BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS
This week, the focus on Islamic extremism has briefly shifted to Nigeria and a group called Boko Haram. The group have gone on a killing spree in northern Nigeria, leading to the deaths of at least 150 people.
The Boko Haram, who also reportedly call themselves ‘Taliban’, are led by Mohammed Yusuf, and their name translates from Hausa as ‘western education is forbidden’. They certainly seem to practice what they preach, and Yusuf has been quoted as saying that he rejects claims regarding the spherical nature of planet earth.
What Boko are in fact forbidding is any teaching that they deem un-Islamic, and they intend to force this anti-education agenda on the rest of the country. The group seems to have tried to take control of certain cities in the north of the country, including Maidiguri, and their attacks are mainly focused on the police and other government institutions.
A form of Sharia law has been in place in northern Nigerian states since 2000, and the Zamfara state was the first to impose it. The Borno state, where much of the violence has occurred, soon followed suit. For many Nigerian Islamists however, Sharia has not been implemented ‘in full’, as many of the harsher Sharia punishments have, on the whole, not been carried out. Thus, the Boko Haram were formed in 2004 to resist attempts at ‘watering down’ Sharia law.
The recent violence is but the inevitable result of placating Islamists with concessions. When dealing with adherents to a supremacist and expansionist ideology, giving in to their demands rarely does more than encourage more bigotry and violence intended to impose Sharia theocracy whether it is wanted or not. There is no better example of this than the Malakand Accord in Pakistan, which handed Malakand to the Taliban in the hope that is would quench their thirst for power, only for it to encourage Baitullah Mehsud (head of the Pakistani Taliban) to attempt further forays into the country.
According to Nigerian journalist Mannir Dan Ali:
“the whole situation seems to be a failure of intelligence, a failure of the security forces to act before matters reached the point that they have now reached. We could literally see it coming over the past few weeks.”
Many, including myself, have seen this coming over the past few years. As with the Afghan Taliban’s destruction of the ancient Buddha statues in Mach 2001, there have been a number of warning shots from Nigeria’s Islamists since 2000, which have been largely ignored. One of these was in the Zamfara town of Kaduna in 2002 where over 100 people were killed when Islamist thugs rioted in protest of the Miss Universe contest that was being held in Abuja at the time. The second event which should have pricked up the ears of the Nigerian central government and the international community was the 2003 prohibition of polio vaccines by the paranoid mullahs of Nigeria’s northern Kano state. This was on the basis that the vaccines were in fact a western/Jewish plot to either spread AIDS or render Muslim women infertile. Alas, all of their research and studies on this plot were unable to determine exactly which one it was. Thanks to this masterstroke of Islamist paranoia and stupidity, polio “spread to 10 surrounding nations that had been polio-free for years, leaving nearly 700 children paralyzed and re establishing polio in four countries.” (Scientific American, December 2004)
The 2002 and 2003 events, along with many others, should have been seen as prime examples of the growth of radical Islam within Nigeria, and should have been dealt with accordingly. Instead it has been allowed to fester and the violence that we are now witnessing should come as no surprise. Al-Qaeda have long ago identified Africa, and Nigeria in particular, as fertile ground and the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab have already openly aligned themselves with bin Laden. Boko Haram would very likely do the same if presented with an opportunity, although concrete connections with al-Qaeda are yet to be uncovered.
The violence in northern Nigeria should not be ignored in the same way as previous warnings, and must be dealt with before al-Qaeda forge yet another deadly alliance.