Not many in the West are aware of just how frequently Nigeria’s Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram commits mass acts of violence. In the last two months, they not only kidnapped 234 schoolgirls, but, three weeks later, attacked a town on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon and massacred 336 people. Apparently it was short on security because the military was concentrating on the rescue the kidnapped girls.
But it’s not just the West which is either ill-informed or ignores Boko Haram’s crimes (see sidebar of its Wikipedia page for a timeline since 2010), it’s Nigeria, too. In February, at GQ, Alex Preston wrote that, because they attack the government, attacks are un- or under-reported.
The Nigerian-American author Teju Cole wrote to me from Nigeria before I arrived, telling of yet another atrocity that had been swept under the carpet by the authorities. “Last week, we had news of 30 or more students in a boarding school in Yobe shot to death or burned alive by Boko Haram. In any other country, the massacre of several ten-to-12-year-olds would have been cause for serious alarm …. But this story was not even carried by the national television service … and it’s already vanished from the papers.”
Meanwhile, on May 8, in the New York Times, Adam Nossiter and David Kirkpatrick wrote that the abduction of the schoolgirls is not only offensive to the vast majority of the Muslim world, but those on its fringes. Boko Haram, they write
… was rejected long ago by mainstream Muslim scholars and Islamist parties around the world for its seemingly senseless cruelty and capricious violence against civilians. But … its stunning abduction appeared too much even for fellow militants normally eager to condone terrorist acts against the West and its allies.
Bronwyn Bruton, an Africa scholar at the Atlantic Council in Washington, told the Times reporters: “The violence most of the African rebel groups practice makes Al Qaeda look like a bunch of schoolgirls.” Nossiter and Kirkpatrick again: “Boko Haram is in many ways an awkward ally. … Its violence is broader and more casual than Al Qaeda or other jihadist groups.” In fact, “its reputation for the mass murder of innocent civilians is strikingly inconsistent with a current push by Al Qaeda’s leaders to avoid such deaths for fear of alienating potential supporters. That was the subject of the dispute that led to Al Qaeda’s recent break with its former affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
How times have changed. Remember, it was Al Qaeda who gave the title “Emir of Al Qaeda in the Country of Two Rivers” to one of the most violent men of the 21st century, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who dispatched suicide bombers and car bombs on everything from hotels to Shia shrines. He’s also thought to have personally beheaded Nicholas Berg.
Of course, with regards to Nigeria, as, at Scholars & Rogues, Gavin Chait writes, “Everything in Nigeria comes down to the violence and corruption of the state.” He quotes a 2005 Human Rights Watch report: “Underlying the conflict are several key issues that fuel the violence, including: the manipulation of frustrated youth by political leaders, traditional elites, and organized crime syndicates involved in oil theft; … crushing poverty and youth unemployment.”
Still, how does Boko Haram justify the depths of depravity to which it descends? Pretty much the same as other Islamist militants. Nossiter and Kirkpatrick:
[Abubakar] Shekau, the leader who claimed to be in communication with God, said that the sole purpose of its violence was to demonstrate the incapacity of the Nigerian state.
More likely they indulge in violence for its own sake. That is, it fulfills a psychic need or they just get off on it, or both. Preston’s GQ piece begins
Two days before I landed in Maiduguri [in northeastern Nigeria], security forces made a gruesome discovery in one of the city’s suburbs. After a tip-off, soldiers carried out a dawn raid on… a secret stronghold of Boko Haram. … Abdulkareem Haruna, a local journalist, arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting finished. He helped search the warren of underground tunnels the terrorists had dug beneath their base. “We found bodies with their hands tied together, their throats cut,” he told me. “Piles of bones; decomposing flesh. On the shelves of the huts, there were jars and containers full of blood that made us think that Boko Haram had cannibalised the bodies. Down towards the river, we came upon shallow graves. It had been raining and as the water flowed over the mud, skulls were exposed.”
One can be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Boko Haram has crossed the border from terrorists to Satanic cult.
Postscript: Re the evaporation, Preston wrote that Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf “was disowned by the Muslim establishment for his ― literal ― flat-earth philosophy. He rejected belief in evolution, evaporation and the notion of a spherical globe.”