Outrageous! The Washington Post Headline on Baghdadi

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ISIS Terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Washington Post labeled him a 'religious scholar.' (Photo: Clarion Project)
ISIS Terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Washington Post labeled him a ‘religious scholar.’ (Photo: Clarion Project)

The Washington Post headline announcing the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdhadi tells us that conversations around Islam are still driven by politics rather than truth.

After the terror head was killed in a daring raid carried out flawlessly by U.S. special forces, The Washington Post wrote, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

First we found out that the original headline in the WaPo for the terror leader’s death was: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State’s ‘terrorist-in-chief,’ dies at 48.” It was then changed to: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

The Washington Post Baghdadi headline quickly overtook Twitter as a story almost as significant than the ISIS chief’s killing itself.

The appalling headline was ridiculed with mock headlines including one featuring the 20th century’s most notorious villain:

Others said the headline was akin to calling Osama bin Laden “an aspiring construction mogul and business manager.”

Muslims and ex-Muslims made note of the headline, commenting on the hypocrisy of how Islam is treated by the media. Since the start of the war on Islamist terror, the American public has repeatedly had it drummed into their heads that “Islam is a religion of peace” and that terrorists aren’t following “real” Islam.

Any message deviating from the this mainstream mantra was punished, including when I challenged what I call “fantasy Islam” (that Islam is only peace) during a congressional hearing on radical Islam in which I testified.

During a 2016 House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing, I called Islam a religion of peace and war. That is still very distinct from The Washington Post headline about Baghdadi in which the newspaper pivots on a 19-year narrative.

That pivot dangerously gives Islamist terrorists religious validations while painting millions of educated, scholarly Muslims with the same broad brush stroke as Baghdadi.

The Washington Post headline is shockingly lazy and glaringly unprofessional. The narrative the headline imprints on the public mind is an insult to everyone who puts their life on the line to fight extremist Islamist ideologies.

After 19 years waging this war, it’s apparent mainstream media still doesn’t have the first clue about what Islam is; they aren’t interested, and it’s likely they don’t care in educating themselves either. To them, it’s all about politics.

What this means is that the lip service afforded in favor of “fantasy” Islam — the Islam of only peace — is not done to our benefit as Muslims. Rather, it’s done to score political points by presenting false associations:

  1. If Islam is only peace, than any association of terrorists as being Muslim or affiliated with Islam is wrong.
  2. If Islam is only peace, than calling out terrorists for being Muslims makes you a racist and Islamophobe.
  3. This twisted logic would then have it that the waves of conservatives drawing attention to terror-feeding elements within the ideological component of Islam surely must be racists and Islamophobes.
  4. All that holds true until it doesn’t need to hold true anymore.
  5. When it’s politically expedient, certain outlets have no issue with puppeteering a civilizational crisis point and a multi-generational battle for the heart of Islam within the global Muslim community.

If the narrative “Islam as peace” was pushed for the benefit of Muslims, the narrative wouldn’t conveniently shift when the Trump administration secured the biggest kinetic win against terror since the defeat of Osama bin Laden.

Yet on Sunday, October 27, it was more important for The Washington Post to downplay a win against terror by the Trump administration than to be truthful about Islam, so the The Washington Post suddenly decided on Sunday that now ISIS is now Islamic.

As Ex-Muslim author Ali Rizvi tweeted:

Other critique of The Washington Post headline included observation of headline treatments when Osama bin Laden was killed under the Obama Administration, versus Baghdadi’s killing under the Trump Administration.

Ashe Schow of The Daily Wire, writes:

Just imagine the Post claiming Osama bin Laden was an “austere religious scholar.” You can’t, because that’s not how the Post described him after the raid that killed him during the Obama Administration. The headline for that obituary read: “Osama bin Laden killed: Leader of terrorist group al-Qaeda was 54.”

Yet when the leader of a terrorist organization dies under President Donald Trump, the word “terrorist” gets removed.

Schow commented that since the public thrashing of the second headline, The Washington Post headline changed again, this time to “Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

Yet it wasn’t just The Washington Post chose to run bizarre distorted headlines skewing the reality of one of the most notorious 21st century leaders; Bloomberg did it too in their tweets.

That still isn’t any better. We need to be crystal clear in the language we use in the war against extremism.




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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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