The Washington Post’s bizarre decision to describe terror chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as an “austere religious scholar” in an obituary has brought a storm of criticism on the paper, and spawned hundreds of #WaPoDeathNotices memes.
As authorities offered confirmation that US forces had killed the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) leader in a raid on a safe house in northwestern Syria on Saturday night, the paper rolled out on obit marking the death of the barbarous jihadist by describing him as the “austere religious scholar at the helm of the Islamic State.”
The Post acknowledged that the Iraqi led the terror group with “shocking brutality” but focused much of its obituary on his academic endeavors.
“The man who would become the founding leader of the world’s most brutal terrorist group spent his early adult years as an obscure academic, aiming for a quiet life as a professor of Islamic law,” the article reads.
“Acquaintances would remember him as a shy, nearsighted youth who liked soccer but preferred to spend his free time at the local mosque,” it adds.
Strangely, the first version of the story described al-Baghdadi as “Islamic State’s terrorist-in-chief,” only for it to later be changed to “austere religious scholar”. Perhaps the paper’s editors didn’t want to offend their IS readers?
The headline sparked a furious reaction on social media, with many struggling to comprehend why the Post had chosen to frame the story in this manner.
“Stop, read this and think about it: last night a ruthless, brutal terrorist who threatened our country & is responsible for the death of American citizens was killed in a successful operation by US military & Washington Post described al-Bagdadi as an ‘austere religious scholar,’” former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer wrote on Twitter.
Others ridiculed the paper, posting fictional obituaries under the hashtag #WaPoDeathNotices. Would the paper have described serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer as an“unconventional romantic and avant-garde gastronomist,” or Bonnie and Clyde as wealth re-distributors in the banking sector?”
The backlash was so great that it appears to have prompted another headline switcheroo, as the piece now describes al-Baghdadi as an “extremist leader.” At the time of writing the headline reads: ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.’