It has been a cause of concern for Muslims in particular that the Western media has been portraying the terrorist activities by Muslims as something condoned by Islam. In the same vein, some TV channels and newspapers have lately remained irresponsible at best and inaccurate at worst in reporting the theological identity of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has now changed its name to Islamic State with the declaration of ‘caliphate’.
The media and the press have been irresponsible because the implications of branding ISIS as a Sunni group are far reaching for Iraq itself in particular and the Muslims living outside of Iraq in general. It is a different matter if a member of public labels ISIS as Sunni and discusses the theological roots of terrorists (even if inaccurately) but a channel watched by millions and a newspaper having an equally strong readership everyday ought to act more responsibly in its reporting to ensure that their services are to further public good.
When the Ku Klux Klan claimed credit for terrorist attacks in the 1960’s, they were not identified by religion as “Christian Fundamentalists” or “Christian Terrorists” although they identified themselves as a Christian movement.
It has been observed by many that when the Ku Klux Klan claimed credit for terrorist attacks in the 1960’s, they were not identified by religion as “Christian Fundamentalists” or “Christian Terrorists” although they identified themselves as a Christian movement. And quite rightly so. Electronic and print media should not affiliate terrorism with religion. It would, however be distinguishable if a commentator, participant or a columnist expresses such views as it would be an opinion forwarded and owned by a person in his own capacity. We may disagree and refute the claim – that’s a matter of opinion.
At the same time as being irresponsible, the media has been inaccurate in reporting ISIS as a Sunni group because it is certainly a band of jihadists theologically akin to Al-Qaeda which has been fighting against and targeting not only Shias and Sunnis but also other faith groups. The recent persecution and driving out campaign by ISIS against Christians of Mosul highlights this very well as the ideological brothers of ISIS have done the same in other parts of the world.
ISIS is reportedly funded by the same sources in Saudi Arabia and Qatar who have been the financial sustainers of Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. The group has been attacking tombs and mosques used by Sunnis and Shias in the areas that fall within their ‘caliphate’. It is very likely that some local Sunni groups are supporting ISIS which amounts to political defiance to Maliki’s Shia dominated government in Iraq but that does not make ISIS a Sunni organisation itself just based on its claims. Some commentators do not even accept the Islamic credentials of ISIS. Dr. John Andrew Morrow, for example points out that much of ISIS’s behavior is ‘patently un-Islamic’ in that they ‘are very proud to commit atrocities.’
ISIS’s behavior is ‘patently un-Islamic’ in that they ‘are very proud to commit atrocities.’ – Dr. John Andrew Morrow
Just like any other religion, Islam has some foundations which remain the common ground among the Muslims to date. A terrorist eating a dead soldier’s liver as shown in one of the videos cannot represent Islam (and indeed any religion) according to any interpretation of it. Muslims have been a victim of ‘cannibalizing corpses’ but have never encouraged the practice. Similarly, a video of a poor Muslim girl who was strangled to death cannot be taken as a representative of Islam. After all, it cannot be left to some morons to define a faith followed by millions.
I do not, for a second deny the existence of Shia and Sunni militants or militant groups. The issue that I have with the media is its reporting style on ISIS activities in that by reporting it as a Sunni organisation, they play in the hands of terrorists who want to divide and rule Iraq, create an atmosphere of communal tensions for Muslims living in the West and lastly, worsen the situation in countries marked by sectarian strife (e.g. Pakistan and Bahrain). The systematic violation of Sunni interpretation of Islam by the ISIS members takes away any right from them to claim that they are Sunnis. As organisations engaged in reporting business for decades, the media outlets ought to know that it is not okay to rape Christian and Shia women, eat the internal organs of dead enemies, marry ‘jihad brides’ for sex and mass-execute prisoners of war not just in Sunni Islam but according to any of the traditional interpretations of Islam.
It is not okay to rape Christian and Shia women, eat the internal organs of dead enemies, marry ‘jihad brides’ for sex and mass-execute prisoners of war not just in Sunni Islam but according to any of the traditional interpretations of Islam.
The electronic and print media should refrain from linking ISIS with Sunnis because it puts Sunnis under unjustified criticism for something that the majority among them does not condone or believe in. It would be equally wrong for a news channel to brand a terrorist group as Salafi or any other denomination for this is a matter of public debate and not for media to judge. Terrorism has no religion except terror and terror affects us indiscriminately.
To highlight these concerns, a petition at change.org has been signed by over 600 people and submitted to the BBC London office. The petition is now closed but the text can be viewed at the following link.
Petition to the BBC