It’s been over a month since a band of Nigerian militants stormed a girls’ boarding school in the village of Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria and kidnapped at gunpoint 276 schoolgirls and spirited them away. As of this writing they remain under custody of this band who calls itself Boko Haram.
The kidnapping generated a worldwide wave of condemnation against the brazen act carried out against the defenceless young girls. A hashtag #bringbackourgirls was quickly posted on the Twitter website with prominent international personalities lending their support for the release of the girls.
This is just the latest in a series of targeted violence by the Boko Haram against women and schoolchildren. Last year this group infiltrated a day school in the town of Mamudo in broad daylight and killed 22 students. Early this year, in another act of brutality, the Boko Haram shot or burned to death 59 pupils in a boarding school in northeast Nigeria. The Nigerian media frequently carries personal horror accounts of women who return to their homes ‘battered, abused, infected with diseases and often pregnant’ after months of being held in abduction. More than 1,500 people died this year alone at the brutal hands of this group.
Just as the Ansar Dine, who rose to prominence during Mali’s — another African country — period of instability and lawlessness since a military coup sparked fighting in 2012 and ended up controlling much of the north of the country, where the city of Timbuktu is located until they were booted out, these thugs are no different. It is all about the pursuit of power.
Just how can this band of misfits be allowed to run free for so long, looting and philandering without a strong response from the Nigerian government? There have been reports that the band’s access to funds has helped stifle some prominent voices in the government whose response to the kidnapping has not been exemplary.
According to TRAC, the terrorism research and analysis consortium, the group has a wide variety of outlets for its fundraising activity. ‘Its success in sustaining attacks depends on a well-oiled financial pipeline. Like many other Al Qaida franchises, Boko Haram collaborates with organised crime syndicates for its operations in drug trafficking, kidnappings, bank robbery, and cyber scams, not to mention continuous thefts from Nigeria’s security establishment. In addition, Boko Haram raids rural towns and villages; by terrorising civilians, they can implement random taxes at anytime to quickly fill depleted coffers. During 2014, Boko Haram raided over 40 villages with an estimated 2,000 casualties; many of the villages were burned to the ground.
It is unfortunate and somewhat irresponsible that the western media has dubbed the Boko Haram as Islamic extremists. They are anything but that. They are a band of wayward thugs and misfits who have armed themselves and are in pursuit of power. They will use force, fear and intimidation to achieve that purpose.
There have been public condemnations against such acts by much of the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia’s leading religious authority and Grand Mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, denounced the actions of this radical group, which claims it wants to establish a pure Islamic state in Nigeria. He asserted that they were misguided and should be “shown their wrong path and be made to reject it. This is a group that has been set up to smear the image of Islam and must be offered advice, shown their wrong path and be made to reject it. Such groups are not on the right path because Islam is against kidnapping, killing and aggression and the marrying of kidnapped girls is not permitted.”
Echoing the grand mufti’s emotions, the secretary-general of the world’s largest bloc of Islamic countries, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), charged that the kidnappings were ‘barbaric and an inhumane act.’ Eyad Madani, the OIC chief labelled this group as ‘criminal outlaws’. “When an organisation kidnaps young schoolgirls and claims that this is Islam and that Allah has ordered this, and when they say they are acting in accordance with Islam in offering these kidnapped girls for sale, how could that relate to Islam, its holy book or any Islamic doctrine? Such fanatic groups not only renounce their Islam, but also their humanity. The OIC is striving to have a strong and active role in facing these extremist movements ... so that they are not associated with Islam or any Muslim country.”
M.A. Ali Khan, a Canadian journalist and former judge wrote, ‘Do not blame Islam or any other religion. Lay the responsibility where it belongs — on human nature. The 100-year war in Europe, the genocide of the Aboriginal people, the kidnapping of people from Africa for slavery, the colonialism that ravaged much of the world, the two world wars, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the manufacture and use of chemical, biological and other weapons, the Holocaust, illegal attacks on countries, occupation and ethnic cleansing… have not been the work of Muslim countries.’
Indeed, it has become very convenient in the past decade for much of the media to come up with terms such as ‘Islamic extremists.’ or ‘Muslim fanatics’ when linking such barbaric events. The reality is that there is no link of Islam to their actions. Groups such as the Boko Haram are no different from the Buddhist terror groups operating in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. They are all power-hungry criminals operating under the screen of faith.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena