Acts of terror marked the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Terrorists cut a bloody path from Tennessee to Tunisia -- one that commanded much of the broadcast network’s attention. Only newscasts often ignored the religious timing of the threats by Muslim terrorists.
The Islamic terrorist group ISIS, which declared a Middle East “caliphate” a year ago on June 29, 2014, strongly encouraged violence during the Muslim holy month. Reuters and The Telegraph (UK) reported on June 23, that an ISIS spokesman called for Muslims to make Ramadan “a month of calamity for the infidels.” The “infidels” include non-Muslims and westerners, but also Shiite Muslims and those ISIS called “apostate Muslims.” Al-Shabaab, another Islamic extremist group, threatened Kenya’s non-Muslims even before Ramadan began, All Africa reported.
The increased “threat” of terror and violence from groups like ISIS, arrests, as well as actual bombings and massacres dominated network stories during the Islamic month of Ramadan, which stretched from June 17 to July 17. However, 87 percent (61 of 70) of the network evening news stories in that time failed to mention the specific threats of Islamic extremist violence pegged to the holiday. A majority even failed to say anything that would indicate the religion of Islamic terrorists, even though their calls to “jihad” are entrenched in their religious perspective.
On June 26, Islamic extremists bombed a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, killed more than 30 people at a Tunisian beach resort. That same day, another Muslim man beheaded his boss in France and tried to blow up an American-owned factory. ISIS later took responsibility for the Tunisian massacre and the Kuwait bombing.
The ISIS call for other Muslims to join them in violence during Ramadan was not reported on a CBS or NBC evening news show until after the Kuwaiti, French and Tunisian attacks had happened. Although it reported on terror threats, ABC didn’t mention the Ramadan-specific threat once on World News.
ABC was also the network least likely to identify the religious connection/motivation for terrorism by ISIS or any other terror groups. Any identifying word indicating the religion of terrorists or potential Islamic terrorists appeared in fewer than 17 percent (4 of 24) of ABC’s World News stories during the month. That included stories focused on threats, attacks or policies related to terrorist acts by Islamic extremists (or possible extremists like the Chattanooga shooter).
On June 27, World News Tonight aired a follow up story on Tunisia, France and Kuwait. The only reference to Islam in that story referred to the religion of victims in Kuwait, where ISIS supporters bombed a Shiite mosque. Immediately after that story, there was a news brief about the increased terror threat in the U.S.
In that brief, anchor Cecilia Vega said those international attacks were “a reminder of the threat of global terrorism.” Notice, she said “global terrorism,” not “Islamic extremism” or “Islamic terrorism.”
Why Violence During Ramadan?
Although many Muslims say this kind of extremism does not represent them or their religion, ISIS, Boko Haram and other Islamic terror groups disagree. The news media have a responsibility to admit such groups claim their violence is religiously motivated.
Islamic extremists groups openly target other sects of Muslims and non-Muslim groups like Christians, who are often forced to flee, convert to Islam or die. That’s exactly why some of those groups encouraged attacking their enemies during Ramadan.
On June 24, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani encouraged Muslims to “be keen to conquer” and be willing to suffer “martyrdom” by waging war against “infidels” during Ramadan. ISIS considers non-Muslims (especially Christians and Jews), Shiite Muslims and “apostate” Muslims to be infidels.
Adherents to Islam seek to do more for Allah during Ramadan, which means that radical Islamists who view violence as an integral part of their worship of Allah also step up their violence.
“The ISIS' Ramadan message specifically preaches that jihad is 10 times more obligatory during Ramadan and that those who die in jihad will be rewarded by Allah ten times as much as during the rest of the year,” national security analyst and adjunct professor of Homeland Security for the Clarion Project Ryan Mauro told Fox News.
Al-Adnani had said specifically that, “Allah may increase the reward of a shahid [martyr] tenfold in Ramadan in comparison to other months,” The Daily Mail (UK) reported.
“Jihadists for a long time haven’t seen the month of Ramadan as a month of fasting, as a month of abstention, or reflection and prayer. Instead, they’ve interpreted it to be a month of war. A month of jihad,” Quilliam Foundation chairman Maajid Nawaz told BBC News. “And they look back to a certain tradition within the medieval period of Islam and its early days, all the way back to the prophet Muhammad, in fact, and they and they and they draw out tradition where there were certain battles that took place in the month of Ramadan.”
Nawaz, a Muslim himself, considers the extremism of jihadist groups a perversion of Islam, but told the BBC it is just as much of a problem for people to say their actions have nothing to do with Islam as it is for “bigots” to say it has “everything to do with Islam.” He also criticized the “middle” for refusing to name the problem altogether.
“We cannot deny that they have something to do with the religion of Islam, my religion,” Nawaz said. The Quilliam Foundation is a think tank based in the U.K. Its website says the organization is devoted to challenging extremism and promoting pluralism.
Sixty Percent of Stories Lack Explicit Religious Context or Identification
When it came to explicitly linking Islam to those who claim their acts of violence are religious, the media fell too often into the “middle” group Nawaz criticized on the BBC. Many stories simply failed to link Islam to the terrorism problem.
Much of the network evening news coverage of terror by Muslim extremist groups or suspected Islamic extremists during the month of Ramadan divorced the stories from any religious context. Sixty percent (42 out of 70 stories) of the reports failed to identify the religion of the terrorists or suspected terrorists at all.
During that time frame, Islamists carried out attacks in France, Kuwait, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Iraq and possibly the U.S. -- the FBI is still investigating the shooting of two U.S. military sites near Chattanooga, Tenn., by Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a young Muslim man. However, on July 20, ABCNews.com said Abdulazeez’ diary was filled with suicidal thoughts and mentioned “becoming a martyr.”
Another Islamic terror group, al-Shabaab in Somalia, increased its attacks ahead of Ramadan and threatened to attack neighboring Kenya during the holiday, promising to “give Kenyan non-believers a true taste of jihad in the next few days and weeks,” Breitbart reported. The al-Shabaab threats were not mentioned at all by the network evening news shows during Ramadan.
Although the networks devoted many stories to attacks by ISIS, it’s “supporters” and FBI arrests of potential ISIS sympathizers, the ISIS or ISIL acronym was not counted as a sufficient religious identifier since it required prior knowledge of the subject.
On July 2, World News reported on the “terror threat for the 4th of July weekend.” Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas reported that “the threat from ISIS greater than ever.” His story quoted Park Police Chief Robert MacLean who said ISIL was “radicalizing people” in the U.S. But the story did not explain ISIS does that through religious propaganda.
Stories about the Boston bomber were similarly vague.
For example, the only indication in CBS Evening News June 24 report about Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s religion was that he asked “Allah” for mercy at his sentencing hearing. But that was better than ABC’s World News report, which gave no indication of Tsarvaev’s “extremist Islamic views” that motivated him and his brother to shred people at the Boston Marathon with pressure cooker bombs in 2013.
The networks also failed to properly identify the Taliban, which is a “hardline Islamic” group, according to the BBC. Under their rule, girls older than 10 were forbidden to go to school, men were required to wear beards and women burkas. But all three networks failed to identify the Taliban as an Islamic extremist group when it reported the group’s deadly car bombing of the Afghanistan Parliament on June 22. No lawmakers died, but 2 civilians were kills and dozens hurt in the blast.
The single network story about a Boko Haram rampage in Nigeria with a suicide bombing of a Christian church and the killing of 97 Muslims gathered for evening Ramadan prayers by gunfire and suicide bombs was an exception. CBS did call Boko Haram an “extremist Islamic group” in its July 5 report.
However, Boko Haram also attacked a market, mosque and prayer ground of different cities in Nigeria at the end of Ramadan, The Los Angeles Times reported. The networks did not mention it on their July 17 broadcasts.
The day after Ramadan ended, The Washington Post reported that a July 17 ISIS attack on civilians in Iraq killed 130 or more people. They bombed a marketplace filled with people preparing for the end of Ramadan feast of Eid al-Fitr.
Methodology: MRC Culture watched evening news broadcasts and searched Nexis to find news reports from ABC, CBS and NBC evening news programming related to threats or attacks perpetrated by Islamic extremists or suspected of being committed by Islamic extremists. The time period for the search was Ramadan, June 17, 2015, through July 17, 2015. This also included stories about the FBI’s many arrests of terror suspects within the U.S. around the Fourth of July holiday.