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UNDERSTANDING THE IDEOLOGY OF BOKO HARAM

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UNDERSTANDING THE IDEOLOGY OF BOKO HARAM

NEWISSUES, Abuja

MICHAEL DEDON

ATTORNEY AT LAW, LAGOS, NIGERIA

Abstract

The trending issue in Nigeria as of today is the almost daily attacks by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram. It was once assumed that Boko Haram was a spent force having suffered critical losses in its leadership with the killing in detention by the Nigeria Police of Muhammed Yussuf in 2009. However, Boko Haram not only reemerged as a threat to Nigeria, but its activities also placed it on the radar of international terrorism watchers with a series of daring and successful attacks to date. Boko Haram’s marked increase in its capabilities in a very short period of time has led to speculation that it has joined forces with al Qaeda groups in Africa. That is likely the case as the group’s attacks of recent bear the hallmarks of al Qaeda. It seems Nigeria has now been added to the hotspots of global Islamic Jihad. The article aims to examine radical Islam and its influence on Boko Haram.

 

Introduction

 

The Nigerian militant Islamist group, Boko Haram (translation: Western Education is Forbidden), as it is popularly referred to, or as it calls itself, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-jihad (translation: People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), is the trending topic in contemporary Nigeria due to the recent attacks of the sect which are causing a stir among experts concerned with transnational terrorism. After a period of dormancy, Boko Haram reappeared, marking its debut with series of explosions in Northern Nigeria and Abuja. There is widespread belief that Nigeria might be the next exporter of global fundamentalist Islamic extremism and that the influence of al Qaeda is spreading from the Horn of Africa and from the African Maghreb to West Africa. In fact, the United States National Strategy for Counter Terrorism states specifically that al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has provided training to Boko Haram.

 

Boko Haram’s attacks have become increasingly daring and lethal, from sporadic skirmishes with Police and sectarian violence prior to 2009 to attacks on well-guarded and heavily fortified targets such as the United Nations compound in the Nigerian capital city, Abuja in 2011, killing over 20 people, and a Nigerian military base in Kaduna in February 2012. In the case of the latter, the suicide bomber very nearly made it to the heart of the installation and the headquarters building, but was shot and only managed to detonate his bomb near the barracks of the 1st Mechanized Division of the Nigerian Army. Presently, there are incessant attacks on villages and schools in the north-east of Nigeria resulting in multiple deaths for innocent Nigerians and the alleged abduction of others. As evidence of the growing alarm, in January 2012 at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, leaders of African Union countries voiced concern to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns that this group was becoming a threat to regional stability.

 

It is a widely held view that Boko Haram is a political tool in the hands of the aggrieved elite in the northern part of Nigeria. There is also the accusation that Boko Haram has been deliberately created through the madrassa education system, manipulating religious beliefs in order to create a population that can help achieve the political goals of the north over the south. In keeping with this, attacks have become more deadly and more frequent since the informal agreement to rotate the presidency between the Muslim north and the Christian south seems to have broken with the death in office of President Umaru Yar’Adua and the coming into office of President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian which has been perceived by some elements of society, especially in the north, as a broken agreement that benefits the south.

 

The perceived ascendency of the southern elite over their northern counterparts in terms of politics and economics made Boko Haram and such groups useful political tools in the north. Politicians use such groups for political or economic ends, only to discard them when they have served their purpose or overstep their charter. However, in the case of Boko Haram, the group has simply outgrown its initiators or instigators. It has taken a life of its own and apparently pursuing an Islamic Jihad agenda geared toward overthrowing the secular government and replacing it with an Islamic government. In this sense, the northern elite have also become victims of their own creation.

 

The discussion here will examine the evolution of Boko Haram itself from Islamic separatist sect using clubs and machetes to an Islamic terrorist group, using explosives against international and local targets, and it will examine its links to al Qaeda derivative groups. Lastly, it will be shown that this group has potential to become a transnational terrorist group in view of goals and capabilities.

 

Radical Islam

 

It is the view that Boko Haram is propelled by radical Islam whose ultimate goal is world-wide conquest by means of a Jihad.

 

While professing unwavering faith in a transcendent deity, radical Islam is a militant, politically activist ideology whose ultimate goal is to create a worldwide community, or caliphate, of Muslim believers. Determined to achieve this new world order by any means necessary, including violence and mass murder, radical Islam is characterized by its contempt for the beliefs, practices, and symbols of other religious traditions.

 

This intolerant creed is cited by Islamists as the philosophical justification for their terrorism.

Radical Islam’s kinship with terrorism, and its willingness to use violence as a means to its ultimate ends, is clearly spelled out in a training manual produced by the radical Islamist terror group al Qaeda, whose operatives carried out the 9/11 attacks. This publication candidly says:

 

“[An] Islamic government would never be established except by the bomb and rifle. Islam does not coincide or make a truce with unbelief, but rather confronts it. The confrontation that Islam calls for with these godless and apostate regimes, does not know Socratic debates, Platonic ideals nor Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun. The young came to prepare themselves for Jihad [holy war], commanded by the majestic Allah’s order in the holy Koran.”

 

Scholar of Middle East affairs Martin Kramer further describes the goals of radical Islamists:

 

“The idea is simple: Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion—the religion of God—and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because Islam has been abandoned by many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power. That return, to be effective, must be comprehensive; Islam provides the one and only solution to all questions in this world, from public policy to private conduct. It is not merely a religion, in the Western sense of a system of belief in God. It possesses an immutable law, revealed by God, that deals with every aspect of life, and it is an ideology, a complete system of belief about the organization of the state and the world. This law and ideology can only be implemented through the establishment of a truly Islamic state, under the sovereignty of God. The empowerment of Islam, which is God’s plan for mankind, is a sacred end.”

 

Both liberals and conservatives assume that the Islamist holy war against the West revolves solely around Westerners themselves, rather than having something to do with Islam itself. For example, people on the anti-war left believe that al Qaeda attacked the U.S. because the latter was imperialist, racist, or insufficiently responsive to the needs of the Third-World poor. By contrast, the pro-war right (including former President Bush) maintains that the Islamists hate Americans for their freedoms, opportunities, and overall success as a society.

 

A very different perspective on the Islamist mindset is offered by Mary Habeck, a military historian at Yale University. Habeck holds that radical Muslims base their war against non-Muslims on the Islamic sacred writings, particularly the Sira, which, unlike the Quran, tells the story of the Prophet Muhammed’s life in chronological sequence. Using Muhammed as their model, the jihadists think and act within paradigms provided by the stages of Muhammed’s political and military career. According to Habeck, the internal logic of Islam, and not any particular provocation, real or imagined, by some outside power, is the key to understanding why the jihadists do what they do.

 

While specific actions by the West might further enrage jihadists, their fundamental strategic and military decisions are not determined by anything done by the United States, Europe, or any other perceived enemy of Islam, but rather by tenets of itself that call for the killing of infidels.

 

Radical Islamists tend to gravitate toward three major methods of achieving their ultimate objective. The first is to fight the Near Enemy prior to fighting the Far Enemy. The Near Enemy is anyone inside Islamic lands. The second method is to fight the Greater Unbelief—the major enemy, which today is the United States—before the Lesser Unbelief. And the third method is to fight the Apostates (false Muslims) first, and then the other Unbelievers.

 

The radicals’ views and methods are:

 

1. The lands of Islam have been corrupted by the West

 

• desire for the riches of Arab lands

• support for Jewish world dominance

• support for apostate rulers;

 

2. Islam and the Arabic people are under threat from the infidels;

 

3. The struggle against the infidels is the duty of every Moslem worldwide;

 

4. Political solutions are not possible—power is never willingly surrendered only taken by force;

 

5. Direct military confrontation is not (yet) possible;

 

6. Terrorism is the only viable method.

 

It is also the view in the Islamic world that it is really great to be a martyr for Islamic revolution because there are 2.5 million black-eyed virgins waiting at the gates of a palace–just one, so presumably there are more–in the Garden of Eden just waiting for them. You do the math: 500 gates, 5,000 virgins per gate. The man who is credited with the notion of the martyrs being rewarded with virgins in the after-life is the Hamas leader and speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmad Bahr.

 

Bahr and his colleagues aren’t just joking; they aren’t just telling tall tales to titillate the yokels. Nor are they making this stuff up, since Bahr is quoting one of Prophet Muhammad’s chief lieutenants and a caliph in his own right. This speech was broadcast on al-Aqsa television on September 5, 2010. It was intended to mobilize the masses to go out and die for Hamas and the Islamic revolution. So presumably a good number of Palestinians and other Muslims take this seriously, too.

 

Now how is this plan going to be implemented? Basically, Bahr said that every Muslim should have a lot of sons and train them to be terrorists and hence martyrs. He concluded:

 

“If this is the culture of the nation today, who will be able to stop it?…As long as we continue on this path, nobody on Earth will be able to confront the resistance, or to confront the mujahideen, those who worship Allah and seek martyrdom.”

 

So it doesn’t matter how hopeless the odds seem, how many will die, how much suffering will take place. Peace is not more attractive than war; having a nice future for your children is not the top priority. Goals are not set by a cost/benefit analysis but on the basis that the creator of the universe is calling the shots, insists on this path, and will ensure its victory.

 

Here’s what Bahr also said in 2007 in a speech broadcast on Sudan television:

 

“‘You will be victorious’ on the face of this planet. You are the masters of the world on the face of this planet. Yes, [the Koran says that] ‘you will be victorious,’ but only ‘if you are believers.’ Allah willing, ‘you will be victorious,’ while America and Israel will be annihilated, Allah willing. I guarantee you that the power of belief and faith is greater than the power of America and Israel. They are cowards, as is said in the Book of Allah: ‘You shall find them the people most eager to protect their lives.’ They are cowards, who are eager for life, while we are eager for death for the sake of Allah. That is why America’s nose was rubbed in the mud in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and everywhere….

 

“America will be annihilated, while Islam will remain. The Muslims ‘will be victorious, if you are believers.’ Oh Muslims, I guarantee you that the power of Allah is greater than America, by whom many are blinded today. Some people are blinded by the power of America. We say to them that with the might of Allah, with the might of His Messenger, and with the power of Allah, we are stronger than America and Israel.”

 

Boko Haram (as an Islamic Jihad group) is an outgrowth of the Maitatsine movement and riots of the 1980s during which the first major uprisings of fundamentalist Islam in northern Nigeria appeared. Maitatsine stated goal was the purification of Islam. Boko Haram’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, described as a charismatic young leader and a product of the madrassa education, preached the doctrine of withdrawal. He believed that Western education should be moderated through Islamic scholarship and thus began by setting up an Islamic complex with a mosque and school. As is characteristic of most Islamic fundamentalist groups, Boko Haram rejected all Western culture and influence as well as science and it sought the imposition of Shari’a law across the whole of Nigeria. Its membership drew not only from the educated and employed, but also from poorest: criminals, drug addicts, and drifters. The tie that bound this disparate people together was desire to overthrow the secular government. Its modus operandi during the early years was using simply constructed weapons that required no advanced training against easily accessible targets.

 

By 2009, increased sectarian fights and clashes with the police culminated in a storming of one of the group’s hideouts. Nine members were arrested and bomb-making materials and weapons were confiscated. This set off four days of riots across four states which were finally quelled by the arrest of Yusuf. In what is called an extrajudicial killing, Yusuf, his father-in-law, and several others were killed by the police while in custody and hundreds of followers were jailed. It was thought at this point in 2009 that Boko Haram as a group was devastated. Several hundred people died in the uprising.

 

But, the 2010 Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism report on terrorism (in America) asserts that the remnants of Boko Haram fled to neighboring countries to recruit, regroup and train. Moreover, a little more than a year later during Ramadan, the group resurfaced with a daring and successful attack on a prison which freed several hundred inmates, along with 100 sect members, while killing seven guards and bystanders. Since the beginning of 2011, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for several bombings, attacks, and assassinations which have come with increasing regularity. In Boko Haram strongholds and generally in the North East of Nigeria, murders occur on a daily basis. Reportedly, the group has killed far more Muslims in its purification campaign than Christians. Targets of its assassinations include political figures, secular opposition figures, prominent clerics, and preachers.

 

There is evidence of a global Islamic insurgency connection in Boko Haram’s recent activities. Evidence points to Boko Haram gaining outside assistance to exact retribution and achieve its goals. Many of the tactics used are al Qaeda signature formulas that began to occur after Boko Haram’s reported destruction or dispersion to neighboring countries: suicide bombings, coordinated multi-location bombings, and release of martyrdom videos made by suicide bombers. The only insurgent groups in Africa that have used suicide attacks are al Qaeda in the Lands of the Mahgreb and Somalia’s al Shebaab. Moreover, several facts are quite startling: the sophistication of its capabilities which now include vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), its success rate, and its operations tempo, have shown marked improvement in just over a year’s time.

 

AQIM and al Shebaab are the most likely sources of Boko Haram’s gaining of assistance. In the case of AQIM, counterterrorism efforts have forced it from its traditional home in Algeria into the Sahara-Sahel region of Mali, Mauritania, and Niger and it shifted its focus to transnational jihad in conjunction with al Qaeda in order to sustain itself. The upheaval in Libya with its store houses of weapons, and ties with Boko Haram may provide AQIM with expansion opportunities. Allegedly, a Boko Haram member trained with al Shebaab in Somalia before returning to Nigeria to oversee the successful attack on the United Nations headquarters.

 

 

Are the terrorists doing the will of Allah?

 

Islam as a religion is vulnerable to manipulations just like some other major religions. Islam has many weaknesses and can easily be misrepresented and become the manual of fanatics, anti-socials and criminals, albeit in a perverted form. Considering a historical sketch, many wars have been caused by Islamic fanatics and fundamentalists same as have Christian fanatics and fundametalists. Intolerance may be one of the basic tenets that some people seem to learn from the Quran even though the Quran has also called upon tolerance for all other religious texts. It is unfortunate for the Prophet, that his teachings are abused and that the flaws in the Quran seem to have simply eclipsed all the higher ideals that he tried to establish. Today the Prophet is primarily recognized for his flaws and Islam is considered a religion that promotes and spreads hatred and terror. Islamic fundamentalism stems from the traditions of Abd-al-Wahab although Wahab had himself focused on higher ideals of the Quran.

 

Islamic fundamentalism is a trend among some Ayatollahs and clerics who seem to be intolerant of any transformation or change in the religion. Fundamentalists are found in every historical period and in every religion, they are the ones who adhere too strongly to their religion and are resistant to change or any form of social or spiritual progress for that matter, religion provides them with a basic sense of security which they are not ready to give up. Fundamentalists are adherents of their faith, they do not have a motive to go against the purpose of religions but they do hinder social progress. Yet fundamentalists are not terrorists.

 

Islamic terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon and a radical departure from the purposes of Islam justifying the means (or war) rather than the end (peace and social order). Terrorism has defeated the purposes of Islam in a definite way by blowing the aggression out of proportion. Elements of aggression are also present in other religious texts like say the Bhagavad Gita, but if illiterate unwise individuals exaggerate this, any religion will begin to crumble. Islamic terrorism is largely based on a different terrorist philosophy which uses certain concepts from the Quran to appeal to religious sentiments but terrorism is not Islam. Terrorism has its roots on the flaws of Islam rather than Islam itself. Suppose, if anyone begins a group that promotes and glorifies miracles in Christianity and considers science as utter nonsense, would you call this group as representing Christianity? Of course, not. In a similar manner, you can’t say that terrorism represents Islam. Then how does one justify fanatics and terrorists and their mindless indiscriminate killing that seem to be based on the teachings of the Quran? These terrorists are purely criminals and anti-socials, they are not Muslims, they are not following the entire Quran but simply using the weaknesses in the Quran to justify their own goals. Islamic fanaticism and terrorism thrives so wonderfully simply because Islam is too flawed and too vulnerable for the modern civilized world and also hugely misunderstood and it is necessary that scholars establish a platform for debates and discussion, so that Muslims can begin to move beyond their religion towards social progress rather than destroying it completely through terrorism and fundamentalism.

 

Islam is like any other religion, a religion that searches for peace and social order. The Quran emphasizes on the Oneness of God and this is one of the very ideals in the Quran that seems to have placed it among the world’s most popular and higher religions. But the Quran might come as a shock to most people as it seems to be the most belligerent of all religious texts that glorifies war and polygamy. Do you call this a religious text? To answer this, maybe we have to understand the Quran in its historical context.

 

The Prophet himself had a life of war and strife, he had his own struggles and composed the words of God according to his perspective. He was a human and like every other human he had his flaws and this was reflected in a possible lack of foresight that the Quran could be used to justify violence, aggression and hatred in an otherwise civilized society. But we cannot blame the Prophet or Islam, just like we cannot blame the Bible for glorifying miracles, phenomena considered absolutely unscientific.

 

Every single religion has its flaws but we cannot blame religions, they have to be examined from a historical perspective and it is our fault if we cannot move forward and transform religions according to our social context and the need of our times. Religions are the pillars of all forms of knowledge and we have to save the wisdom of religions but in a different and contemporary form. The West has been considerably fortunate as scientists like Galileo and Newton have helped them move beyond Christianity for that matter and there has been phenomenal social progress because scientific revolution has been possible. Yet the Muslim world is stuck in the traditional philosophy of the Prophet and instead of Einstein and Newton, we have Bin Laden and terrorist groups, here civilization seems to be moving backwards.

 

In the West, religion has led to science, in the Middle East religion has led to terrorism. Is the flaw too deep and too dangerous in the Quran? An eradication of the religion is no solution as there are more than a billion Muslims in this world and the Quran has a lot of good to offer to this world. The only solution may be to save the religion in a contemporary form that is more appropriate for a civilized harmonious society. The political systems of several Muslim countries are based on the Quran and this is where a sociopolitical reform may be necessary, the concept of an ‘Islamic State’ is wrong and detrimental to social progress. Like a scientific revolution in the West, we need a sociopolitical revolution in the Middle East and the Muslim countries and political and education systems will have to move beyond the Quran. We also need religious discussions and possibly a centralized organization in the Muslim world that would moderate all forms of extremism. Islam today is controlled by illiterate terrorists, yet it has to be controlled by scholars who should emphasize on the higher ideals in the Quran such as the Oneness of God and ultimate social order rather than focusing on the flaws such as Jihad and the concept of infidels. The best of Quran has to be drawn out as against the worst that has been successfully usurped and adapted by terrorists.

 

Conclusion

 

Some have attributed the upsurge in Boko Haram’s activities to poverty in northern Nigeria yet, a series of bombing and other coordinated attacks across several towns in the north-east of Nigeria speaks to more than a bunch of angry unemployed young men – at the very least Boko haram has competent bomb makers and members who are willing to become suicide bombers.

 

The complex raison d’être behind Boko Haram also means that resolving the conflict between it and the government will also be difficult and complex. Even though the Nigerian government has offered to negotiate, but there seems little middle ground between the resulting demands of Boko Haram and what the secular government would willingly allow, considering that agreeing to those demands include the entirety of Nigeria coming under Islamic law. The Nigerian government was able to resolve the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta because the demands of the Niger Delta militants were not cumbersome and impossible to meet as they were not religious in nature rather they were materialistic.

 

The Boko Haram imbroglio will be a matter for northern Nigeria elders, traditional rulers and clerics to resolve as the entire northern Nigeria region is at the receiving end of the sect’s attacks as industries, schools, businesses, hospitals, etc have closed down or maintain a skeletal presence.

 

It is too simplistic to simply say that Boko Haram is a problem that can be tackled by the present Nigerian government and that the government is not willing or doing enough to check the menace and threat posed by the group. Of a truth, a product of the global Islamic insurgency cannot be wished away or be easily dealt with as the Americans have found out in Afganistan. Many countries today are grappling with this problem that is very complex and cannot be easily mitigated. The people, whether Christian or Moslem, need to stand united behind their government and tell the terrorists that there is no place for them in the Nigerian society.

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1 Comment

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