Good Reads: A roundup of Lockerbie, Boko Haram, and Monterrey

Today's stories feature deeper looks at the fate of Lockerbie bombing mastermind al-Megrahi, the evolution of Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, and what the Monterrey casino attack might mean for Mexico.

Libya State TV/AP
In this image taken from Libya's state TV, convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is seen attending a pro-government rally in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on July 26. The TV said the man in a wheelchair attending Tuesday's rally is Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, which killed 270 people.

The weekend is done, Manchester United destroyed Arsenal, and a storm named Irene thankfully disappeared faster than expected.

Let’s turn to the papers, shall we, and find some good reads that help us make sense of some of the other stories from the past few days.

● First up, if you haven’t already seen the video, is a well reported piece by Nic Robertson of CNN. For the past decade, Mr. Robertson has been one of the hardest working correspondents on TV, and having covered the investigation of the bombing of the Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, he returns to the story years later in Tripoli, Libya, to Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of organizing the bombing of the airliner by a Scottish court, and later released on compassionate medical grounds due to failing health.

Robertson admits expecting to find the convicted bomber sitting in a big comfy chair, a reasonable expectation in a posh home that has plenty of them. Instead, he finds Mr. Megrahi unconscious, inert, in a bed, attached to tubes and an oxygen tank. Megrahi’s release caused an outrage and an investigation in Britain on whether the Scottish court decision was appropriate, but it appears that Muammar Qaddafi’s designated bomber, a man responsible for the deaths of 270 people, is not long for this world, and certainly not ready for an interview.

● Blasts of a more recent sort have rocked the Nigerian north, more recently the Friday suicide bombings of a United Nations compound in the nation’s capital of Abuja. Eighteen people were killed when a car packed with explosives penetrated the security gates of the UN compound, where Western and Nigerian employees coordinate everything from peacekeeping missions to education and health programs.

Alex Thurston, whom regular Monitor readers will recognize as the author of the Sahel Blog, does a fine job of unpacking this story in Foreign Policy magazine. He describes the origins and mission of the militant group Boko Haram, which has been carrying out a Taliban-like war of religious purification in Nigeria’s Muslim-dominated north. He describes the changing tactics of Boko Haram, and how Friday’s attack show that the group is clearly adapting its techniques rapidly under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, the man who took over after the killing of Boko Haram founder Muhammed Yusuf in police custody in 2010. Finally, Mr. Thurston explains how the current terror campaign by militant group Boko Haram, could get much worse, and why instability in Africa’s most populous country is important to the rest of Africa.

● Our own Sara Miller Llana, the Monitor’s correspondent in Mexico City, writes about the Thursday attack on a casino in the northern Mexico city of Monterrey, where gunmen shot up and torched a casino, killing more than 50 customers inside. While the motives of the attack are uncertain – a feud between rival drug gangs? Revenge against a casino owner who refused to pay protection money? – what is certain is that this attack has raised fears that the increasing violence in Mexico is going to a new level.

Says a political risk analyst, Alejandro Schtulmann, interviewed by Ms. Miller: “I think this inaugurates a new era of violence attached to organized crime in Mexico. The fact is once you escalate the level of violence, all groups that see the threshold being removed start using similar attacks.”

Conor Friedersdorf writes a lovely blog in the Atlantic magazine that rings true in every society where political journalism is still legal and widely practiced. Quoting liberally from the writer Jay Rosen, Mr. Friedersdorf asks the question “What If Journalists Stopped Trying to Be Political Insiders?” and concludes that what we often receive, as consumers, is “a press that focuses public attention on a lot of stuff that shouldn't actually matter.”

Which raises the question: What does matter in political coverage?

Surely when political reporters are focusing on a decision by a presidential candidate to focus his or her campaign in one state rather than another, this is akin to a British sports reporter telling us that one of the top players in the game is taking a few months off to recuperate from a groin injury. It may seem like too much information at the time – I mean, really, doesn’t anyone hurt their ankles anymore? – but such information can be useful in determining why some candidates succeed and others fail. Or put another way, it could tell us readers why we end up with the leaders we get.

Yet there is a balance between stories on political strategy and actual actions and policies that affect the lives of ordinary people. Tip the balance too far toward strategy, and the reader may cynically conclude that every action is a mere political tactic, rather than an action that, regardless of its motives, will have consequences.

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