Boko Haram and the thrust of radical Islam

Gregg Reese | 5/15/2014, 4:20 p.m.

“In Nigeria, the extremist group Boko Haram conducted a suicide car-bombing in late August against the UN building in Abuja, marking Boko Haram’s first known lethal operation against Westerners.”

-from a September 2011 address by then CIA director Gen. David H. Petraeus

In the wake of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a foe emerged from the dust. This new adversary was no match for the previous communist threat in terms of sheer size or martial capability, but none-the-less posed a formidable menace, by virtue of its ability to offset the differences in quality and numbers of the forces of western nations, fresh from their victory over the countries that comprised

the Iron Curtain.

The tactics utilized fall under such descriptions as asymmetric; guerilla, or unconventional warfare; insurgency, and especially terrorism. Regardless of the terminology used, the underlying principle involves a scenario in which an undersized combatant can succeed over a larger foe through stealth, the exploitation of non-combatants, and utilizing fear as a weapon, either to win converts over or merely to prevent them from supporting the established foe. These new enemies, like those they replaced, were motivated by ideological differences with America and its allies. While the forces driving the “Red Menace” fought against the inequality of a capitalist system that unfairly exploited the lower classes, the precipitating factors that stimulated the believers in the “struggle in the way of Allah,” stemmed from a religious duty to oppose the spread of the so-called hedonistic, materialistic lifestyle promoted by the West.

Another practice they incorporate is the ability of small forces to use the element of mobility. As the western military alliance slowed al-Qaeda operations in the Middle East, Osama bin Laden and his successor, Dr. Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, directed their followers to make the shift southward to Africa.

This encouraged the network of radical Islamic groups throughout the “Dark Continent.” These include Algeria’s Salafist Group for Call and Combat; Janjaweed, the spreaders of “ethnic cleansing” in Sudan; Somalia’s now terminated Islamic Court Union, whose off-shoot al-Shabaab executed the September 2013 shopping mall shootout in Nairobi, Kenya; and the latest cult vying for space in current international headlines, Boko Haram.

Like most conflicts taking place in present-day Africa, the emergence of Boko Haram stems from the colonial era and the pains of separation during that split from their British masters. Well before emancipation, the land mass was divided into Northern and Southern protectorates. The two regions differed culturally and economically, with the southern (and largely Christian) portion healthier financially, as well as more compliant to their British overlords (the children of the southern Nigerian elite were often sent to England to benefit from that country’s educational system).

The northern district (from which Boko Haram sprang) was distinguished by a more volatile environment, in which conflict and insurgency were the order of the day. Formal independence in the 1960s was complicated by a series of coups d’état, civil wars, and the meddling of foreign businesses, especially in that country’s lucrative oil industry. Further complications stem from the religious composition of Nigeria. Most of the country is Christian and Muslim, with perhaps 10 percent clinging to traditional beliefs, with a sampling of other faiths including Hinduism.