Boko Haram is a name that has become synonymous with terrorism, but worse than that, as Mike Smith details in his new book, Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War, it is also a part of daily life and fear for many Nigerians.
To know more about this group, we must first correctly identify it. Boko Haram is not its real name; instead, it is a colloquialism given to them by the outside world which stands for “Western education is forbidden.” The label came from foreigners’ understanding of the group’s belief system. Their true name is Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad, or People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad. It’s a mouthful, but we should at least be proper with our introductions to the enemy.
The origins stem from a number of places, but can be described in two main ways: splintered factions of one nation and splintered factions of one religion. Geographically, Nigeria was never one true country. From its inception it was a combination of a wide group of states and cultures thrown together at the Berlin Conference in 1884. The major European powers drew up the borders as they saw fit and Nigeria was born.
It’s always dangerous to create a nation by forcing the alliance of a wide number of disparate religious and ethnic groups. Obviously they won’t always agree. On top of that, Nigeria through its history has shown the ugly side of democracy, where the citizens vote and take their duty seriously, only to find their elected leaders guilty of some of the most brazen corruption and aggression against their own people. Especially in the northern portions of Nigeria, the people see democracy as one of the main problems, making the region ripe for a group like Boko Haram to come in proposing something completely different.
Then come the religious differences. Just as with all the other major belief systems, being Muslim means many different things depending on which ancient system you follow. In the beginnings of Nigeria it was the Sufi school that dominated the ruling classes, but later there was an influx of Wahhabi-Salafi fundamentalism, which can be described as a return to what its adherents consider a more pure form of Islam. The two traditions were instantly in contradiction with each other, resulting in even more fractures in the already dysfunctional country.
As to the mission statement of Boko Haram, it can be hard to nail down since the group is made up of any number of cells which have the ability to act completely on their own. Boko Haram has become an umbrella term for groups that even split apart from the original terrorist group. The divisions came from differing opinions on where to focus their efforts, whether on kidnapping and ransom or religious conversions, and some in the group also disagreed with killing innocent Muslims during attacks that were developed to inflict damage on foreigners.
Just this week, there was a message from one of its leaders, Abu Bakr Shekau, who pledged the group’s allegiance to ISIL, the so-called Islamic State, another major terrorist group acting in the Middle East. Shekau has often been reported killed, so it is not even certain that the person making the statement is still the original leader. But either way, this could start a whole new chapter in Nigeria’s dark days of terror and cause the fighting in Iraq to intensify.
If you are looking to understand more of Nigeria’s history and how Boko Haram began and learned to thrive, this book from Mike Smith is the perfect place to start.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1784530743]