Extremism struck again this week as Muslims at prayer were targeted in Christchurch, New Zealand. The perpetrator, nay the fundamentalist terrorist – let’s give him his proper name, cited numerous influences from Anders Brevik to Brexit in his manifesto of hate. His anti-invader/immigrant mythology also appears in ‘softer’ form in everything from ‘Make America Great Again’ to anti-migrant and refugee sentiment, the bolstering of borders and building of walls. How are we to instead build bridges between those that disagree and resort to extremism to put down their perceived enemies of the state – whether one that is built upon religion or race?
Invasion – ‘The Great Replacement’
The ideological language of the Christchurch killer conjures up the false idea of a Muslim invasion targeting the white Christian majority. Immigration is seen as “invasion”, as a “swarm“, “plague”, “flood“, “army”, the language of infestation and threat, when the majority are refugees and migrant peoples armed with nothing more than a determination to survive.
Who can forget the Twin Towers? The 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Everyone remembers where they were on that day. I was watching television as the channel interrupted to show near-live footage of the terrorist atrocity. The prominent and powerful symbols of freedom, capitalism, the US (the ‘Great Satan‘), and the West itself, disintegrated in mere minutes as if they were the parabled house built upon sand and not rock.
Since then, and perhaps before, we have seen twin evils arise. Each blaming the other for their existence. Committing revenge attacks in response to real and imagined threats to their Caliphate or Caucasian identity. Claiming religious or racial purity as justification. Collecting new followers by radicalising susceptible minds wanting a cause. Creating separatist and supremacist ideologies and utopian or dystopian society worldviews, depending upon your point of view.
“The threat our societies face is so great, however, because it is a twin danger: a deadly combination of far-Right fascism and Islamist extremism….Our twin enemies are not madmen. They are driven by a purpose bigger than themselves and ideas that we must not underestimate.” – Ed Husain, Daily Telegraph, author of The House of Islam: A Global History (Bloomsbury, 2018) and a senior fellow at Civitas: Institute or the Study of Civil Society
The language of their recruiting, whether via brazen extremist preaching or hidden on message boards and the dark web, seeks to blame the ‘other’ and boast of themselves as the answer to prevent a perceived threat to their existence.
Chicken or Egg?
When summoned to the headteacher’s office after a fight, schoolkids would usually be challenged, “Who started it?” or was it “Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other”? How far back should we go – 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, the betrayal of the Arabs after the First World War, imperialism and empires, caliphates and crusades?
Whatever the origins the outcomes are clear, mutual radicalisation by further atrocity and response. Islamic State is all but decimated but it creates a power if not a revenge vacuum for disaffected and disillusioned fighters who are not deradicalised and rehabilitated. Out of Al Qaeda (1988) and its ideology has grown Al Shabab and others affiliating or aligning such as Boko Haram.
With the far right, when the BNP faded the EDL arose. From Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s to modern extreme nationalist movements, one fades and another arises, phoenix-like from its ashes. The UK-specific extremist right-wing parties have in common an ethnocentric identity as English or British and a xenophobic focus, often including Islamophobia, to their rhetoric – although, perhaps, rhetoric is too high-minded a phrase to describe an ancient art of discourse and persuasion.
Racism and Ostracism
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and descendants vaunt the removal of all Western (and/or Judeo-Christian) foreign influences in Islamic countries leading to the creation of a new caliphate ruling over the entire Muslim world.
The hard and far-right similarly want the removal of all Middle Eastern influence (Jewish or Muslim) and an end to the immigration that, in their view, dilutes racial purity and an oppressed white-majority society.
Both extremisms promote a purity of religion or race as their fundamentalist base. They are similarly xenophobic – the hatred and ostracising of the ‘other’, whether the non-white or the non-Muslim. We’ve been there before with the Crusades and later Roman Empire in their attitudes to barbarians and infidels, essentially non-Romans and non-Christians.
Our liberal open societies – argues Ed Husain, are under threat. The moderate middle ground is being squeezed not only by radical and extreme left calls for revolution and far right wings threatening riots but by twin forces of ultra-conservatism and archaic-traditionalism that have become extreme and radicalised. They see each other as inherent evils in society and refuse to engage with each other. Liberal and centre which used to be harmonising language are now seen as the new elites and the ultimate compromisers of more radical solutions to society’s ills.
Brexit has created a new divide, over Europe, not simply Left or Right. Europe is seen as another liberal elite con creating a federalised coalition and increasingly common policies on finance, defence and foreign policy. These frustrate the feelings of independence that exist alike on the nationalist right and anarchist or anti-fa left.
Community and Cohesion
Without arguing for a lacklustre liberal middle-ground, since I am more on the Left myself, we must pursue greater community and cohesion, internationalism and inclusion. To avoid the scapegoating of the ‘other’ we must engage with each other – not platforming extremisms (although putting the BNP’s Nick Griffin on Question Time worked quite well to expose the flaws in his ideologies) but exploring the ideas and issues that may lead to radicalisation.
The reasons why people become disenfranchised, embittered and emboldened, and seek out cultish groups must be examined and policies put in place to re-engage with them and the causes that lead to their extremist leanings.
A former-EDL regional organiser I know challenged his own beliefs by visiting open mosques and engaging with difference. I was a religious fundamentalist (fortunately more charismatic creationist than militant apocalypsist) and right-winger in my now thankfully distant past but keeping an open mind eventually created one.
In my experience, at least, conversation and dialogue, opening lines of communication – with those willing to discuss issues in respectful ways, can ensure that moderates don’t drift to the extremes.
We need to challenge the real fascists and not just call everyone who disagrees with us one. The number of times I have heard “Nazi” and “Fascist” bandied around to simply describe all Leavers, or those that have economic objections to immigration, or that don’t support Muslims’ right to express their faith, or even those that critique transgender rights.
Sometimes, people seem beyond reach though, and our focus among them should be on countering all forms of hate-based violence and vitriol – online and in public – especially and particularly that which targets others based upon their religion or race, ethnicity and nationality.
We cease othering and ostracising best by encounter and engagement, meeting the human behind the label, discovering their difference but also realising our common humanity, emphasising that which unites and not that which divides.
White Ribbon Day (#WhiteRibbonDay) and #OrangeTheWorld are both campaigns today, 25 November, marking the start of 16 days of activism against gender abuse on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). Whilst people are more real than statistics, nonetheless, the stats are representations of the reality of some people’s lives, they make sobering reading. Sixteen days won’t end violence against women and girls, but it might be the beginning of the end, if we start to say ‘no’ every day and give women back control, power and agency over their bodies and lives. The 16-day-long campaign ends on Human Rights Day, 10 December, but shouldn’t stop there.
12 Facts about Violence towards Women
2 women each week are killed by an ex or current partner (UK), 40-50% of all murders of women worldwide are by family or partners, but just 4-5% of men
1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 transwomen experience domestic abuse, in some countries those figures are 2 in 3, up to 71% (Ethiopia)
Even Universities are not safe where 1 in 7 young women experience abuse or violence
Up to 30% (eg Bangladesh) of women experience their first sexual act as forced
Forced marriage and sex tourism often go hand-in-hand with low ages of consent e.g., 9 (Afghanistan), 12 (Philippines), 13 (Japan), regularly 14-15 in other Asian countries. Rural areas may allow marriage even younger with sex at puberty (age 9 or earlier). Among Sri Lanka’s Moor and Malay minorities under 12 is permitted with the permission of male leaders or relatives!
Over the last year 295 trans people were killed, mostly transwomen
More facts about violence against women from WHO, UN Women.
“I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no…I want a divorce!…You’ve sullied the reputation of our family! You have stained our honor!” – Nujood Ali, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Change Men* and Society to Eliminate Causes of Violence
Violence and abuse are possible because of physical, social, religious and economic power imbalances. Men should not have power and control over women’s fortunes, choices, and bodies. This is manifested in legal, religious, cultural and political ways including victim shaming, reduced legal rights, and religious traditions. Women need human rights and agency over their bodies and lives, freedom to safely and economically exit abusive relationships, and for authorities to take seriously the claims of sexual and physical violence.
(*Men in the main, as they have the power, and are the main perpetrators, but this does not exlude women on women and girls violence)
First Brussels, now Iskandariya and Lahore, no wait, where are they? Iraq and Pakistan, so not Europe, well that’s okay then! It shouldn’t be normal to be unaffected by terror so long as it’s not in our back yard. The suicide bombs in a football match crowd south of Baghdad on Good Friday, killing 29, and on Easter Sunday in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, maiming hundreds and leaving at least 70 dead including 29 children, show that terrorism respects no religion nor nationality, sex, age or combatant status, since along with the bombs in Belgium, the victims were all civilians, women and children included. Whilst the Islamic State-supportive Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility and that the target had been male Christians, the bombs did not discriminate.
“Christians were not the specific target of this attack because the majority of the dead are Muslims, everybody goes to this park.” – AFP report
We’ve witnessed nearly 2,000 deaths to terrorism in the first three months of 2016, over half were innocent civilians. One index suggests that there is one casualty from terrorism every 15 minutes – you are still 36x more likely to die in a car accident.
2014 saw a 172% increase in civilian deaths as well as an 80% rise in overall deaths from terrorism compared to 2013. Since 2000, deaths have risen nearly ten-fold from 3,329 to 32,685 in 2014, almost entirely accounted for by attacks in these 5 nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria, where 78% of all attacks take place. Over 20% of the attacks were accounted for by Boko Haram alone.
Fewer than1% of all attacks occur in peaceful, democratic nations, around 0.5% in western nations – and of that, just 20%, i.e., 0.1% of the world total, is down to Islamic extremism in the West.
So far, in 2016, 14 attacks were of similar or worse scale to Brussels, especially in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. How many profile pictures campaigns or social media check-in options were there for nations outside of Europe? Actually, having friends in Turkey and Pakistan, in each case Facebook did activate the “marked safe” check-in feature for those atrocities. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and others, experience terrorist incidents like Brussels on an almost daily basis, for them it is already sickeningly normal.
Is Terrorism the new Normal?
Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, says that “we [Europe] will have to get used to a constant terror threat”. He blames the easy recruitment of disaffected peoples by extremists on “migrant ghettoes” and their economic and social abandonment by the state:
“the more profound failure was to basically allow this situation to grow in the first place: to not engage with parts of the Belgian population that clearly were being abandoned. You essentially allowed a vacuum to rise in your own country. And that’s the root cause of the problem: Where you have a vacuum, that vacuum will be filled.
If you have a vacuum that consists of alienated, marginalized people from migrant backgrounds who are socially and economically deprived, then it is only a question of time. Of when extremists go into that, take advantage, and push their narrative — which is basically that society is against you, and you need to engage in war.” – Peter Neumann,Vox interview
The Washington Post, which also cites Neumann, is wrong on two counts suggesting that “terrorism [might] become the new normal in Europe“. Firstly, this is nothing new, the 70s and 80s were far from bloodless, even before the rise of Al Qaeda (1988), the Taliban (1994), Boko Haram (2002), Islamic State (1999/2014) and others. Secondly, the focus should not be on Europe alone, that only exacerbates our imperialistic western, first world, detachment from what happens elsewhere.
Tragedy World Map
The Mapamundi Tragico or “Tragedy World Map” was first created by Mexican designer Eduardo Salles, in April 2015, but epitomises the way we feel about terror in nations distant from our own. We are disengaged from anything but either the closest western victims or stray white holidaymakers killed abroad. Black lives, African lives, Syrian or Iraqi lives, just don’t matter.
By way of example, the Daily Telegraph report of twice as many people as Brussels killed in Lahore, was relegated to page 13 of a bank holiday edition of its paper.
The very luxury of our European contentment -peace since 1945, and living a version of the American dream, is some of what has simultaneously attracted mass migration and extremist condemnation of the alleged ungodliness of enlightenment modernism.
Globalisation of Terror
Less than a century ago we were still redrawing maps with colonial carte blanche or war-victor spoils, with total disregard for the ethnic and religious civil wars that might later ensue. The new normal is that terror knows no borders, Europe referendum or not. The ease with which ISIL has been able to declare a so-called caliphate and Islamic state that transcends recognised national boundaries, attracting alliances in North and East Africa across more than 11 countries, shows us that we cannot fight ISIS/Daesh in traditional ways. We have to step away from national concerns and be more international.
Hydra and Terrorism’s Evolution
Terrorism is like a cure-resistant mutating virus or a multi-headed myth and Marvel-like ‘Hydra’, where decapitating one head only leads to another more brutal rising up in its place. History shows that terror has been around for as long as we have had ideologies, religions, and, nationalistic expansion, civil wars or battles for independence.
“The tyranny of Isis terrorism will not always be with us. But history shows that a new militant threat will emerge” – Jason Burke,The Guardian
The Irish Easter Rising
This year is 100 years since the Irish Easter Rising when 320 civilian casualties out of 465 dead put a temporary hold on Irish independence/self-rule. Whilst Harry’s Game (1975) may have first espoused “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” the issue and pseudo-distinction has been around since time immemorial. Janet Daley writes today that:
“These terrorists aren’t religious radicals – they’re criminals with psychotic aims” – Janet Daley,The Telegraph
For me, the degree of civilian casualties is one of the markers of terrorism versus freedom fighter. The so-called collateral damage on ‘soft targets’ has sadly become more the norm, as innocents become the primary targets of extreme actions leading to state over-reactions and public states of fear. Fear that is incendiary to semi-closeted racism and Islamophobia, or that leads to a Brussels ‘March against fear’ being cancelled because of, well, safety fears.
Je Suis Sick of this Shit!
I wonder how many will notice or care about the innocent victims of the Iraq football match bomb on Friday or the Pakistan public park explosions today. It has become all too commonplace to be JeSuisCharlie and JeSuisEveryman on an almost daily basis. I am indeed JeSuisBruxelles, but also Ankara, Baghdad, Baidoa, Bodo, Dalori, Dikwa, Damascus, Homs, Istanbul, Kabul, Kouyape, Lahore, Meme, Mogadishu, Ouagadougou, Paris, and many more towns and cities. Today, I continue to be both Je Suis tout le monde and very much sick of this shit.
On Africa Day it is worth reflecting on diversity as much as the so-called unity of the African Union. Africa may be a continent but it is far from united or content. Nor need it be. Diversity and difference, religious, economic and national identity struggle, are features of growth as much as peace and unity are. For now, discontent still rules whether in North Africa’s culturally Islamic Arab Spring countries or in Zimbabwe and South Africa’s continued issues. In between, Nigeria, Sudan and Kenya struggle with North-South divides, extremist groups and campaigns of terror. There are many Africas, not just one.
Whilst shaking off the shackles of historical European colonialism, no one African identity has emerged but dozens. Self-determination, battles for independence, and religious and tribal/civil wars have ensured that national identities and stable futures are still fighting for supremacy. Africa is still making and creating its modern history.
War and Conflict
Africa leads the world on at least one thing, its 161 conflicts in 26 African countries, half of the continent. Peace One Day? and prosperity are yet distant horizons. The poor, dispossessed, women and children are so often the innocent victims in conflict. Africa needs peace, but that is not the same as unity.
Africa Day, itself, celebrates the May 25 founding in Ethiopia, by 30 African leaders, of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, which in 2002 became the African Union whose motto is “united and strong”. Its current chairperson is Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and his statement today is AU president Robert Mugabe’s Africa Day statement 2015.
Geography and the Clash of Civilisations
When was the last time anyone thought of Egypt, ancient or modern, as part of Africa rather than part of the Middle East? Geographical unity is a false guide to religious, cultural and national identity unity. Again, when we talk of the ancient world Africa is usually forgotten, yet Egypt is African, Nubia too, and what about historical Mali and the medieval literary and learning centre of Timbuktu.
Arabic, English, French, and Swahili, may be the most well known African languages but many forget the 500 languages of Nigeria, or indeed the 2-3,000 across the whole of Africa making it the most diverse location on Earth, linguistically. South Africa has 11 official languages, more than anywhere else, only Somalia has just one. Most countries will speak ex-colonial languages alongside indigenous ones. 75% of Africa speaks over a dozen different languages but 25% speak hundreds more.
African Economics & Absolute Poverty
Many in African still survive – and that is a dubious description, on less than $1-$2 a day.
“Over the last 30 years, worldwide absolute poverty has fallen sharply (from about 40% to under 20%). But in African countries the percentage has barely fallen. Still today, over 40% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa live in absolute poverty.” Our Africa – Poverty
Nigeria, riven by conflict, violence, corruption, is nonetheless on target to continue to grow as Africa’s strongest economic nation, in the main due to oil.
African Women and Gender Equality
The theme of Africa Day, this year, is the “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. Gender equality is far off with Boko Haram continuing to kidnap young girls and make sex slaves or forced marriages of teenage women. Education is still not an equal right in many states and countries, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains a health and human rights issue barely being tackled at all.
“a recognition of centuries of African women and women from the Diaspora to the struggles against slavery, racial and gender discrimination, and for the emancipation of our continent and African men and women everywhere.
Women and girls continue to play critical roles – paid and unpaid – in their families, communities, countries and regions, that directly impact on economies and societies.
Despite the constraints that they continue to face, we have made strides, as a result of different waves of struggles by the women’s movements. Since the historic Beijing Conference twenty years ago, and the recognition of women’s rights as human rights, we have seen progress on women’s representation, in the advancement of reproductive rights, on equal pay for equal work, on access to education and basic services.
At the same time, it is estimated that if real change happens at the same [pace], it will take us 80 years before reaching full gender parity.”
Unity and equality in Africa are a long way off, slow progress is being made and conflict in various forms continues to destabilise economic and cultural development. Individual hopes, educational and economic opportunity, health and women’s rights, are bigger issues than a surface unity this Africa Day. African rights are human rights and abuses remain ignored by pan-African and international communities. News stories, unless they be of thousands of migrants or hundreds of schoolgirls, go ignored or buried by the international news services. Africa needs greater news coverage and the spotlight of global media, as well as economic aid, in order to progress both human rights and economic development.
One year on from the 200+ Chibok girls capture by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the #BringBackOurGirls viral social media campaign, and there is still no news. Today, organisations and individuals around the world are trying to keep the media and political interest, as well as the girls, alive. The value of African lives and lack of international interest, alongside diplomatic and United Nations powerlessness, still means it is up to media and public channels to keep their fate an important issue.
365 Days On, Trending Hashtag
To keep the awareness current, a new hashtag campaign , alongside the old, has emerged to mark the lack of progress #365DaysOn.
The inaction has led to complaints about Hashtag diplomacy and foreign policy with some questioning whether Twitter or petitions can achieve anything at all? In terms of Human Rights campaigns it has made a difference in seeing various international violations of freedom or fair trials, both acknowledged, and sometimes ended:
The situation has contributed to the ousting of Goodluck Jonathan as President and the new incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, whilst saying that he would “do everything in its power to bring them home”, suggested that he could offer no promises and people shouldn’t get their hopes up.
Boko Haram brazenly added to the subdued expectations by saying that the girls had all [been] “converted to Islam” and “married off”.
Boko Haram still seem untouchable
Amnesty Internationalhave said that the Boko Haram militants have abducted 2,000 girls and young women in the last 15 months, forcing them to be cooks, sex slaves, wives, and fighters.
Nigeria, whilst on target to become Africa’s richest and fastest growing nation is also one of its most complex, and one were western influence is minimal. Indeed, Boko Haram’s very name means “Western education is forbidden”.
Islamic State (IS)
With Boko Haram and Al Shabab allying themselves with Islamic State it means that North Africa from Algeria to Sinai and Nigeria to Sudan, is under threat of extremist conquest and a massive increase in further human rights violations. Consolidation under a broad IS umbrella in Niger and Libya could see an extremist Islamist caliphate more a reality than a threat.
Ongoing battle & the Value of African Lives
Whilst IS and Boko Haram use the Quran as justification, Muslim leaders around the world also condemn their actions from the same texts. This remains, therefore, extremist ideology parading itself as religious purity or geographic gain. Bring Back Our Girls remains the rallying cry, but all African human rights issues and news stories need to be given similar prominence and awareness. African lives, when hundreds – if not thousands, die or go missing, should not be consigned to small-print inside page news, but be given the weight and international importance it needs.
The extremist war of terror in Nigeria continues to claim more victims. Reports are coming in of around 600 more schoolgirls being captured. In April around 280 schoolgirls were abducted and in May several attacks killed dozens in the villages of northern Nigeria and over 120 died from two bombs in the central Nigerian million-plus population cosmopolitan city of Jos, J-town, or “Tin City”. Jos has been the scene of intra-community violence since 1994 between its Christian, Muslim, and minority residents, killing thousands of people, hardly the “home of peace and tourism” as the Plateau State is known.
Two decades of escalating violence
Jos has been the scene of intra-community violence since 1994 between its Christian, Muslim, and minority residents, killing thousands of people, hardly the “home of peace and tourism” as the Plateau State is known.
Over the last 5 months more than 2000 people have been killed in Nigerian violence and thousands more displaced, according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). From 2009-2013 under 4000 were killed, so there has been a definite escalation in the violence. Perhaps, this may be a response to Nigeria’s belated heavy-handed response to Boko Haram that has included alleged deaths in custody of probably over 1000 suspected Boko Haram fighters last year. Leaked information from a senior Nigerian army officer suggested 950 had died in the first half of 2013 alone. Back in 2009, Boko Haram’s then leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in police custody after a police raid.
Education targeted by terror
Much of the violence appears indiscriminate, even if at times it has been directed at Christian or Muslim, churches or mosques, it often ends up being directed at schools, colleges, markets, wherever civilians gather and indiscriminate violence can have its most terrifying effect.
“Attacks against schoolchildren, teachers and school buildings demonstrate an absolute disregard for the right to life and the right to education.” – Lucy Freeman, Amnesty International’s deputy Africa director.
The full report by Amnesty on the terrorising of education in Nigeria makes one wonder whether Boko Haram would go to Taliban-like extremes of restricting access to education, especially of teenage girls. Indeed, Boko Haram in Hausa allegedly means “Western education is sin/prohibited (haram)”. The boko element can also mean “fraud”, “bogus” or “inauthentic”. Even locals, are not entirely sure what it means! It is less of a mouthful than its Arabic title: Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or “Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad”.
Complicated causes, not just religious
The apparent war between religions and ideologies masks more basic rivalries over resources, land, power, and tribal identities. Religion just exacerbates the incendiary melting pot.
Benjamin A Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, has said that:
“those who have in the past used violence to settle political issues, economic issues, social matters, intertribal disagreements, or any issue for that matter, now continue to use that same path of violence and cover it up with religion.”
An excellent Al Jazeera report into the origins and rise of Boko Haram concluded that:
“Unabated violence, a feeling of marginalisation by the federal government, unemployment and poverty however remain the primary seeds of discontent…” – Yvonne Ndege and Azad Essa, Al Jazeera
Ethnic or Economic Tensions?
Chris Kwaja is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Conflict Management at the University of Jos in Nigeria and writes:
“[A]s is often the case with identity conflicts in Africa…socially constructed stereotypes…are manipulated to trigger and drive violence in Jos. They veil deeper institutional factors within Nigerian law that are abused and exploited to deny citizens access to resources, basic rights, and participation in political processes—factors that, left unaddressed, have the potential to trigger violence across the country.” (p2)
“The ethnic or religious dimensions of the conflict have subsequently been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement, inequality, and other practical fears are the root causes.” (p4)
Nigeria is as riven and driven by identity politics, ethnic “indigene” and/or religious affiliation as many xenophobic groups are racist against black Africans in the predominantly white West.
“In a survey conducted by Ellsworth in 1999, titled Re-imagined Communities, it was discovered that ethnicity and religious attachment are the two top ranked identity makers for a vast majority of Nigerians than other indices such as National, ECOWAS and African. The xenophobic tendencies that quietly run in our system is further compounded when the religious card is flashed, as is typical of Christian/ Muslim conflicts throughout most of the north, which is usually about anything (politics, economic control and competition after scarce resources, ethnicity).” Rotimi Maye, Nigeria and Indigeneship Question
Invariably, the victims are drawn from all religions and not just one, and from multiple indigenous and immigrant ethnic groups, of which Nigeria has some 500, 70% made up of Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Falani.
Nigeria has, this year, become Africa’s largest nation and economy, and is now ranked 26th in the world, thanks, in part, to its oil wealth, mainly in the south – something that is also fought over. Not only is Africa a divided continent by perhaps 3000 languages and ethnic groups, so too it is divided by wealth and opportunity, health and oil.
Boko Haram origins, Sharia law
Almost half of Nigeria, mainly in the north, now has some form of Sharia law. Over the last decade the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram has sought to impose Sharia and depose the existing rule of law. It is even against other muslims and one of its founding leaders firmly believed in a flat earth fundamentalism. Many Nigerian Muslim groups have condemned it. One Nigerian Muslim leader, The Sultan of Sokoto Sa’adu Abubakar, called Boko Haram “anti-Islamic” and “an embarrassment to Islam”.
“While Boko Haram is a religious organisation, it is almost impossible to separate the activities of the group with the political, economic and territorial struggles in northern Nigeria which, in spite of a secular consitution, is often divided on religious lines. Established in 2002 in Maiduguri, Boko Haram spent 2002-2009 consolidating its base, spreading its disdain for Western education and government corruption, culminating in the creation of alternative schools and attacking symbols of state power…” – Al Jazeera report
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born feminist, activist and founder of the eponymously named AHA Foundation which seeks to protect women in the West from being subjected to religious or cultural oppressions including forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour violence. For her the conflict in Nigeria, at least that part for which Boko Haram can be held responsible, is about religion – or rather the patriarchal putting down of women, and jihadist suspicion of the liberal West. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Ali wrote that:
“The kidnapping of the schoolgirls throws into bold relief a central part of what the jihadists are about: the oppression of women. Boko Haram sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated. The terrorists’ mission is no different from that of the Taliban assassin who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai—as she rode a school bus home in 2012—because she advocated girls’ education. As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal and educated women.”
#BringBackOurGirls, Western ignorance about Africa
Boko Haram were behind the kidnapping of some 276 Chibok schoolgirls last month which attracted international attention with the social media Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Again, somewhat indiscriminate as though the majority were Christian, several were Muslim, around 50 have subsequently escaped. Indeed, some images used to highlight their plight were not even of the kidnapped girls, or even Nigerian.
The West only kicked up a fuss when it was schoolgirls that were kidnapped, much as Live Aid in the 1980s fed off the famine of Africa’s starving using emotional images to stir up interest in a continent we were otherwise willing to ignore. US television networks ignored Boko Haram this last year despite 1500+ recent killings because African lives are worth less or, perhaps, even considered worthless. News stories for just 4 missing British sailors, a child-saving cat, or the latest UKIP xenophobic “Bongo-Bongo land” own-goal, dominate over any news from the “Dark Continent“, a reference originally not to race or colour, but to Africa’s remote and mysterious unknowns. To this day, for many, it remains a great unknown.
“The more Westerners learn about Africa from Africans, the better.” – Robert Bates
“Unfortunately…most westerners form their opinions of Africa based on the reporting and news in their own countries” – Louise Mushikiwabo
In a 2010 Guardian article, Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, went on to say that “In a globalised world we need to know more about each other than ever and the absence of genuine engagement only serves to exacerbate suspicion, and may affect the lives of the very citizens whom we all ultimately serve.” This could apply to any ethnic or ideological group, not only Africa and its 53 nations and thousands of languages.
Indeed, to every headline there is often a complex contextual backstory, no less so than in Nigeria. For instance, this AllAfrica report by Margaret Kimberley, editor and senior columnist at Black Agenda Report, cites the background to the Boko Haram kidnapping:
“Boko Haram members were detained by the police in 2011 and 2012 and that the group swore revenge. Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau said in one of his many videos, “Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women… to your own wives according to sharia law.” The kidnappings of the past two years are a direct result of the government’s mistreatment of its people and its failed efforts to fight Boko Haram.” – Margaret Kimberley, Nigeria: How Not to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’
Nigeria’s oxymoronically named President Goodluck Jonathan has described them as “enemies of human progress and civilisation”, a “tragic assault on human freedom”.
President Jonathan, whose wife is called Patience, are Christians from the Ijaw people of southern Nigeria. He holds a Masters degree and a PhD in Zoology and prior to entering politics and becoming President had worked in education and environmental protection. His people, the Ijaws, since the late 1990s had been involved in mainly peaceful protest against the oil companies‘ exploitation of their homeland and suffered state and military crackdowns of their actions.
Nigeria has all the potential to become an economic powerhouse – if it can control its ethnic and religious tensions, not to mention the international oil company exploitation and corruption. The President has faced calls to resign over the handling of, and seeming inaction over, the schoolgirls kidnapping. One critic wrote:
“It is all because those at the helm in the nation attach no value to the lives of others”.
That may well be true, but the “zero value” attached to human lives can surely be laid at the door of Boko Haram and others too. In the past Jonathan has instituted peaceful and progressive policies, so one hopes he will continue to reform and stabilise the country, and face his critics with renewed action on issues that divide the nation. Nigeria’s leader needs to be a leader of the people and of all its peoples. [Update: Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency is over and #365DaysOn we are now closer on #BringBackOurGirls]