A Nigerian nightmare

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Some blame government corruption in several countries around the world for being the cause of extremist insurgencies. They consider that corruption may have played a part in the birth of Boko Haram, the group behind the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls last month in Nigeria. That may be true… but it is not the whole truth.

Boko originally means fake, referring to Western education. Haram means forbidden. So Boko Haram means: Western education is a sin. The group’s official name is: Gamaatu Ahl al-Sunna lel Daawati wal Jihad.

Founded in 2002, Boko Haram modelled itself after Afghanistan’s Taliban. It was meant more as a rejection of the schooling system inherited from British colonialism. It promotes a version which makes it haram to take part in any social activity associated with Western society, including voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers, or receiving secular education. It regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.

The group’s political goal is to create a radical Islamic state. Its school has become a recruiting ground for jihadis.

Over the years, Boko Haram turned into a violent extremist organisation. As it grew, the Nigerian police began to crack down on its members. The group claims that its violence is the direct result of police brutality against its members. But, of course, this doesn’t justify the horrors they have caused, and the crimes they have committed.

Boko Haram attacked tens of schools, killed students and teachers, slitting their throats, or burying them alive. They bombed churches, buses, police personnel and vehicles, and the UN headquarters in Nigeria. In 2010, the United States designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation.

When, in the middle of the night, a convoy of trucks, buses and motorcycles raided a boarding girls school, and kidnapped more than 200 girls, the world was mortified. The US, Britain and France offered help, but didn’t really help. Human rights groups said the military’s reaction to the mass abduction was not quick enough.

The traumatised parents of the abducted girls are expecting the worst. They were told their daughters will be sold as slaves. This is a nightmare. So far, nothing, locally or internationally, seems to be done to help these girls.

The question now is, until when will these terrorists be allowed to spread horror and fear in Nigeria, and everywhere else?

Salwa Habib is a senior columnist and an expert on Egyptian-American relations.