks past a littering of rubber sandals, lost by girls as they ran away on Monday 19 February.
When the militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group attacked, she was in her boarding house with her best friend Zara. They were just about to have dinner when they heard the gunshots.
"One of our teachers told us to come out," she said "And that's when we saw the gunfire shooting through the sky."

Zara, 14, was one of 110 girls kidnapped that night. What’s almost worse than the kidnappings is the government’s utter inability to do anything about it.

Since the kidnappings, there have been many conflicting lines from the authorities on what exactly happened in Dapchi that Monday night. It wasn't until three days after the assault that they finally acknowledged some girls had been taken. It was another three days before they gave a number of how many were missing.

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How many news readers (and editors) knew the faith details of #ChibokGirls anyway?

How many news readers (and editors) knew the faith details of #ChibokGirls anyway?

Let me be candid for a moment: Some of the implications of the topics we discussed in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) blindsided me and, toward the end of the session with host Todd Wilken, I got rather emotional.

We are talking about two things -- one in journalism, one in religious faith -- that I believe are tragedies.

First, we have the fact that Americans these days are not very interested in world news. Any journalist in the past third of a century or so who has looked at reader-interest polling knows this. As a rule, Americans don't know much about what is happening around the world and we are not all that worried that we don't know it. In my experience, this includes readers who are religious believers as well, I am afraid. Hold that thought.

This sad reality has, during the Internet-driven advertising crisis that is shaking the world of journalism, led media managers to make major cuts in the resources they dedicate to foreign news, as opposed to click-bait celebrity coverage and national political horse races.

 The second thing that jumped into this discussion -- #NoSurprise -- is that many journalists just don't get religion. In light of the realities just discussed, they have little incentive to spend much time or money covering complex religious issues on the other side of the world.

This obvious fact led to another sad theme in our discussion: Some of the powerful newsrooms that DO have the resources to cover world news (and are justifiably proud that they do this crucial work) also seem to place little value on getting religion. Let me stress that I am talking about their editors and foreign staffers, not the one or at most two people on the religion beat at The New York Times, the BBC and other elite and truly world-class operations.

This brings us to #ChibokGirls and the subject of persecuted Christians, and members of other religious minorities, around the world.

Connect the dots.

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New York Times omits crucial faith detail when covering release of some #ChibokGirls (updated)

New York Times omits crucial faith detail when covering release of some #ChibokGirls (updated)

So what details do you remember from the #ChibokGirls news coverage? We are talking about the 300 or so girls who were kidnapped more than three years ago from a Nigerian village by Boko Haram militants and forced to marry the fighters, to serve as slaves or even to take part in terrorism raids.

Do you remember the online activism campaign, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and others, with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag?

Maybe you remember the remarkable photos and videos from 2014, with the images of the girls sitting on the ground -- dressed in hijabs -- chanting Muslim prayers and verses from the Quran in Arabic.

This was a highly symbolic moment, since most of the kidnapped girls were from Christian families and they were forced to convert to the radicalized, violent brand of Islam pushed by Boko Haram.

Do you remember reading that most of the 300 girls were Christians?

That's a rather important detail that, believe it or not, the editors of The New York Times either forgot to include or chose to omit from the newspaper's main story -- "Years After Boko Haram Kidnapping, Dozens of Girls Are Freed, Nigeria Says" -- about the release of about 60 of the Chibok girls.

It's a gripping story. Still, search through this report and try to find the missing word "Christian" and the fact that these girls were forced to convert to Islam. Here is one key passage:

To much of the world, the mass abduction of nearly 300 girls from a Nigerian school as they prepared for exams three years ago was a shocking introduction to the atrocities and humanitarian crises caused by Boko Haram, galvanizing global attention to a militant group that had already been terrorizing Nigerians for years.

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Crux listens as Africans ask: Why isn't it big news when terrorists slaughter our people?

Crux listens as Africans ask: Why isn't it big news when terrorists slaughter our people?

Somewhere in the world, according to this old journalism parable, there is a chart hanging on the wall of a major Associated Press wire service bureau. (Yes, I have discussed this myth before.)

The purpose of the chart is to help editors figure out, when disaster strikes somewhere in the world, just "how big" a story this particular disaster is, compared with others. Is this an A1 or front of the website story? Is this a story that major television networks will mention or perhaps even send personnel to cover? Or was this a story with lots of death and destruction, but it belongs in the back pages somewhere with the other "briefs" that readers won't notice?

The chart has a bottom line and editors can do the math.

It states that, when tragedy or terror strike, 1000 victims in Latvia equals 500 in India, which equals 100 in Mexico, 75 in France, 50 in England, 25 Canada, five in the United States of America (that's flyover country) or one Hollywood celebrity or a famous person in New York City or Washington, D.C.

In other words, according to the mathematics of news, not all human lives are created equal. It's a matter of location, location, location.

The question posed in a quietly provocative piece at Crux, a Catholic-news publication that frequently covers religious persecution, is this: How many terrorist victims in Nigeria do you have to have to equal several victims in the heart of London?

The headline: "In London’s wake, Africans ask: ‘Where’s the outrage for us?’ " This past week, I was in a meeting with a veteran journalist from Nigeria (who also has editing experience in the American Northeast) and he was asking the same question. Here is the overture of the story:

ROME -- In the wake of Wednesday’s terrorist attack on London’s Houses of Parliament that left four dead, the cross-section of African Catholic leaders meeting in Rome this week immediately expressed solidarity and revulsion.

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Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

If you have read GetReligion.org for any time at all, you are probably familiar with the whole idea of "scare quotes."

Actually, I would assume that this piece of media jargon is now in common in just about any setting in which critics, news consumers and journalists argue about issues linked to news coverage and, especially, media bias.

So what does the term mean and what, on this day, does it have to do with discussions of "radical" forms of Islam? Wait. You see the quote marks that are framing the word "radical"?

Here is one online definition of this term:

scare quotes -- noun
quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.

For example, this online dictionary notes that, "putting the term 'global warming' in scare quotes serves to subtly cast doubt on the reality of such a phenomenon."

Here at GetReligion, many of our discussions of scare quotes have started using them to frame a perfectly normal term in discussions of the First Amendment -- religious liberty. Religious liberty turns into "religious liberty" whenever religious traditionalists, usually in conflicts over the Sexual Revolution, attempt to defend their free speech rights, rights of freedom of association and rights to free exercise of religious beliefs.

A GetReligion reader sent me a recent piece from The Atlantic and asked if another important term in public discourse is about to be shoved into "scare quotes" territory. The double-decker headline on that piece saith:

The Coming War on ‘Radical Islam’
How Trump’s government could change America’s approach to terrorism

You knew Trump had to be involved in this somehow, right? Here is the overture, which shows the context of the question that was raised by our reader:

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Nigerian girls are released, news media say -- but most reports keep their religion hidden

Nigerian girls are released, news media say -- but most reports keep their religion hidden

Twenty-one of those kidnap victims in Nigeria have been returned to their parents -- a victory for that nation's government and for the alertness of mainstream media in this 30-month-long story.

What is not so alert is the recurring blindness of most media to the religious dimension of the conflict: the abduction of 276 schoolgirls, most of them Christian, by the jihadist gang known as Boko Haram.

We GetReligionistas have been giving very mixed reviews on the coverage. We've praised mainstream media for keeping an eye on the story, while criticizing the way they seem to dismiss the religious beliefs of captives and captors alike.

One (kind of) bright spot shines at the BBC, in its story on the 21 newly freed girls. The narrative conveys almost Passover-like imagery of deliverance from slavery:

One of the girls freed said during a Christian ceremony in Abuja: "I was... [in] the woods when the plane dropped a bomb near me but I wasn't hurt.
"We had no food for one month and 10 days but we did not die. We thank God," she added, speaking in the local Hausa language.
Many of the kidnapped students were Christian but had been forcibly converted to Islam during captivity.
Another girl said: "We never imagined that we would see this day but, with the help of God, we were able to come out of enslavement."
One parent said: "We thank God. I never thought I was going to see my daughter again but here she is... Those who are still out there - may God bring them back to be reunited with their parents."

Strong clues indeed about the faith of the girls and their families. The story would have been stronger still if the BBC had detailed the occasion for the reporting. The article says only that it was during a "Christian ceremony" in Abuja, the national capital. Wish they'd said what kind of ceremony, and who performed it. (It was a church service, as you'll see in a bit.)

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One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

One more time: The death of Father Jacques Hamel is part of two crucial, larger stories

Do you remember that old journalism parable, the one about the cynical poster that is supposedly hanging in a wire-service newsroom somewhere?

The poster, supposedly, explains how the U.S. press covers disasters, in terms of the number of deaths. To be blunt: 1,000 people dead in Afghanistan equals 500 dead in Egypt, which equals 250 dead in Mexico, which equals 100 dead in Japan, which equals 50 dead in France, which equals 25 dead in Canada, which equals 10 dead in Texas, which equals one celebrity/politician dead in Hollywood or Washington, D.C. Or words to that effect.

So why is the death of one Catholic priest at an altar in rural France so symbolic? Why were we still talking about Father Jacques Hamel on this week's Crossroads podcast? (Click here to tune that in.)

I thought of that when I read this summary material in an interesting report at FoxNews.com:

In 2015, more than 2,000 Christian churches in Africa were attacked by terrorists, and more than 7,000 Christians were killed, according to the advocacy group Open Doors USA. Those figures show terrorist groups like ISIS, which claimed credit for Tuesday's attack, as well as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, will not hesitate to kill inside a house of worship.
"News of the murdered priest in Normandy has shaken many to the core,” David Curry, president and CEO of Christian Watchdog group Open Doors USA told FoxNews.com. “While in Nigeria, an average of five churches are attacked every Sunday, this is the first documented case of Western Christians being attacked by ISIS during a worship service."

Five churches attacked every Sunday. In Africa, that would include Catholics, but also Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostal believers and others. The story notes that, in 2015 alone, 2,400-plus Christian churches were struck by terrorists in Africa. Yes, many of those attacks were by forces aligned with Boko Haram and, thus, the wider Islamic State.

That's a lot of desecrated churches. There must be thousands of victims and eyewitnesses to these scenes of hellish violence. Are we hearing those voices in our newspapers and on our 24/7 digital screens? Are we seeing those images?

Not very often. Yet the death of Father Hamel is part of that ongoing story around the world. That's story No. 2. for those with the eyes to see.

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