Despite making countless efforts by demolishing their own religious sites to help the Nigerian government combat Boko Haram, Muslims in Nigeria still face isolation. After the US State Department enlisted Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, will this bring further interventionism in Africa under the guise of the “War on Terror”, writes Mohammed Kahiye in Nairobi?
In December last year I met a Nigerian Muslim in Kampala, Uganda and asked her about Boko Haram’s activities in Nigeria. A lady by the name of Grace interrupted the conversation by saying “You know what? You Muslims believe if you kill a non-Muslim, Allah will prepare you seventy virgins in heaven, that is why Boko Haram members are young Muslims.”
I remained calm at this ignorant comment as this wasn’t the first time I encountered such misconceptions about Islam and explained to Grace what the Quran says about the killing of innocent people by quoting the following verse: “If you kill an innocent life, it is as if you killed the whole humanity and if you save a life, it is as if you saved the whole humanity.” (TMQ 5:32). Grace was shocked that such a verse exists in the Quran and her only justification for her initial comment was that “Kenyan Muslims” were different from their Nigerian brethren, but that is clearly not the case.
Boko Haram insurgency
The armed engagement between Boko Haram and the Nigerian army has resulted in dozens of deaths which has created suspicion and sectarian violence between the country’s Christian south and Muslim majority north. Nigerian Muslims faced isolation and blame for supporting Boko Haram’s activities, a claim that Muslim leaders have unreservedly denied in an effort to convince the ever doubting Nigerian authorities.
For instance, the mayor of Lagos, Babatunde Raji Fashiola who is a Muslim, ordered the demolition of five mosques last year including some historic ones under the justification that they were “hideouts” for Boko Haram insurgents. This move divided Muslims in Nigeria, though it displayed the Islamic zeal of the Muslim community, not just in denouncing terrorism but opposing the demolition of mosques regardless of their leader’s justifications. Scores of Muslims were tortured and killed in cold blood by Nigeria’s “Joint Task Force” because they were accused of harbouring Boko Haram militants.
The insurgency has claimed the responsibility for the killing of hundreds of people since 2001. It did not actively involve armed resistance against the Nigerian government until 2009, when it was blamed for orchestrating religious violence against Christians of the south which occurred in Jos, Plateau State. There are several reasons that are given as to why the group turned to violence, even though the group began as non-violent, the disposition of the group became questionable for three reasons.
Firstly, Boko Haram is not only out to attack non-Muslims, it is fighting the Muslim elements of the government as well. This is evident in the group’s bombings of the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja and other government-owned structures. Secondly, recent Boko Haram news showed that the group has sympathizing non-Muslims as its members. Thirdly, Boko Haram have not spared some prominent Muslims, as they attacked mosques and killed Muslim leaders in the past.
Earlier this month, the US State Department added the Emir of the Nigerian-based Boko Haram and four Al-Qaeda commanders to its “Rewards for Justice” list. The US administration announced up to $7 million for the capture of the Emir of Boko Haram, Abu Bakr Shekau, noting that the African terrorist groups, which include Boko Haram, AQIM, and Al-Shabaab in the horn of Africa, as well as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are cooperating to boost Boko Haram’s ability to wage war in the region.
Amidst all this recent tension, there is no doubt that the listed terrorist groups and their leaders named by the US state department are operating in Muslim populated countries. This will bring further hostility under the guise of the “War on Terror” to the various states for simply accepting the implementation of US policies by their governments. This will inevitably entail heavy financial investment and deployment of private security agencies for operational assistance to the governments in fighting “Islamic militancy” in such densely populated civilian areas, no doubt resulting in deaths of more innocents.
In this case, the US will not rule out the urgency of using drone attacks in Nigeria like they have in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, if that means the battle grounds of radicalization and terrorism will shift to a new ground in Africa. As more western arms are deployed to African governments in their fight against “Islamic militants”, feeding the displaced will be highly needed. Will this then make Africa further indebted for western aid and made to believe they are helpless without US intervention? Only the time will tell.