Town by town, base by base

Boko Haram has taken over a whole town and a military base in Borno. That’s bad.

The BBC reports:

Boko Haram has seized a town and key multinational military base in north-eastern Nigeria, officials and eyewitnesses say.

A senator in Borno state said troops had abandoned the base in the town of Baga after it was attacked on Saturday.

Residents of Baga, who fled by boat to neighbouring Chad, said many people had been killed and the town set ablaze.

Baga, scene of a Nigerian army massacre in 2013, was the last town in the Borno North area under government control.

So a part of Nigeria is now in the hands of Boko Haram. That’s bad.

Maina Maaji Lawan, senator for Borno North, told BBC World Service civilians had run “helter skelter” – “some into the forest, some into the desert”.

Communications with the town were cut off and exact information about casualty numbers could not be confirmed, he said.

“We are very dispirited,” the senator added.

The military simply ran away, he said. The people there find this hugely frustrating, as well they might.



  1. Holms says

    Clearly, they need open carry laws. If only they had some Good Guys With Guns, this would never have-

    The military simply ran away, he said. The people there find this hugely frustrating, as well they might.


  2. says

    Is the current government of Nigeria much more legitimate than Boko Haram? One of the things about this story that I find endlessly depressing is that, through most of human history, what Boko Haram is doing is more or less how governments get established. It’s always the people – who more or less wish to be left alone – that suffer. 🙁

    The military simply ran away

    Probably because they were also not expecting to actually have to fight anyone – they probably also existed to shove the defenceless people around. It sounds like the situation in the ISIL regions, as well. Ruthless men with guns, trying to become the established state.

  3. Eric MacDonald says

    Marcus, you seem to misunderstand the situation. Nigeria is a Christian majority country with a Muslim minority. Boko Haram (meaning roughly “Western beliefs and practices are forbidden”) is plundering the North of the country where they are in the majority, and kidnapping and killing Christians by the hundreds in the process. The government is corrupt, and the army has lost discipline. The victory of Boko Haram will not be a good thing, however, since it will mean the murder or forceful conversion of most people in the country. Boko Haram has identified itself already with the Islamic State. This is important, because, if the Islamic State is successful in creating a Caliphate, it will be in a position to demand offensive jihad worldwide, since only a Caliph is able to command offensive jihad. Every step forward for Boko Haram is a step in that direction, towards the creation of a Caliphate. Libya is already at risk. Despite the Sisi government, the Muslim Brotherhood is still very powerful in Egypt. And Hamas has already identified itself with the Islamic State as well. If the nascent Caliphate can link up these territories, from Iraq to Nigeria (likely including Somalia in the process), it will have an enormous power base upon which to build its offensive jihad, besides causing horrendous harm in the process. That no one so far seems to be aware of this possibility, and the risk it poses, is troubling. But breezily to speak about establishing a Muslim state in Nigeria in terms of “doing … more or less how governments get established” is (perhaps carelessly) ignoring some of the most salient power issues affecting the Middle East and North Africa at the present moment. The possibility of major regional conflict is almost a reality, and we think bombing a few Islamic State militants is a proportional response to the situation. This is very disturbing.

  4. Bakunin says

    The atrocities of Boko Haram and the Islamic State are objectively wrong and should be condemned.
    With that out of the way, a State has a monopoly on legal use of force. When that monopoly is lost, the State has failed. That’s what I took from Marcus’s comment. The governments of Syria, Somalia, and Iraq have failed. Something will take their place, regardless of our opinions.
    Moving on to the ‘Caliphate’ (scare quotes intentional), a Caliph is not magic, regardless of how many regions follow him. I doubt the existence of enough Muslims who would recognise said Caliph and be stirred to violence on his word alone, who weren’t already violent, to actually effect world jihad. More plausible is the existence of some violent authoritarians who were already planning or committing violent acts that claim the Caliph’s blessing.
    I don’t see the House of Said welcoming the Caliphate, they’re in too deep with the West. Qatar thrives on tourism and ‘sin’. Turkey has previously quashed theocratic uprisings and returned to civilian rule. Iran has no reason to recognise a Caliph, especially with the shia/sunni split over succession.

    Atrocities are bad, regardless of who, whom, or why. Boko Haram and IS should be fought, and are being fought. But ‘Caliphate’ fear-mongering is unnecessary.

  5. says

    The victory of Boko Haram will not be a good thing, however, since it will mean the murder or forceful conversion of most people in the country

    I never said it would be a good thing. I questioned how legitimate Nigeria’s “real government” compared to any other gang of armed thugs. If you somehow interpreted my words as indicating approval of government by force, you misunderstood me.

    All of these governments suck. If you want to think in terms of social contract theory, none of them are legitimate in the slightest. The US has certainly done its share (and then some) to prevent democracy from happening in many parts of the world and has propped up many horrible dictatorships – in some cases, not all, the new batches of thugs with guns are a response to the current batches of thugs with guns. In a world where the US was a decent power, it would be pressuring the thugs to govern without repression, which would probably result in more political stability in many critical parts of the world – people who are well-governed are less likely to support new crops of thugs with guns. Please don’t fall for the propaganda that these organizations are universal pariahs – the logistics of being an insurgent force like Boko Haram or ISIL are such that they cannot survive without enough of a popular base; they simply are not professional enough to effectively repress an entire population that is against them (therefore, we should acknowledge that they have a measure of political support, however grudging it may be)
    These are horrible decisions for people to have to face. And the US, with its idea of “political stability” consisting of “finding a biddable dictator” instead of allowing political self-determination, has done a tremendous amount to undermine the very ability of people to establish workable governments. Besides, a lot of them probably think “Why bother? If we actually had a government that worked, the CIA would overthrow it next time Exxon needed to re-negotiate a contract.”

    Atrocities are bad, regardless of who is committing them and why. Absolutely.

    The US, however, cannot continue to pretend as though these atrocities happen in a vacuum. Well, OK, they do – they happen often in a political vacuum the US created. Part of the narrative the US wishes to broadcast is that these organizations are somewhat like movie gangsters that appear out of nowhere and are simply bad people devoid of context. That’s complete bullshit, of course – no matter how awful ISIL is, it’s a political reaction to the horrific dictatorships the US and USSR emplaced over the region. Just as in the US, when we vote for “the lesser of two evils” in our fake elections between Republicans and Democrats, the people in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon are trying to figure out which is the lesser of two evils between a bunch of US-supported thugs and anti-US thugs. And the US-supported thugs don’t look so hot right now. Neither does ISIL. The US overthrow of Libya, using CIA-trained forces that were penetrating Libya from Nigeria … had a lot to do with destabilizing Nigera, and the chaos in Libya today is what has given Boko Haram the oxygen it needs to flare up, in exactly the same way that ISIL emerged from the US-led toppling of Iraq (or should I call that a “dictator swap”?) and ham-fisted attempts at “regime change” in Syria. Remember, the US was giving satellite intelligence and weapons (though they were lying about the weapons and had them delivered through Qatar and Turkey so it wasn’t “the US” arming the anti-Assad insurgents… It’s the same horrific playbook that has been played over and over again and the results would only surprise the most optimistic and foolish chickenhawk. The US and its Arab League puppets had as much to do with creating ISIL as the US and Britain had to do with creating the Muslim Brotherhood (“political islam”, if you recall, being a reaction to the horrible dictators the US and Britain had installed in Egypt; Qutb was educated in the US and his version of islam was a direct reaction what he perceived as the violence and decadence of US culture.* Boko Haram got its traction from the fact that the government of Nigera is christian and regulated islam, and is corrupt and ineffective. That’s about political power, not religion.

    Anyhow – caliphate is certainly worth worrying about, as is Boko Haram. But the US needs to deal with them as our frankenstein monsters and stop pretending they are just some kind of evil force that sprang out of nowhere. This is not about Islam. It’s about divide and conquer imperialism and the fallout from colonialism.

    (* Good thing nobody went back with a time machine and told him “you ain’t seen nothin’, yet”)

  6. Eric MacDonald says

    Sorry if I misread you, Marcus. However, let’s start with this statement: “That’s about political power, not religion.” Since when have religions not been political? There is no magic separation between religion and politics. Indeed, from the point of view of Islam, it is impossible to do so, since in Islamic terms the rightly ordered government is one that is subordinate to the laws of Islam. This is something that the West has yet fully to understand, and the constant repetition of the mantra about Islam, the religion of peace, seems to indicate a complete obliviousness to the nature of Islam, which will go on accumulating political power in any way that it can wherever it is. The Muslims might have been stopped at the gates of Vienna, but it would be shortsighted not to recognise that the intentions of contemporary Islam are the very same as those that motivated the Ottoman Caliphate.

    Someone has suggested that we use scarequotes around ‘caliphate’. Fine with me, so long as we remember a number of things that seem to be increasingly lost on those who are faced with the transitions taking place in the Islamic world. ISIS might yet be unsuccessful, and the so-called ‘Caliphate’ simply fade into an ignominious past. But it won’t happen by bombing ISIS. Wars are won on the ground, not from the air. Bombing may have given the Kurds some breathing space, but the radicalisation of the Middle East and Africa beyond the bounds of the ‘Caliphate’ to include Turkey, Egypt (snatched like a brand from the burning, but with no obvious way of dealing effectively with the Muslim Brotherhood), Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, and, of course, the already radicalised Hamas (and its unity government with the Palestinian Authority), and increasingly Lebanon, may well create a situation from which Saudi Arabia (and possibly even the Gulf states) will be unable to distance itself. There is very little difference between IS Islamism and the Islamism exported worldwide from Saudi Arabia.

    As for the US not allowing self-determination, and looking for biddable dictators. We have seen what self-determination has done in Iraq, Libya, and Egypt (with Tunisia the only shining exception). Democracy is simply not exportable to Islamic lands. Self-determination consists in the ascendency of Islamists, which is why the US has continued to deal with dictators. But until the US and its allies get it through their heads that their ventures in the ME have been colossal failures so far, and that self-determination is not going to work, the choices left are pretty minuscule. But this is about Islam, and it has very little to do with the fallout from colonialism (which is a continuous red herring in these discussions). Don’t forget that Muslim lands were not widely colonised by the West, especially the Islamic heartland of Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, etc. While Britain and France did divide the spoils after the First World War and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire (which, you will recall, sided with Germany) and managed Egypt as a protectorate for longer (to protect the canal and the route to India), none of these lands became British colonies, though Egypt and the Lebanon were probably better governed and more prosperous under British and French protectorates than they had been before or since. But to suggest that Boko Haram, ISIS (or IS) and Al Shabab have nothing to do with Islam is to play fast and loose with language. This is not to say that American (and allies) intrusion in Iraq did not create the instability which Islamists are now taking advantage of.

    One of the things that concerns me is the bland assumption that all we have to do is introduce people to democracy and they will favour it over any other form of government. They won’t, since the conditions for democracy have not been created. The ludicrousness of having elections while both Afghanistan and Iraq were still in the middle of a war doesn’t seem to have dawned on anyone. After WW II there was an allied military administration for some time, until German democratic forces could be generated. Same with Japan. And yet we expect Islamic countries to develop working democracies while war is still being waged, for fear that supposedly ‘Crusader’ administrations would simply fire up anti-colonial forces and make the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq untenable.
    And now the US and allies are doing the same thing all over again. Arming people without having any clear game plan of what they want to achieve by doing so. The utility of military force requires a clear political outcome, and this has been lacking wherever American forces have been involved, because of the American myth of liberty and democracy, forgetting that the American colonists were British, and had the same expectations in the colonies as the British did at home. Other jurisdictions are not so well placed to create democratic institutions, Islamic jurisdictions least of all, as is clear in Turkey where Attaturk’s modernisation (and where even the army has been subborned by Erdogan’s Islamist programme, where originally it had sedulously defended Attaturk’s reforms) has been in reverse now for several years, and where Islamic State shenanigans will doubtless play themselves out if it is not stopped in its tracks (which is unlikely, since no one is prepared to commit ground troops to the fight). The whole thing is a dog’s breakfast, and the West has still not wakened to the dangers of unrestricted immigration of Muslims, without some assurance that this will not eventually become an Islamist fifth column (which it seems increasingly to be).

  7. Eric MacDonald says

    Bakunin, I think I have answered most of your points above, but I would just like to add that you seem unable to understand the importance and the emotional weight of the idea of the Caliphate in Islam. Sure, Saudi Arabia is threatened, and feels threatened. And while it is true that Turkey in the past has put down theocratic uprisings, Erdogan’s Turkey is a very different reality, and itself amounts to a theocratic polity. I am not fear mongering. I a simply trying to understand the shifts and changes that have been taking place in the Middle East and North Africa since the so-called Arab Spring (and their possible implications), which Obama welcomed with so much irrelevant rhetoric. The ‘West’ is now bombing the ‘Islamic State’, as it had been urged to do by regional powers (which are making minimal contributions). But consider what happened when we bombed Libya in much the same way. Ineffective at best, catastrophic at worst, the present campaign against the Islamic State will likely be a similarly costly blunder. Unless the West is prepared to take on the responsibility of governing — which the US would see as colonialism — there is very little point in getting involved, except for the express purpose of saving minorities, and that will require the use of ground troops. And when you talk about dictators, as though they were a British innovation: when were Islamic lands not ruled by dictators? Consider Islamic lands today. How many of them have democratic governments? And British imperialism is responsible for this?! Give me strength!

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