Sunday, March 6, 2016

Quotable: Anna Bekele on Boko Haram and Islam

Friday, March 4th 2016

Westminster Institute
“The solution to the Boko Haram problem should be sought in understanding the ethnic, socio-political, and ideological components of this phenomenon. It is ideology in particular that has been providing a blueprint for the goals, tactics and discourse of Boko Haram,” wrote Anna Bekele in a paper, “Boko Haram and its Impact,” available on the website of The Westminster Institute in London.  (The full report is, alas, behind a paywall.)  Here are a few of Dr. Bekele’s key points on the group’s “ideological context”:

  • The ideological component has been consistently present in the rhetoric and actions of Boko Haram. It has been a unifying factor in the otherwise decentralized organization.

  • An assessment of the role of ideology has become controversial. . . . The debate is whether Islam plays an important role or not, in other words, whether Boko Haram and its actions are Islamic or not.

  • There seems to be a growing uneasiness and desire to disassociate oneself from Boko Haram among a number of Islamic scholars and leaders. Among others, Iyad bin Amin Madani, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Corporation (OIC), during his solidarity visit to  Nigeria labeled Boko Haram as “unislamic”: “What they do is criminal act. It has absolutely nothing to do with Islam, Islamic teachings, history, culture or civilization of Islam.”

  • Though Boko Haram pursues explicitly political goals, it is keen to couch its political agenda in religious terms. However, they have never undermined the importance of Islam and their desire to bring Sharia laws in their full form to the region. Abubakar Shekau is also very clear about the international agenda, as he specifically mentions American President Obama and the United Nations, as well as solidarity with Al Qaeda in his statements.

  • . . . deprivation and inequality provide a context, but do not entirely define the Islamist group. In fact, in some areas both Christians and Muslims live in relative deprivation, yet it is the Muslim community that becomes radicalized. . . . The message of Boko Haram should be analyzed not only on the content level, but also on the connotation and intention levels. In turn, this may also give clues to countering Boko Haram’s message and to providing an alternative narrative. Here it is important to understand Islamism, its original sources, and later interpretations.

  • Boko Haram may further evolve in its tactics and approaches just as the Taliban and Al-Shabaab have been evolving, i.e. turning more violent and daring, becoming more technologically savvy, tailoring its message for the wider audience (including the Islamic diaspora and converts to Islam), and occasionally even turning to charity in order to win the new constituency.

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