A Reader Responds: Understanding Nigeria’s Terrorists

In response to our recent blog entry “Terrorism in Nigeria: the Rise of Boko Haram” a reader from Nigeria highlights an important, and often overlooked, element in the struggle against his country's emerging terrorist threat. In a letter to World Policy Journal, Abdul Abu Aljarrah (a pseudonym) emphasizes the muddled misconceptions surrounding this radical organization, noting that “Boko Haram” is not the actual name of the group but one that has been adopted by the media. He argues that in order to finally defeat this alarming organization, we must first gain accurate insight into their true nature. Brute force alone, he says, will not kill an ideology. We must understand their thinking and then outsmart them. We should start by calling the Islamist radicals the right name: Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lidda Awati Wal Jihad or Yusufiyya.

A Reader Responds: Understanding Nigeria's Terrorists

by Abu al-Jarrah

We are all affected in some way, knowingly or unknowingly, by the terror and destructive mayhem that is going on in our nation. We need to think through, evolve, and take the optimal solution path not just to address the immediate challenges but to put a full and final stop to this carnage. Terrorism is as old as mankind and its underlying causes are similar; failed brute force reactions are usually our first emotional inclination; and finally, we find that we must address the underlying issues that spawn and feed the ideologies that underpin terror, terrorists, and terrorist organisations.

Today, the global family especially Nigeria is being tested by a group colloquially and allegedly known as “Boko Haram.” However, we need to bear in mind that these people themselves do NOT regard themselves as “Boko Haram,” which is a name given to them by the media and adopted by the status quo. They call themselves “Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lidda Awati Wal Jihad” which means “Congregation of Followers of the Prophet involved in Call to Islam and Religious Struggle.” There are some people that also call them “Yusufiyya” after the slain sect leader Mohammed Yusuf, which also adds to our understanding of whom they perceive themselves to be.

What is in a name you may say? Well, when we get it wrong from the name, then we view and place them wrongly. The name “Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lidda Awati Wal Jihad” connotes something much deeper than “Boko Haram” which arguably means “western knowledge is forbidden/bad.” When we understand how they see themselves, then we begin to acquire valuable insight into how we can effectively deal with them. As Sun Tzu in his famous treatise The Art of War states, “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”  There is certainly an intelligence challenge that needs to be addressed. They have demonstrated that they know us and our weak underbelly, and unfortunately, they are taking dramatic advantage of their insight about us. Yet it seems, as a society, we know very little about these people who are members of this same society.

This extremely small group of people, who opt to inflict, on all of us, terror and destructive mayhem that is greatly disproportionate to their numbers are definitely very well educated and certainly know what they are doing. The people the press call “Boko Haram” was never “a small group of uneducated people in some remote part of Maiduguri” as many of us have been misled to believe. That was misinformation exacerbated and propagated by the media, including the modern social media, which these days often propagates“sound bites” and not always “sound” understanding.  These people have an ideological base, albeit warped, and they are propagating themselves because we, as a people and government, in-part assigned them nomenclature that has caused us to significantly underrate them.

History has repeatedly shown that brute force alone will not kill an ideology, no matter how warped. Brute force will kill people, but the destructive ideology will recruit more “fodder” and casualties in a never ending vicious cycle.

We have got take this matter up on several fronts. The Muslim Ummah itself has to cut off their recruitment base by shining its intellectual light on their ideology and showing their ideology for what it truly is, illogical, destructive and an anathema to all Islam stands for and it is NOT the way of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him), even though from their name they sincerely believe they are following his way. We must understand their thinking, get a grasp of where they are coming from, and then deal with things accordingly from an intelligent—and not just an intelligence—point of view. We must all work towards cutting out this type of cancer by preventing, with superior reasoning, those who are inclined to, from joining; reforming, by showing a better way to those who are reformable; and based on justice (which, by the way, they espouse), incarcerating, or otherwise punishing, those who are culpable.

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