Three days after Nigeria launched an offensive on May 16 against Islamic
terrorists, US Secretary of State John Kerry stepped in; “We urge Nigeria’s
security forces to apply disciplined use of force in all operations, protect
civilians in any security response and respect human rights and the rule of
For years the Islamists, called Boko Haram, had terrorized northern
Nigeria, eroding government control, slaughtering thousands and ethnically
cleansing Christians and other groups. The US and others remained silent and now
that the government sought to re-assert its control and protect minorities, it
was the government that must show “restraint.” The story of northern Nigeria is
the story of Islamism’s success in miniature, and why terrorism always seems to
succeed in advancing the goals of extremists.
In January 2012 The New
published an op-ed by Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the
State University of New York, in which she argued that allegations of a
terrorist group named Boko Haram operating in Nigeria were unfounded: “Policy
makers are chasing an elusive and ill-defined threat; there is no proof that a
wellorganized, ideologically coherent terrorist group called Boko Haram event
Several days later the non-existent group attacked
Christian-owned businesses in Mubi, Yola, Gombi and Maiduguri in northern
Nigeria, murdering more than 40 people. On January 20 the group attacked
churches in Kano and slaughtered 185 Christian Nigerians. On Easter they bombed
a church in Kaduna and in June they bombed three churches. In July and August
several Christian villages were ethnically cleansed, culminating with a
Christmas-day massacre of more than 27 worshipers when terrorists set fire to
their churches as they prayed.
In decades of terror the KKK never racked
up the body count Boko Haram has in just a few months. Is it because the
Africans in Nigeria are the wrong skin color or the wrong religion that their
deaths don’t seem to matter? Those are convenient excuses, but more likely the
real culprit here is that they are being killed by the “wrong”
Islamic terrorists are often described as being part of “loose
knit” bands of “militants” who “strike at random.”
say, when a gang of Muslims emerges from a mosque after Friday prayers and burn
down some churches, is often excused as an “outburst of spontaneous rioting”
caused by a “rage” usually set off through “rumors” spread by “rabble
If Christians in Italy went on a rampage, burning down several
mosques and murdering 50 people, it would be considered a major event. Islamist
terror, on the other hand, gets a pass. People pretend it is so savage and
complex that it can’t be understood. It is “elusive” and “ill-defined.” Allowed
to fester in the shadows, picking off several hundred people here and there, it
is able to grow and prosper. Western intellectuals don’t do anyone a service by
pretending it doesn’t exist; in a sense they excuse deaths at the hands of a
well-organized terrorist campaign.
Their claims that the slaughter stems
from “tribal... ethnic...
economic” conflicts over “land and resources”
don’t stand up to scrutiny since no one would excuse the murder of minorities in
the West based on such criteria.
WHEN NIGERIA launched its latest
offensive against the terrorists, media reports indicated that this would end
“any chance of dialogue” with a group that is “fighting the Nigerian
government.” The story of “dialogue” is always trotted out when governments seek
to end criminal terrorism.
In January of 2012 the BBC ran a story called
“will dialogue end insurgency?” A member of Nigeria’s Civil Rights Congress,
Shehu Sani, asked, “Why has the government waited so long? Before 2009 Boko
Haram was not a violent organization – it was a sect just like other sects in
northern Nigeria, dreaming of a country that is under Shariah law and also under
the rule of Islam.” Sani implied that Boko Haram were the real victims; “They
picked up arms when violence was used against them in 2009 and their leaders
were killed in cold blood by security agencies.”
According to this view
the government of Umar Musa Yar-Adua provoked Boko Haram and brought violence on
itself. Sani claims that Goodluck Jonathan, the current president of Nigeria,
could have said to the terrorists, “I am calling you to come and sit down and
let’s discuss the issue.”
The “civil rights” approach claims that the
killing of the movement’s leader made it violent. But in fact the terrorists
first launched an “uprising” that resulted in the murder of 800 people, mostly
civilians, in 2009. The government captured and killed the leader in the
This is typical with terrorist movements. Some action of the
government (usually not giving in to demands for autonomy or other “needs” of
the extremist group) triggers terrorism, and then, when the government seeks to
stop it, the government is said to have “provoked” it.
This excuse has
been used in Indonesia, Thailand, China, Phillipines, Mauritania, Kosovo, Russia
and numerous other places where Islamist terrorists claimed to merely seek
“autonomy.” In order to achieve said independence, even when democratic means
were available, the terrorists don’t fight the government but simply slaughter
civilians, as part of what is termed “conflict” but is in fact simple mass
murder. The notion is that as long as people are willing to murder for
something, they must have a legitimate grievance.
ANOTHER TACTIC is the
theory that terrorists only act in order to free their “comrades.” Sani claims
that by not releasing imprisoned members of Boko Haram, the government was at
fault: “A responsible government...
should concede to the demands of
those who are issuing the threats.”
According to a 2009 article in Yediot
Aharonot the Israeli Nobel prize winner Adi Yonath holds similar views; “Anyone
who is imprisoned in Israel who is not just a criminal but what we refer to as a
terrorist should not be imprisoned....
If we wouldn’t have these people
here [in prison] there would be no one to release and no motivation to
This absurd logic means that terrorists can never be arrested,
because to do so creates an excuse for more terrorism.
But no society
employs similar logic in dealing with organized crime. If you arrest a member of
the mafia for crimes and the mafia kidnaps police, you don’t then claim that if
only the mafia member had been freed the mafia would have no reason to be the
Similarly, no one thought to employ this logic when fighting
neo-Nazis or the KKK.
In demanding Nigeria show “restraint” John Kerry
fell into another trap that allows terrorists to roam free. For five years, as
Boko Haram murdered thousands, blew up dozens of churches and ethnically
cleansed villages, no one asked them to show “restraint.” The US was
Yet, one Nigerian army offensive and a few curfews of towns where
Boko Haram has taken over, and suddenly the onus is on the government to “show
Returning to the KKK analogy, we don’t think of the FBI
needing to exercise “proportionate” force in dealing with them. Should Interpol
“show restraint” if neo-Nazis in Europe were to murder 3,000 people, bomb 30
synagogues and burn hundreds of places of business of minorities? Would we
seriously expect the full force of the government to not be brought to bear?
Only with Islamist terrorism is there always a refrain of “restraint” and
The resort to compromises merely feeds the illusion that
terrorism is part of a legitimate “conflict with the state.” It isn’t. The
terrorist goal is mass killing of civilians; its conflict is with
There is no basis for negotiation, since a state cannot
prioritize the desire of the terrorist to murder its citizens over the right of
its citizen to freedom and life.
Those who argue for freeing the
terrorists implicitly argue that the lives of the citizens have no worth, since
they argue for the legalization of their murder through the freeing of the
Those who claim that Boko Haram merely want “autonomy” should
ask why their attacks always target unarmed minorities. During the US Civil War,
when the south sought to secede its first act wasn’t to murder random people to
advance that goal. It fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, a symbol of the
US Federal government and a legitimate military target.
SUCCEEDS because we have gotten used to the idea that murdering civilians is a
legitimate method of “conflict” and we have convinced ourselves that “dialogue”
and “restraint” are the proper responses to such murder. Terrorism should be
confronted with the most disproportionate force it is possible to
Prisoners should only be released in coffins and ransom paid only
in bullets. Autonomy should be granted only to the army and police – to use all
means necessary to eliminate terrorism.
Rather than fear the growth of
the terrorist insurgency, counter-insurgents should welcome it as a way to bring
the potential terrorists out of the closet. After all, the Nazis also recruited
their entire society for war in 1945, from 15-year-olds to 70-year-olds, and
they still lost.