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May 09 2014

Guest post by Leo Igwe: The menace of Boko Haram

The menace of Boko Haram is not just a military issue – it is an ideological one. The west should help Nigeria defeat Boko Haram and win the battle of ideas.

The kidnapping of more than 200 school girls by Nigeria’s terrorist group, Boko Haram, has attracted outrage and condemnation from different parts of the globe.(1)

People across the world have joined the online campaign to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ and pressure the government of Nigeria to do more in combating the menace of this Islamist group.(2,3).

The US, the UK and France have offered to help Nigeria rescue the girls and bring their abductors to justice.

But some people are speculating that an intervention by western countries could turn Nigeria into another Afghanistan. They are suggesting that Nigeria be left alone, that no assistance be given to the country as it battles this Al-Qaeda linked organisation.(4)

Personally I think those making this submission are mistaken. I have been writing about Boko Haram and the activities of other muslim fanatics and theocrats in Nigeria for many years.

It is obvious that Nigeria needs military and intelligence assistance to rescue the abducted girls and defeat Boko Haram. Unfortunately, efforts by the Nigerian government to contain the insurgency and attacks have proved largely ineffective. So Nigeria needs help, urgent international help to boost its counter terrorism initiatives.

If international assistance is provided to countries when they are hit by natural disasters, or when countries experience aviation mishaps as in the case of the missing Malaysia airline flight MH370, why should countries – western or eastern – not extend help to Nigeria and ensure that these girls are brought back to their families? Nigeria is grappling with a humanitarian crisis with a international dimension. The government is fighting a transnational terrorist group that recruits members from neighbouring countries.(5) Boko Haram has already carried out trans-border raids and kidnapping(6). It has attacked the UN building in Abuja.(7) If it gets the opportunity, Boko Haram could attack embassies of western countries or business interests in Nigeria as al-Shabab did in Kenya.(8) The menace of Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian issue. This terrorist group poses a serious threat to peace and security in the region and beyond.

There is no doubt that western intervention could worsen the situation in Nigeria. This could happen if western countries think that the Boko Haram issue requires only a military solution. It does not. The menace of Boko Haram is both a military as well as an ideological issue. And defeating this terrorist group needs – and would need – both the force of arms but also the force of ideas – secular democratic ideas. It will require mental reorientation and ‘value change’. Boko Haram is an armed group of suicide bombers driven by virulent Islamic extremism and existential nihilism.

The name ‘Boko Haram’ means ‘western education is forbidden’ in the local hausa language. This speaks volumes about the ideological leaning. The group is opposed to ‘western education’ and secular government. It is an offshoot of the ‘anti-western’, jihadist, islamist, theocratic ideology that prevails in many parts of northern Nigeria, hence its agitation for the establishment of an Islamic state.

Boko Haram is a radical fall out of this quest for sharia law andIslamic theocracy by muslim majority states in the country. Like Al Shababa, islamism is its ideological power base for mobilization of support and for recruitment of members. The abduction of the school girls is a radical demonstration of its islamist perception of women and its opposition to secular ideals of gender equality, dignity and human rights.

Secularists, feminists and human rights campaigners should explore ways of counteracting the indoctrintation, ‘dogmatization’ and brainwashing of young muslims in mosques and Quranic schools across northern Nigeria. It is at these ‘praying’ and ‘learning’ centers that clerics radicalize young muslims and turned them into mechants of death and destruction. Human rights campaigners should liase with secular oriented groups and institutions to promote educational reform and inculcate the values of critical thinking, separation of mosque and state, tolerance of other religions and world views, free and open society and universal human rights.

Western intervention should be geared towards helping Nigeria defeat Boko Haram militarily and ideologically.

Leo Igwe is a humanist activist currrently doing research at Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies(religious studies), University of Bayreuth in Germany

1. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/nigeria-missing-girls/article18459078/
2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2623764/Bring-Back-Our-Girls-Anne-Hathaway-takes-streets-LA-megaphone-raise-awareness-kidnapped-Nigerian-schoolgirls.html
3. http://ahjotnaija.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/students-and-professor-susan-arndt-hold-multi-cultural-campaign-in-bayreuth-germany-to-bring-back-our-girls/
4. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/western-intervention-nigeria-kidnapped-girls-corruption-boko-haram
5. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27107375
6. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26899710
7. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14677957
8. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24191606

8 comments

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  1. 1
    quixote

    I know the real idea is to get people to understand some simple truth, but advertsing proves there are other ways of changing people’s minds. Surely a properly geared and executed (and relentless) ad campaign to make BH uncool / anti-Islam / whatever would work as well in Nigeria as an Apple campaign to make a stupid phone cool works in San Francisco.

    Or wouldn’t it?

  2. 2
    Pierce R. Butler

    Leo Igwe clearly needs to muster all possible optimism to do the wonderful work he has done over the years, but I find rose-colored lenses don’t let you see US military/”humanitarian” interventions well at all.

    Lucky Africa has won the top rank among “emerging battlegrounds” of superpower proxies and resource extraction. And where the US goes it tends to stay, often to much local regret. (Go to Beirut, Mogadishu, and Saigon for experienced consultants in Yankee removal when all else fails.)

    Some useful reminders about US Africa policy here: U.S. Bolsters Regimes in Uganda and Nigeria That Persecute Gays and Abuse Human Rights.

    Asking for the US to intervene culturally in Nigeria … ??? Please name one nation, of the many the US has “liberated” in the last two generations, where The Only Superpower has understood the local cultures, worked constructively within them, and left everybody there in improved condition.

    We don’t do that. We do expansion, “regime change”, “free trade”, “covert action”, disaster capitalism, … aka neocolonialism. Without exception – our political and economic mechanisms have no other gear, except all-out warfare (“on terror”, of course).

    Reportedly, US & UK (and maybe French) commandos are zooming their drones all over Borno province & surrounding lands. They now have a chance to be the white hats for a change; I hope it works out that way, and that soon grateful Nigerians will shower them with flowers all the way to the airport.

    Hint to DC: a few billion dollars to the Nigerian health and education* systems at the village/neighborhood level will help much more than military bases (or routing aid money through Pres. Jonathan and friends). (We’ll need some serious homeland regime change to make that one even conceivable, but that’s for another comment.)

    * Has anybody started a Boko Halal movement? **

    ** What are the various voices from the minarets saying about BH lately? Not even Al Jazeera has reported on this in English, sfaict.

  3. 3
    Blanche Quizno

    If we’re going to verbize “liaison”, I think the verb form should be “liaise.” Just sayin’…

    I’m with Pierce R. Butler.

  4. 4
    Bruce

    I think Leo Igwe is correct.
    Pierce Butler also has a point.
    I think that international intervention in Nigeria needs to be done under the leadership of people who know Nigeria.

    Another useful guideline for these situations should be keeping in mind the ultimate goal of any intervention. In Afghanistan, I think the USA had a valid initial goal (to stop Bin Laden), although perhaps there were better ways to achieve it. But after he left the country, what was our goal there? It is hard to say what that goal was, unless it was to persuade the majority of the citizens there to abandon the governmental leadership that they had, as set up by the leaders of the religion that they had. While I personally would approve of this as a desirable goal, I don’t think it ever was a practical or realistic goal. So my view is that the US intervention ceased early on to have any practical or realistic goal, and this was a bad thing.

    So when we consider possible interventions in Nigeria or wherever, I think we should keep the goals in mind. Of course the paradox is that unless our goals benefit US political or business interests, there is little motivation to provide US support for such efforts. But perhaps the increasing significance of Nigeria as an oil producing country will provide the motivation for the US, etc, to intervene in a manner that is coincidentally similar to what it would have been if it were done only for altruistic reasons. Ironically enough, we can only hope that things go well.

  5. 5
    Question mark

    I agree with Pierce Butler about US interventions. If the US would be the only country involved in the intervention then I can see it ending in disaster pretty easily. But I do think that a military intervention could be very useful in Nigeria, it should be an international intervention with only minor comtributions from the American side. I’m not sure how you’d go about doing the “ideological” part of the intervention, though if the Westerners help to lessen the poverty and help the Nigerian government in becoming a strong support for the Nigerian people, it might leave a lasting positive impression.

    @quixote
    That’s assuming Boko Haram is notably popular among the locals, though, which it isn’t. Also, how would people receive these ads? Northern Nigeria is very poor, they’re not gonna have a lot of radios or televisions lying around.

  6. 6
    leni

    Please name one nation, of the many the US has “liberated” in the last two generations, where The Only Superpower has understood the local cultures, worked constructively within them, and left everybody there in improved condition.

    Please name one nation where genocide is the better option.

  7. 7
    Decker

    Human rights campaigners should liase with secular oriented groups and institutions to promote educational reform and inculcate the values of critical thinking, separation of mosque and state, tolerance of other religions and world views, free and open society and universal human rights.

    The U.S. nop longer has any commitment to human rights.

    Since about a year John Kerry has been on diplomatic missions to Brunei, a country Kerry referred to as an “abode of peace”

    Brunei, which has just adopted full monty sharia ‘jurisprudence’, is on the fast track to become one America’s most favored trading nation. Kerry and the Obama administration are granting most favored nation status to to some tinpot Sultanate that will now stone gays to death.

    For some, though, it all begins and ends with a pink hotel

    The ideology promoted by Brunei differs little from that expounded by Boko Harem or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran or Yemen or Afganistan or Acheh province or ,or, or.

    Boko Harem is just the cause de jour…the fundamental problem is Islam.

  8. 8
    quixote

    Leo Igwe doesn’t specify *US* intervention. He says “Western,” which I’m pretty sure he’s using as shorthand for secular, humanist, principled. And sure that’s pie-in-the-sky, but so what? If people only ever tried to do what was realistically feasible, we’d still be living in trees. The pragmatism of the damned serves no one.

    And as for ads, I know that people in remote villages aren’t watching TV all day. Or even at all.And yet somehow penetration of notions of cool is so pervasive that I hear about emigrants braving the Sahara and drowning so that they can own a pair of Nike shoes. What I’m talking about is somehow — and obviously only locals would know enough to know how to do this — somehow harnessing that power to make BH pathetic and ridiculous. Ridicule is the atomic bomb of social enforcement. It would bring down BH in months if there was a way to make it bite.

  1. 9
    The Reading List, 5/14/2014 » Almost Diamonds

    […] Guest post by Leo Igwe: The menace of Boko Haram–”Unfortunately, efforts by the Nigerian government to contain the insurgency and attacks have proved largely ineffective. So Nigeria needs help, urgent international help to boost its counter terrorism initiatives.” […]

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