As American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, jihadists will continue their struggle irrespective of socioeconomic improvements instituted by governments. Such societal material efforts can only be complementary to combatting the ideology of hardcore Islamists whose motivations lie beyond temporal benefits. American policymakers are apparently slowing learning this lesson once again in Nigeria.
By Andrew E. Harrod
Exclusive to the Religious Freedom Coalition
(12/12/13 Washinngton, DC) American officials previously “did everything they could to push that idea” about Nigeria’s Boko Haram’s Islamist ideology aside, Ann Buwalda of the Christian human rights organization Jubilee Campaign stated at a November 14, 2013, Hudson Institute panel. If past is any prologue, a jihad understanding of Boko Haram will have to struggle against attributions of violence in Nigeria to socioeconomic disparities, recent American policymaker statements notwithstanding.
Developmental neglect in Nigeria’s Muslim-majority north as the identified motive in an estimated 4,000 killings by Boko Haram since 2009 has a long history among American policymakers. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, for example, expressed such views at a March 24, 2013, hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in an April 9, 2012, address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “Boko Haram,” he stated, “capitalizes on popular frustrations with the nation’s leaders, poor government service delivery, and the dismal living conditions of many northerners.” A a “new social compact” with northern Nigeria along with a “security strategy” were necessary.
By contrast, Carson sought “to stress that religion is not driving extremist violence” in Nigeria. “Nigeria’s religious and ethnic diversity is one of its greatest strengths,” Carson said, “and there are many examples of communities working together to protect each other.” Carson seemingly spoke of equal opportunity killing in “Boko Haram’s attacks on churches and mosques,” yet Jubilee Campaign and others note the disproportionate concentration of Boko Haram upon Christian targets.
“Boko Haram is focused primarily on local Nigerian issues,” Carson judged. Only within Boko Haram had a “smaller more dangerous group, increasingly sophisticated and increasingly lethal…developed links with AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] and has a broader, anti-Western jihadist agenda.” As one article noted, Carson spoke at CSIS the day after a Boko Haram car bombing killed 39 at a Nigerian Easter church service, one of many attacks on church holiday services like Christmas.