The War Against Boko Haram

Larsen, Kaj

Vice News reporter Kaj Larsen about to embark on his assignment embedded with the Nigerian Army.

Two days ago Vice News released a short documentary filmed in March. Their reporter Kaj Larsen was embedded with the Nigerian Army as they battled Boko Haram and freed the town of Bama from occupation. In an attempt to increase his popularity leading up to the election, President Jonathan had finally given the army the support they needed to mount a proper campaign. I saw a short version of this film earlier in this week, which was what prompted me to write yesterday’s article Boko Haram: The Scourge of Nigeria.

Larsen describes Nigeria as “… one of Africa’s richest nations”. It is in fact Africa’s wealthiest, and also its most populous. With a population of almost 160 million, one in four Africans are from Nigeria. (There are only nine black billionaires in the world – four of them are Nigerian.) There is huge inequality though – in 2013 unemployment was estimated at almost 30% and at that time was expected to rise.

Nigeria also has huge corruption. Transparency International ranks Nigeria 136/175 in corruption with a score of only 27/100. (New Zealand, for example ranks 2/175 with a score of 91/100; Canada: 10/175, score – 81/100; Australia: 11/175, score – 80/100; Great Britain: 14/175, score – 78/100; USA: 17/175, score – 74/100).

Buhari and Jonathan

Goodluck Jonathan (left) and Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain more than fifty years ago, but it took until 2011 before it had it’s first democratic, corruption-free election. That election saw Goodluck Jonathan (PDP – People’s Democratic Party) become president, and it was a huge achievement for that country when he voluntarily conceded power after losing the 2015 election to Muhammadu Buhari (ACP – All Progressives Congress) two weeks ago. The main thrust of Buhari’s campaign was a promise to fight the corruption that is as great a scourge as Boko Haram. He is also expected to do a better job standing up to Islamist extremists. Buhari is a Muslim with a brutal history of instituting the worst of Sharia punishments, but during the election said he stood for freedom of religion, and his recent history shows him to be the “reformed democrat” he claims to be. Jonathan is a staunch Christian whose political power base is in the south of the country, which suffers much less from Boko Haram‘s terrorist activities. His administration faced frequent and serious allegations of corruption, and he often seemed reluctant to tackle Boko Haram. The Economist has described Buhari as the “least awful” option, and I agree with the assessment.

Nigeria, Borno StateIn Larsen’s story, Maiduguri appears to be a fairly small town. Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, actually has an estimated population of two million, further swelled by tens of thousands of people internally displaced from other Borno towns and villages destroyed by Boko Haram. Other towns too appear small, especially now that they’re abandoned and their people have fled elsewhere. The 2006 census put Bama’s population at almost 270,000, Gwoza’s population at more than 276,000, and Konduga at 13,400.

The soldiers fighting Boko Haram speak of their feeling of brotherhood, Muslims and Christians together against a devil. They do not see Boko Haram as the Sunni Muslims they themselves claim to be. Abubakar Muhammad Shekau, the current leader of Boko Haram, is a former theology student. Both he and its former leader (Muhammad Yusuf) were inspired by the teachings of a fourteenth century fundamentalist Islamic scholar  Ibn Taymiyyah.  Ibn Taymiyyah was a strong proponent of jihad. He wrote:

It is in jihad that one can live and die in ultimate happiness, both in this world and in the Hereafter. Abandoning it means losing entirely or partially both kinds of happiness.

This type of philosophy is why Islam is so often labelled a death cult. It is exactly this mindset that those like Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation, who are trying to reform Islam from within are trying to counter most. It’s also the second of the five amendments Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls for to Islam in her new book, Heretic (excerpt here). Her concern is that many Muslims give more credence to live after death instead of life before death, and this needs to change.

The military part of the Vice News video finished with the liberation of Bama. Gwoza has since been liberated too, and the new president, Buhari, has vowed to continue the fight until Boko Haram is destroyed. However, as Boko Haram are inspired by a religious motive rather than politics, that may not be as easy as killing their fighters.

It is notable that the Nigerian soldiers also view their fight in many ways as a religious one. Christian and Muslim together, they see themselves as soldiers in a Just War.  Nineteen minutes in, a group of them are filmed giving thanks to God, giving him the credit for keeping them alive while Boko Haram are dying. That is evidence to them that they are fighting the Good Fight. The Christian soldiers also attended a church service just before the final push into Bama.

Northern Nigeria is already much poorer than the wealthy south, and Boko Haram has made the situation of the people there much worse. In addition, hundreds of schools, both Christian and Muslim, have been closed because of the fear of attack. The children who should be attending those schools are being left less able to make a good future for themselves.

Once again, adherence to a religious teaching over humanist values is destroying the lives of millions.

13 Responses to “The War Against Boko Haram”

  1. AU says:

    Regarding the corruption index, Monbiot had a great article on it:

    Regarding Jihad, just because someone believes in Jihad, it doesn’t make them a follower of a “nihillistic cult of death” as Hirsi would like you to believe – that’s complete rubbish. For the sake of simplicity I’ll ignore here that Jihad can mean many things other than just fighting in war, and just use Jihad=warfare, believing in Jihad can actually lead you to do good things as well as bad things.
    Let’s imagine the case where someone has been told that if they die in battle, they will go to Heaven. This person now doesn’t care about his life, he could have had a great life on Earth, but his belief in going to Heaven if killed in battle takes over his whole outlook, and even worse, he believes that even if he kills some innocent civilians, they too will go to Heaven, so he joins a group like ISIS, starts killing indiscriminately, and lots of people die. This can be a very bad outcome of the belief in Jihad.
    Now imagine that someone sees a powerful dictator brutally killing civilians in a country who want to overhtrow him. This person doesn’t like what is happening, but he knows that if he goes and takes up arms, he is very likely to die, and his life will be over, and so this individual doesn’t go and fight, Western governments remain indifferent, and bombs continue to drop on those civilians. Now imagine you have a bunch of moderate Jihadis, they too realise that they will almost certainly be killed in mass numbers if fighting this dictator, but they believe that if they die, then so be it, they did what God wanted them to, and God will reward them for doing righteousness, and so they take up arms in massive numbers, a huge number of them die, but they manage to defeat the brutal dictator, and the civilians are now freed from the brutal dictator. In this scenario, believing in Jihad ended up having a positive effect, it brought down a brutal dictator.

    The bottom line is, like most things in life, there are two sides to the coin, and believing in an afterlife can have both a negative and positive effect on your behaviour, and not believing in an afterlife can have both a negative and positive effect on your behaviour. Religious fundamentalists just want to look at the positive effect of believing in and afterlife and want to ignore the negative effect it can have, and atheist fundamentalists just want to look at the positive effect of not believing in an afterlife and want to ignore the negative effect it can have, which just shows what I have always said, it isn’t religion or secularism that is the problem, it is fundamentalist, be it religious or secular.

    As for Hirsi and Nawaaz, there was a tweet yesterday that made me laugh – it went something along the lines of “if you want to make a lot of money, claim you are a former Muslim who is now a reformer”! Nawaaz claims to believe in feminism, yet this week we saw a video of him in a strip club receiving a private lap dance and trying to touch the stripper which is against the rules. Hirsi said the other week that the USA is the best place for a black person to live, try telling that to the 4.7% of blacks in USA who are incarcerated – compare that to the 0.7% whites who are incarcerated. Or try telling that to the blacks killed by cops. It’s also funny that she says she cannot imagine being a black person in Saudi Arabia or Iran, yet she doesn’t talk about the treatment of blacks in Israel…

    • Hi AU. I agree I shouldn’t have presented jihad as if it’s all bad and you are also correct that there can sometimes be positive effects to believing in an afterlife. My personal view however is that there is a more fundamental point, and that is the truth. It would be really nice to believe in heaven or whatever, but it’s just not real. To me it’s a choice between a comforting lie and an inconvenient truth.

      There are sects within Islam (and Christianity) that place too much emphasis on the hereafter, and they are all dangerous imo, especially if their beliefs are coupled with other practices, such as a desire to forcibly convert everyone to their beliefs. These days, the Christian ones usually end up committing mass suicide although plenty of innocent victims get caught up in those. Of course, in the past they did untold damage – the Crusades and the Inquisition being only two examples.

      I also agree that Hirsi Ali is wrong about the USA being the best country to be black. I’m not sure what country that would be, but I’d certainly put New Zealand way ahead of the USA.

      AU, I have people I admire and Hirsi Ali, Nawaz and, as you’ve noted elsewhere, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Coyne are amongst them. I also consider Coyne a friend. However, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say or do. When I don’t, I say so as freely to them as I do to you. I don’t wear rose-tinted glassed when looking at them like many do when looking at their god or religious figures. I try to be consistent, but I’m sure I don’t always manage it. My opinion changes too sometimes, usually due to more or better information.

      And the tweet you refer to is funny and accurate – there are plenty of hypocrites out there along with the genuine ones on the “former Muslim” gravy train. Also, one person making a living out of being everyone’s favourite moderate Muslim is Aslan. He’s even got a new series coming out on CNN. The series is about religion and has the potential to be quite good though, so I won’t judge it before I’ve seen it.

      • AU says:

        Secular people say religious people believe in God and Heaven because it makes them feel better, but religious people can equally say that secular people don’t believe in a God and being held accountable for actions in an afterlife because it makes them feel better!
        Again we can see hypocrisy of fundamentalists on both sides – atheist fundamentalists will accuse religious people of just following what they want to believe in, and not acknowledge that many believe in it because they genuinely feel it is the truth, and religious fundamentalists will accuse atheists of not believing in a God because they just want to follow their own desires, and not acknowledge many do not believe in God because they genuinely do not think there is one.

        As for the more fundamental point of “the truth”, what is the truth? I mean, Jerry Coyne says evolution is true, and I think we did evolve, but is it the truth? I don’t know, science also says we could be living in a simulated reality, in which case, maybe the creator of the simulated reality has implanted false data into my mind. Maybe you at this moment are a boltzmann brain?

        The bottom line is, everyone, whether they are religious or an atheist, have to have some degree of “blind faith” in something.

        • AU, when atheists hear a theist say something like “… secular people don’t believe in a God and being held accountable for actions in an afterlife because it makes them feel better!”, it scares them. The idea that there are billions of people out there who are only being good because their god or gods will hold them accountable is frightening. I try to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and studies show most atheists are the same.

          • AU says:

            Heather, I did say that religious fundamentalists say “secular people don’t believe in a God and being held accountable for actions in an afterlife because it makes them feel better!”, and not theists.

            Anyway, why the double standard? Why is it ok for you to say religious people only believe in God and religion because that is what they want to believe, why can some atheists not believe in God and religion because they do not want to believe?

          • Hi AU. That’s about burden of proof. There is no belief involved in atheism. It is precisely NOT believing, just like not believing in fairies or leprechauns or any other supernatural being. We don’t have the special words “a-unicornists”, “a-talking-snakeists” or “a-talking-donkeyists” for those who don’t believe in unicorns or talking snakes/donkeys, even though they’re in the Bible along with Yahweh. It’s theists who are making the positive claim that there is a god (or gods), so the burden of proof rests with theists. The only reason you consider atheism a belief is because you are so sure Allah is real. I’ve the same argument with Christians who are convinced God is real. Most atheists would accept the existence of any god if he/she/it was proven to be real. There is no proof for any god, therefore no god exists. So it’s not a double standard. Billions of people, of course, believe there is a god or gods. That isn’t proof.

            I guess the problem comes because often people’s religious (and other) beliefs are such a big part of who they are, and they feel hurt or insulted if others don’t share their beliefs. And, of course, people can be pretty insulting about the beliefs of others. I got it wrong a few days ago: I laughed when my new cleaner told me The Walking Dead was her favourite show because now she knew what to do when the zombies attack. It turned out she was serious …

          • AU says:

            Hi Heather,

            You are showing a huge amount of ignorance here. I have never said I am a Muslim or a Christian or an agnostic or an atheist – all I have ever argued on here is against the hypocrisy and lies of people. I am against fundamentalist people, whether they be religious or atheist. The fact you think that just because I have argued against the hypocrisy of the New Atheists and have argued against how their attacks on Islam are full of holes and lies it means “The only reason you consider atheism a belief is because you are so sure Allah is real” is quite amazing.

            Anyway, back to the point – atheism is a belief. It’s a belief there all religions are false. Not believing in something is a belief in itself. If I disbelieve that a lizard created the world, then I believe a lizard did not create the world.
            As for the burden of proof, well, let’s move onto science. I myself come from a scientific background, and I love it. It is great, it helps mankind make advances that can bring great benefit not only to us but to nature around us. I think science should be taken very seriously in how we live our lives – if a Muslim child is suffering from hallucinations, instead of that child’s parents thinking that child has been possessed and taking it to some Imam, we should say “no, this child is suffering from a mental illness, let science treat it”. So, yeah, science is fantastic.

            However, science cannot be used to “prove things”. It simply cannot, because science itself says it cannot. Mainstream scientific thinking suggests it is plausible we are living in a stimulated reality. Mainstream scientific thinking suggests any one of us could be a Boltzmann brain. Therefore, to prove that evolution is true, you have to prove that you are not a stimulated reality whose mind has been messed with, and you have to prove you are not a Boltzmann brain. You can prove neither of these, therefore, you cannot prove evolution is true. Therefore, you believe evolution is true based on nothing but faith.

            Now, I believe evolution is true, I live my life under the assumption that evolution is true. In science lessons I believe we should teach evolution is true. That’s because science should be about how information can be used to learn about the world we live in and how we can use that information for the greater good. What science shouldn’t be about is saying “if your belief contradicts evolution, then that means your belief is 100% wrong”, because, science itself says we cannot be 100% sure evolution is true. Funnily enough, I had this debate with an staunch atheist last year, and I was saying evolution is a fact, there are no two ways about it, and this guy was saying it isn’t a fact!

          • Hi AU. You say:

            … atheism is a belief. It’s a belief there all religions are false.

            This is not accurate. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in any god or gods. It doesn’t relate to a particular position on religion, although it follows that most atheists believe all religions are false. However, that is not what atheism means. It is possible to believe in a religion but not believe in a god/gods. Further, some religions do not have a god or gods.

    • The corruption article is interesting too. I’ve tweeted it. I’m shocked by how much people in finance companies got away with in Britain and the US (and other countries) after the GFC. The GFC was caused by shoddy practices in the US, but little was done about those who caused the problem, destroying the financial lives of hundreds of millions. We had several prosecutions in NZ, but I don’t know enough to know if there were others who should’ve also been charged.

    • Barry says:

      This kind of reasoning completely misses the point. Basing the value of a position purely on its consequences is ridiculous. If the only reason for doing good is because the celestial skydaddy I believe in will punish me if I don’t, doesn’t make doing good virtuous. Believing in things without good reason, or believing in things that are profoundly not true is bad whether it causes good behavior or not.

      As you contort yourself into all kinds of logical contradictions attempting to explain behavior this way it would be far more parsimonious to say – there is no good reason for their actions, even those that might result in beneficial consequences.

      • AU says:

        There are no logical contradictions in anything I said. I simply said that life is complex – the idea that religion can ONLY cause people to do bad things is nonsense. I presented an example where in some instances religion can actually make someone act like a better human being, and I presented an example where in some instances, not believing in an afterlife can cause someone to act in a selfish way.
        Of course, nowhere did I suggest that if someone believes in an afterlife they will become a better human being, and if someone doesn’t believe in an afterlife, they will become a worse human being – there will be many times when not believing in an afterlife will make someone become a better human being.

    • Michael Waterhouse says:

      That is pretty unrealistic counter example. Anyone can construct scenarios giving the participants whatever characteristics they need satisfy their own desired outcome. So a bunch of superstitious people rise up when a bunch of evidence based reality folks wouldn’t? Hmm.

      Are you asserting that a large number of secular people would sit idly by because they are scared of dying? Evidence from WW2 would show otherwise.
      If constructing a scenario like that to validate a belief in magic, then so be it.

      What does believing in feminism have to do with going to a strip club? Only some feminists oppose that kind of thing. Others are fine with a variety of choices.
      So what if Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks the US is a good place to live for blacks, it is for a lot.
      A lot of people think the US is a great place and a lot don’t.

      Picking a couple of minor, possible, errors of judgement to undermine a larger, reasoned, structured position is..

      You also seem to be making up your own story to present your conclusion that fundamentalist hypocrisy exists on both sides.

      Atheist don’t look at a belief in the after life like that.
      It is irrelevant what the consequences of such a belief are. The belief itself is the problem. It is wrong.
      And you are wrong in my opinion. Religious belief isn’t wrong because it has fundamentalists, it is wrong because it is wrong.

      There is no two sides to this coin.

      Secular people don’t say that religious only believe because it makes them feel better, there is no such fundamentalist secular position.
      But, as you say, it is because you genuinely, ‘feel’ it is the truth. Feelings aren’t evidence. Feelings are not a good reason to believe something. It is especially problematical when these ‘feelings’ lead to the relentless absurdity of religiously inspired action.

      And as for the assertion by some religious that secular people are secular because they want to do whatever they want and not be judged in an afterlife, that’s funny. Doesn’t Christianity allow you to do whatever you want as long as you ‘repent’ at the right time.
      Also, the morals of the religions are pretty outdated and evil anyway.

      And truth. As you say, it can be tricky to define but at the very least a truth claim has to have some supporting evidence.

      Religious beliefs and assertions not only have virtually no supporting evidence but what they do have is more or less directly contradicted by the next claim to come along.

      Boltzmann brain or Descartes demon, interesting but irrelevant.

      Stand in front of a train. Pray you won’t be hit and, you will be hit, time and time again.

      Religious claims of truth or otherwise are not off in imaginary theoretical realms, they are here in the real world where they can be tested like any other claim.

      How does the possibility of a virtual reality or Boltzmann brains lead to such nasty condemnation of various peoples sexual preferences, for example.

      The religious can try these tricks, these far off, can’t definitely know scenarios, (how can an atheist be ‘sure’ there is no god any where in the universe), but that is irrelevant. That is not what the religious are claiming.

      Finding truth can be tricky and it is better to err on the side of tolerance.
      The very last place to look for truth, or anything is the phantasmagorical mish mash of religious unreality.

      • AU says:

        Are you asserting that a large number of secular people would sit idly by because they are scared of dying? Evidence from WW2 would show otherwise

        Absolutely nothing in my post suggests that. Nothing at all.

        What does believing in feminism have to do with going to a strip club? Only some feminists oppose that kind of thing. Others are fine with a variety of choices

        A lot of women who work in strip clubs do so because they have no other means of making money, so it isn’t really a “choice”, it’s a “necessity”. Anyway, the rules are clear – you are not allowed to touch the woman. Yet he is trying to touch her. That doesn’t seem like a “feminist” to me.

        So what if Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks the US is a good place to live for blacks, it is for a lot

        Because it is nonsense. And if you talk nonsense, then everything you say should be taken with a pinch of salt. If someone from the Muslim Brotherhood said Saudi Arabia is the best place for a female to live, would you take that person seriously? I mean, sure, for some Muslim women I am sure it is a great place to live, but for many others, it isn’t.
        Come on, we all know why Hirsi Ali says the USA is the best place to be black – it’s because she is playing the neocon/Christian right market in the USA. She knows that saying these things goes down very well with people on FOX News and all the other neocons, just like she knows her comments about Islam go down very well with neocons and the Christian right.

        Atheist don’t look at a belief in the after life like that

        How on earth can you speak for all atheists? How can all atheists be a homogeneous entity that all think and act the same for the same reasons?

        Secular people don’t say that religious only believe because it makes them feel better, there is no such fundamentalist secular position

        Again, how on earth can you speak for ALL secular people? Why would ALL secular people feel the same way? But anyway, yes, the argument has been made many many times by secular fundamedalists – they say that religious people believe in religion because it makes them feel better.

        How does the possibility of a virtual reality or Boltzmann brains lead to such nasty condemnation of various peoples sexual preferences, for example

        It shouldn’t – as I said, we should not tolerate any form of bigotry.

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