Some weeks ago, a Nigerian Islamist group abducted over 270 girls from a school. The past week’s global televisiongenerated more drama about this issue than one would have anticipated before. In the unlikely event that you are one of those who missed the basics, here they are, along with a discussion of the roles that several parties have played in this case in particular, and in other recent cases like it. In spite of well-intentioned pretences to the contrary, news reports are simply not meant to be in-depth discussions of anything they report about. There are lots of news reports about militant Islamists in general, but in light of the attention and drama from last week, a deeper discussion of the phenomenon is warranted.
First of all, I would like to establish some terminology. When I write “Muslim Africa,” I mean the parts of Africa that are predominantly Muslim, such as the Maghreb, the Sahel, the Sudan, and the East African coast. Due to demographic realities, I will call the remaining parts of Africa “Christian Africa.” Also, all the discussion of Islam that will occur here is of Islam as described in the religion’s primary sources (Qur’an, Hadith, Sunna), and not the version fronted by many modern opponents or proponents, who are often remarkably ignorant of the real thing.
One last thing: militant Islam is seldom discussed, because religion is the most-sensitive issue, and if you are reading this, then your editor is either careless, brave, or absent. Certainly, your writer is apprehensive, and aware of the simplification in the labels described here. Still, these things have to be discussed, if only as community duty. Criticism is welcome. As we discuss below, the causes of discomfort in all such discussions will be abundantly evident. (This will not stop the discussion, since indeed part of the message contained herein is that discussing these uncomfortable things should become normal, if indeed there is any chance of dealing successfully with militant Islam. Surely, after discussing homosexuality at length, we can now discuss war and religion more-freely.)
Here are the basics of the Boko Haram case from the past few weeks. In Borno, one of Nigeria’s northern states—predominantly Muslim, like much of northern Nigeria—276 schoolgirls were abducted by the armed Islamist group, Boko Haram. The name “Boko Haram” basically translates roughly to “Western Education is Sinful”. This name, however, is not the official one. The official one is in Arabic means “The Community of Traditionalist [Muslim] Preachers and Jihadis.” This name is important to note, and we will come back to it later.
The first thing to note is that Boko Haram enjoys near-total impunity. Already, they have attacked the base from which the search for the girls was being co-ordinated, killing about 150 people, some of them burnt alive, this being their second attack in the week. Look what they do to the people who are supposed to defeat them. Because they can’t be prosecuted, discussion of their crimes quickly becomes uninteresting and rare, even in Nigeria. This changed last week when the First Lady of the USA took to Twitter and protested the fate of the girls who were abducted. It then became a global storm, with all sorts of other notables piling on, the Western countries sending technical assistance, and yours truly writing this screed. In spite of all this, though, it is highly-unlikely that anyone will deal with the group in the north, when even in the more-accessible parts of Nigeria there is enough trouble to keep the state spread too thin. It should be noted that Nigeria has an unsolved jihadist problem in the south, where all the oil money comes from.
Even with full-blown military assistance from the West, the problem will persist; consider this: the French flew into Mali (Opération Serval) and the Central African Republic (Opération Sangaris) over the last two years, in both cases dealing with this same problem. In neither case have they actually fixed the problem; and this is the French. Conventional military power, no matter how excellent, is an impotent tool in face of the armed Islamists. This week France committed to a permanent base in the north of Mali with 3,000 soldiers, because jihadist groups are not a problem you solve; they are a problem you manage. So even if the anti-terrorist experts from the West succeed in finding and rescuing the girls, they will not stop Boko Haram, leave alone armed Islamism in Nigeria in particular, or the World in general. (We will discuss the two proper—or, at least, fitting—responses to militant Islam further on.)
The second thing to note is that Boko Haram targets schools very often, because they are very cheap targets for any terrorist group. The militants can do whatever they want in unarmed environments like schools and churches. In February, for example, Boko Haram attacked a school in Yobe state, lined up all the males and shot them—at least 59 children—and then took all the girls for sex slavery. In that case, there wasn’t much noise made (except in Christian publications because the victims were Christians). I can multiply these examples by the hundreds, because I have been following them closely. In this case, they attacked a girls’ school, and they didn’t have to execute any pupils.
The third thing to note is that Boko Haram is basically no different from other Jihadist groups operating elsewhere in Muslim Africa in particular and in the Muslim World in general; neither in reason (reactionary piousness), nor in tactics (assymetric warfare). —And ever since the “Arab Spring” revolutions, it easier to get arms, fighters, and territory in Muslim Africa. Usually, Boko Haram targets the institutions and members of the Nigerian state and the Christian community; but they are a minority in the north, so targets often widen to include their fellow-Muslims. All such groups nominally do not kill fellow-Muslims, and even in practice they do privilege attacks on non-Muslims, whose males they routinely execute in cold blood.
As we now know, the abduction of the girls from a school—and the consequent video message from the Boko Haram leader flaunting arms, taunting the Nigerian government, and confirming his intention to sell the girls (for about $15 each)—caused a progressive political crisis in Nigeria. As it stands now, the Nigerian government has put a massive bounty for the finding of the girls. The leader of Boko Haram doesn’t seem to understand all the global outrage over these particular girls, especially since this is neither the first such thing he has done, nor for that matter the worst. The day that the bounty was announced, the group killed over 300 people in a military base near the border with Cameroon, and kidnapped a few more kids. In March, Boko Haram released a long Nollywood-style video of a large attack on an army barracks in Borno, and even the Nigerian government had no respectable response.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest country by population. But in this year alone, so far (May, 2014), militant Muslims are responsible for 62% of all deaths in Nigeria. In one night, this March, armed Fulani Muslims massacred and burnt four predominantly Christian villages, and over the week that followed, over 100 dead bodies in the environs. In all those deaths, there was very little coverage, and certainly no First Lady tweets; and like I said, these grisly examples could be multiplied by the tens for this year alone, for places as diverse as Kenya, Syria, Pakistan, Malaysia, Chad … I hope to have convinced you that militant Islam is not a rare problem, or for that matter a small problem. But I also hope to convince you in the paragraphs that follow that militant Islam is not the problem.
You see, if there were an ideology (say a brand of German nationalism) which explicitly recommends the killing of certain groups (say due to physical disability, ethnicity, or religion), it would be possible to condemn the ideology from the pulpit, in print, or in words. After all, to not condemn a teaching of murder, but instead hold it up as somehow legitimate—even divine—is to be an accomplice in murder. But now that it is not some hypothetical ideology that is teaching plunder and murder as the command of God; it is Islam, which apparently nobody is brave enough to condemn, even when given this much reason to.
Militant Islam is not the problem, but rather the problem is Islam itself. This is the point that most people never reach, not because it is hard to understand that Islam in particular inspires militancy—having been founded by an active warrior—but rather precisely because they understand that Islam inspires militancy. Islamic militancy scares even these heads of state who strut alongside their big guns and fast jets, because … doesn’t Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, have big guns and fast jets? —And yet it has been terrorised and humbled by armed Muslims in every corner of it. The leaders know this, and they dare not say this particular truth—to condemn Islam itself—because you need arms and jets to be a president, but you don’t necessarily need to be brave.
People can be brave when the other side will not fight back; indeed this principle guides the choice of victims for all such groups as Boko Haram. Now, since Islam itself fights back when condemned—fights back by killing its opponents—it can only be condemned by those who are careless, brave, or prepared. (Guess which one I am!) Salman Rushdie, for instance, wrote an allegorical novel about an actual historical incident recorded in the Qur’an (Surat an-Najm); thirty years later, he is still in danger of death. In his case, in fact, the leader of an Islamic republic is the one who handed out the death sentence, even though Rushdie is not a citizen there. If a head of government will turn the state against one man who wrote about true events, you can see why even our strutting heads of state would never dare raise a word.
And it gets even worse than this, because Islam is everywhere. Rushdie may have been safe from any other leader, since he was not in that domain. But Islam lays claim to the entire World, such that it took having the British intelligence establishment on non-stop guard duty around Salman Rushdie, in order to protect him from Muslims seeking to execute him. Most heads of state cannot muster up half of the protection Rushdie had; what chance do ordinary unprotected people have, and would they be brave enough—or careless enough, or stupid enough—to invite Muslim wrath?
So you see, there can be no criticism of Islam, because even if it is merely a recount of the truth about Muhammad, it will be unflattering (for his life was full of tendencies that even Muslims don’t want to discuss) and will draw irrational Muslim ire. —Yet after 1,400 years of spreading by the sword, Islam has justified the wildest condemnation of the cult for the evident evil that it is (for the Qur’an clearly teaches massacre, instructs anti-Christian activity, and inspires all manner of darkness), and still it buys immunity from criticism by turning heads of state into either irrational executioners (like in the Rushdie case) or cowardly little girls (like in the other cases).
Speaking of girls: some of the girls who were attacked in the school ran for the bushes, and thereby survived to tell the harrowing tale of abduction. They knew that being in school was a danger to them, and yet they still went, because they are actually brave. They knew the danger in escaping, and still they did. Unlike those who fail to even simply speak out against an evident evil, these girls actually lived against it. That, dear reader, is what “brave” means. It doesn’t mean big guns and fast jets.
Meanwhile, as the First Lady of the USA managed to fan up a flame of rage across the World on this issue, the mothers of the abducted girls were in the Nigerian capital, to see the First Lady of Nigeria, who instead accused them of being Boko Haram sympathisers! (I assume that this was because the southern Nigerians like her tend to lump all the nothern Muslims together. In reality, no group of people is the problem; it is their ideology itself that is the problem.) But I blame the mothers, too, because they kept their daughters in an area overrun with Islam, whose founder commanded the enslavement of girls during war. Why do they complain about Boko Haram, instead of complaining about the “traditional” Islam that teaches and commands the abduction of girls? (Aisha, Muhammad’s favourite wife, was nine years old, and most of his wives were got as war-time sex-slaves, including the one who ultimately assassinated him.)
It is not hard to insult Christianity, because that religion teaches that: “Bless your persecutors; bless and do not curse.” Romans chapter 12 actually has that emphasis. Luke chapter 6 has Jesus Christ saying “But to you who hear I say—love your enemies, show kindness to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who insult you.” He affirms it in Matthew chapter 5. In spite of this pacifism—or maybe because of it—Christianity has several fierce and unrelenting opponents, the primary one, of course, being Islam, which has over 160 commands either to open hostilities and exact revenge.
I am aware that people lump Islam and Christianity together, simply because they both teach that there is only one God. Ironically, the Bible insists (James 4:19) that monotheism is so cheap that “even the demons believe it,” and live it out in their lives, such that monotheism is simply not a marker of true religion, as Muhammad mistakenly taught. The Bible teaches (1 John 2:22) that the marker of true religion is faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. (This is why Islam recognises the validity of Christianity and Judaism—because they are monotheistic—but Christianity doesn’t recognise the others, because they are not Trinitarian.) So perhaps Islam wants to belong with Christianity, but clearly Christianity doesn’t want the association. Indeed, since Islam is not simple ignorance of the Trinity, but outright rejection thereof, Islam is considered literally as “anti-Christ” by that passage I last cited.
But it is all very well to point these things out; it leaves us with the problem of having a fallen ideology that appropriates the trappings of World religion in order to turn all true believers into militants. (The Qur’an insists that jihad is a duty to all Muslims, even when they don’t want. Because this is the case, every true Muslim is a jihadist. —And since this is true, why is jihad denounced everywhere, yet the Islam that brings it and gives it legitimacy is not condemned?) The solution to this, of course, is to condemn, segregate against, and avoid Islam. This is easier said than done; the movement is already global, and modern leaders don’t actually have the nerve to respond to Islam fittingly. Therefore, while this solution would work, it will not be implemented successfully. Nevertheless, it remains the correct response to Islam: condemn, segregate, avoid.
If you live in a state that doesn’t officially condemn Islam, then you officially condemn Islam, lest you be counted among those cowards and accomplices who kept quiet in the face of evil teaching.
In saying this, of course, I do not recommend segregation against Muslims, since they can always abandon the ridiculous ideology. The people have hope; it is their ideology itself that is entirely hopeless. When Islam is denounced, those who feel too strongly attached to Islam would be slighted. But I hope that I had also proven that those still consider Islam to be the truth are necessarily dangerous people who should in fact be likewise condemned, segregated against, and avoided. —Who wants to shack up with murderers? —Or shall we wait until we have our neighbourhood’s very own Boko Haram (as, indeed, neighbourhoods do in the Muslim World)? These are just rhetorical questions; I know that those who we have called our leaders are going to beef up their security and throw the rest of us to the Muslims.
Yet there is one more crucial thing to point out, which is the second thing that can be done about militant Islam. I assume that by now you have noticed that armed Muslims attack the pacifists, the weak, and the unarmed. This is the typical style of the cowardly bully. So the other way for an individual or a society to respond to militant Islam is simply this: armed preparedness. The typical reason why people do not want to engage in arming themselves is because they have outsourced this duty to the state. In many cases, this is entirely reasonable. (Christians in particular, because their religion shows great deferrence to the sword that the state wields, have tended to have no arms on hand. Islam, on the other hand, has always been armed as a religious requirement.) Of course, when one is not armed, one is implicitly calling upon the state to respond to armed threats on his behalf. Unfortunately, we have demonstrated that the states of the World are too cowardly to deal with the main inspiration of violence in the World.
If you are a Christian or Jew living in a state that doesn’t officially condemn Islam, then get armed, because your state has failed to deal with a powerful global ideology that explicitly calls for your murder in its foundational book.
I must emphasise that this is not a choice that one may or may not make. The choice has already been made. Even the Bible teaches (Luke 22:36-38) that when the Christian is “numbered among the wicked” (as Islam does), then the Christian is required to bear arms in self-defence. I know that all our states, even as they fail to take the first step in defending us from Islam, never relent in their efforts to keep us unarmed. This they do for their own safety, not for ours. Personally, I recommend that every single Christian home have enough fierce firepower to protect against any attack now or in the future. At any rate, for the Christian it is not optional either, since armed personal self-defence is a duty that was commanded by Jesus Christ Himself.
Most men who do not have such basic provisions for their families already are merely being cowards, no different from the Muslims who will ultimately execute their sons, rape their wives, and carry off their daughters. (What about the cowardly men, what will the Muslims do to them? Nothing, I think, because they would probably convert to Islam to save their lives—this is historically the biggest source of adherents to the Islamic religion. Retention of adherents is usually due to fear of the death penalty the religion orders for all who leave.)
That is essentially what I have to say. Now if you get to read this, please tell me where you found it. I should shake your editor’s hand, and perhaps contribute to his ammunition fund!