The kidnappings by the shadowy group known as Boko Haram of 300 school girls in Nigeria has sparked outrage worldwide. In the plethora of global horrors that we are confronted with daily this register’s particularly close to home.
Girls who were simply taking advantage of that most basic of human rights, the right to an education were enslaved! What trauma and horror must they be experiencing? One immediately associates with the feeling of anxiety, dread, hopelessness and anger that the parents of the beloved daughters who have been snatched away are experiencing.
The hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, begun by Nigerian activists has become a medium for citizens around the globe to express their solidarity with the families of the girls and also to pressure the Nigerian government, which’s abysmal response has not only been lackadaisical but negligent. As Nigerian writer and activist, Ijeowa Uduma told Democracy Now!,
Yes, we are just hashtagging, but guess what: Everybody all over the world are also hashtagging and putting pressure on the government. So this is what we want, for people to keep talking, keep tweeting, keep calling, keep protesting. That’s what is putting pressure on the government.
There are a number of variables and mysteries that add to the complexity of the situation in Nigeria. What is Boko Haram? When did it begin? Who funds them? What are their goals? Where are they hiding? These are some of the questions that are begging to be answered. What we do know is that the answers to these questions aren’t easy or straight forward. Ilisha highlighted this point quite succinctly in a previous article on Boko Haram,
…Boko Haram has evolved into a franchise that includes criminal groups claiming its identity. Revealingly, Nigeria’s State Security Services issued a statement on Nov. 30, identifying members of four “criminal syndicates” that send threatening text messages in the name of Boko Haram. Southern Nigerians — not northern Muslims — ran three of these four syndicates, including the one that led the American Embassy and other foreign missions to issue warnings that emptied Abuja’s high-end hotels. And last week, the security services arrested a Christian southerner wearing northern Muslim garb as he set fire to a church in the Niger Delta. In Nigeria, religious terrorism is not always what it seems. (via. New York Times)
It should go without saying that there is nothing within Islam today, or in fact, in pre-modern classical Shariah that would justify the kidnapping of girls in schools and selling them as wives and or slaves. Muslims are as outraged as anyone else, Al-Azhar has chimed in, and many others in condemnation and demand for action.
The theory that Boko Haram’s agenda is to “Islamize” is unconvincing, considering that nine Nigerian states have already incorporated Shariah as law.
Christianist vs. Islamist?:
While we seek answers to the above questions and pray for the rescue of the girls, it is important to note that Western journalists and media outlets have been extremely irresponsible in lazily describing Boko Haram as an “Islamist” and or “Islamic” group.
Boko Haram terrorists, kidnap victims believed hiding in vast and treacherous forest–Fox News (“The ruthless Islamic terrorist behind the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls…”)
Boko Haram holds girls, kills 300 Nigerians–USA Today (“On Wednesday, Nigerian officials confirmed that Islamists killed as many as 300 people in the town of Gamboru Ngala…”)
Boko Haram’s Local Fight Suddenly Gets International Scrutiny–NPR (“The radical Islamist group Boko Haram isn’t new…”)
Boko Haram ‘to sell’ Nigeria girls abducted from Chibok–BBC (“Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram…”)
Boko Haram: The group behind the brazen Nigerian schoolgirl kidnappings–CBC (“Islamic group kidnapped over 300 Nigerian schoolgirls…The group is part of a jihadist Islamist organization that has been linked to al-Qaeda…”)
The Lord’s Resistance Army has operated for years as one of Africa’s most brutal terrorist militias. Some of the favorite tactics of the LRA include kidnapping and turning captives into slaves,
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), one of the oldest and most brutal armed groups in Africa, has murdered, raped, kidnapped and maimed tens of thousands of men, women and children, plundered villages and turned their captives into fighters, servants and sex slaves.
In a clear double standard the LRA’s, (its leader Joseph Kony is fond of describing himself as a “devout Christian“) relation to Christianity is rarely mentioned in media reports. When it is mentioned there is a painstaking effort to relate how bizarre, cult-like and deviant the LRA’s ideology is from mainstream Christianity. Most news outlets and agencies refer to the LRA as a “rebel army.”
Armed U.S. Advisers to Help Fight African Renegade Group–NYTimes (“President Obama said Friday that he had ordered the deployment of 100 armed military advisers to central Africa to help regional forces combat the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious renegade group…”)
Joseph Kony in hiding near South Sudan border, UN states–Telegraph (No mention of the LRA as terrorists, Christian associated, extremists, or even a militia)
LRA Commander Captured in Central African Republic–Voice of America (“The LRA is notorious…The rebel group formed in…)
Why have one in four fled their homes in CAR?–BBC (“Added to the mix, the Ugandan rebel movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army…”)
Jungle horror: A survivor of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army tells his story–Fox News (“Rebels serving in Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, a violent cult that mixes a warped Christian fundamentalism with African mysticism and violence…”)
Not one mention of the LRA as”Christianist” or “extremist Christian.”
This is a good place to remind readers that “Islamist” is quite often used as a blunt polemical hammer that dumbs down our understanding and quite often conflates fringe and even cult-like groups such as Boko Haram with “Islam” as a whole,
“Islamism” is a fraught term, as it attempts to describe a disparate, diverse and geographically spread out phenomenon that is ever evolving in monolithic language. While some groups and ideologues self-describe as “Islamiyoon” (Islamists), often groups who do not are also lumped into the category of “Islamism.”
Adding to the fraught nature of the term many Muslims reject its validity wholesale. It doesn’t matter to them if it is employed by political groups for purposes of self-description or not because of the abuse and violence many of its proponents both Muslim and non-Muslim perpetrate against “Islam.”
Islam of course predates the concept of “Islamism,” a thoroughly modern phenomenon that quixotically attempts to unite “deen wa dawla” (religion and state), establish an “Islamic state,” and reconcile the ideology of nationalism within an Islamic politics.
The contradictions between Islam and this broad conception of “Islamism” are evident. Dawla for most of Islamic history and literature has been defined and referred to as meaning “dynasty.” The modern nation state conception was an outgrowth of Christian Europe and is alien to the long history of Islam which favored strong societies and weak governments rather than strong states and weak societies. Islam and the modern concept of nationalism are also in tension.
At the end of the day we are all repulsed by the evil actions of Boko Haram, but we should not and cannot fall into paralysis. If you believe in prayer, yes, you should pray, but don’t stop there, contribute to organizations that are seeking to end sexual slavery, for instance in our own backyard here in the USA.