We must be clear: Boko Haram is not just a Terror Organisation, its a Genocidal one too.
In the modern media where narrative is key in dictating public opinion and government action, we mustn't fall into the trap of mislabelling what’s going on in Central and Northern Africa. Whilst Boko Haram instils terror across the region, it is also systematically killing members of a homogeneous group. We must denounce it as what it really is; genocide. In Northern Nigeria, where there is a large Muslim population, the terrorist organisation Boko Haram is kidnapping, raping and killing people throughout Christian towns and villages, in order to propagate its pro-Islam message. It is now believed that Boko Haram controls up to six times more territory than the Islamic State organisation. However, there is a hesitation to label these atrocities as genocide. The unclear distinction between religious and secular terrorism, and the ensuing questions about the extent to which ethnicity and political motivations have escalated this conflict means there is a strong basis on which to claim that these events are genocidal.
Since 2009, Boko Haram have killed tens of thousands and displaced a further 2.3 million people, and the Global Terrorism Index ranked them as the worlds deadliest terror group in 2015. Whilst the terror aspect of the organisation is intrinsic to their image, we must recognise the will to “cleanse” the north of the country through imposition of Sharia Law, advocating the extermination of Christians.
In recent weeks the group kidnapped 110 school girls from a college in Daptchi. All but one were released; the girl held in captivity would not renounce her Christian faith. Whilst this evidently demonstrates the religious motives for the devastation Boko Haram bring to the region, it is undeniable that their mission is one of backlash against the Westernisation of education. The name Boko Haram itself roughly translates as “Western Education is Sin”, and it makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for any Muslims to participate in Western political or social activity.
Since its independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has witnessed a range of social, economic and religious conflicts, most particularly the Biafran war during the late 1960s; the interconnection of which are important for a wider understanding of the nature of the current violence. As Grace Okoye explains in her Doctoral dissertation, Sharia Law was expunged by the British in 1959 towards the end of colonial rule. The International Crisis Group develops this thought, demonstrating that in the far north, with its tradition of religiously informed public authority, there remains a strong feeling that colonial rule was an alien domination that disrupted or eroded the region’s legal, political and cultural values. As such we must not ignore the political, anti-colonial sentiment stemming from the systemic violence in the region, which we must divorce from the ‘Islamic Terrorism’ discourse for an accurate analysis of the roots of the killings.
Terrorism is a buzzword, which we undeniably link with the adjective ‘Islamic’. Richard Jackson suggests that the implication of this is that the religion itself is where the violence stems from and Islam is inherently violent. This hides the political aims behind the atrocities and assumes that religion is easily distinguishable from the secular and political realms. What is more, the dichotomous distinction between religious and secular terrorism is problematic, and serves to hide the genocidal nature of the violence in the region. Whilst religion is encapsulated in the UN’s definition of genocide as a threatened group, the narrative of ‘fundamental Islam’ protects Boko Harams atrocities from being discussed as part of a systematic genocide.
We must condemn these horrific, inhumane killings in Northern Nigeria. However, we must not allow the narrative of ‘religious terrorism’ to conceal the political and anti colonial narratives behind the violence, which ultimately force us to call it by its name; genocide.
Gunning, J., & Jackson, R. (2011). What's so ‘religious’ about ‘religious terrorism’? Critical Studies on Terrorism, 4(3), 369-388.
Okoye, G., Campbell, Jason J., Berna, Dustin, & Rice, Claire. (2013). Ethno-Religious Conflict in Northern Nigeria: The Latency of Episodic Genocide, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
This blog post was written by Megan Clark, one of STAND UK's Communications Task Force members who studies French & Politics at the University of Bristol.