Nigeria: Why Islamism succeeds, in miniature

Terra Incognita: Nigeria launches offensive against Islamists, US voices support for security forces to protect civilians by all means.

Nigerian mourners at graves 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nigerian mourners at graves 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 law.”
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 York Times 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 exists today.”
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” people.
Islamic terrorists are often described as being part of “loose knit” bands of “militants” who “strike at random.”
Communal violence, 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 rousers.”
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 uprising.
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 kidnap.”
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 mafia.
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 mum.
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 restraint.”
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 “dialogue.”
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 humanity.
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 murderers.
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.
TERRORISM 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 apply.
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.