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African Jihadists’ Grand Ambitions
By Clare M. Lopez
Boko Haram Wants to Put Nigeria Under Islamic Law
The armies of Islam arrived in the Nigerian kingdoms as early as the 9th century. The forcible conquest of North Africa—including present day Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco—imposed Islamic law (shariah) according to the Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence over this vast swath of territory. Over subsequent centuries, relentless jihadist raids (razzias) as well as the penetration of Muslim merchants, scholars, and traders into areas of the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa eventually succeeded in subjugating Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and the entire northern half of the modern country of Nigeria to Islam.
Today, Nigeria is a large and populous West African country of some 160 million people, about half of whom are Muslim and half Christian and animist. Nigeria is comprised of 36 states, 12 of which have implemented shariah in the northern half of the country. As the renowned political scientist, Samuel Huntington wrote, “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards.” Islam in Nigeria, as in every other place on earth where it establishes power, has shown itself aggressive and violent. Shariah commands Muslims to jihad to spread the faith and, especially throughout the second half of the 20th century, Nigeria’s Muslims have obeyed: wars of domination against non-shariah-adherent Muslims like the Hausa exploded into jihad against non-Muslim tribes like the Yoruba and the Ibo (Biafra) leaving as many as a million dead. Shariah Implementation Committees drew up detailed plans to establish Shariah Courts, train and hire shariah judges, create a Religious Affairs Ministry, set up a Zakat Board, codify the Islamic penal code (hudud punishments like amputation, lashing, and stoning), and make the educational curriculum shariah-compliant.
In 2002, a fanatic jihadist group calling itself “Boko Haram” emerged from among the vast network of Nigeria’s savage Islamic militias, determined to conquer all of Nigeria, seize its oil wealth (largely concentrated in the south), and impose shariah on the entire population, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. “Boko Haram” means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language and expresses the group’s visceral hatred of all things modern, Western, and non-Muslim. Boko Haram leaders have expressed solidarity with al-Qa’eda, explicitly rejected the Nigerian constitution and democracy, and demanded nation-wide implementation of Islamic law.
Since its inception, Boko Haram, which is loosely modeled on Afghanistan’s Taliban, has unleashed a wave of vicious attacks against Nigeria’s central states that border the Muslim north and Christian south. Abuja, the country’s capital, is a planned city that was built mostly during the 1980s, became the official capital in 1991, and was deliberately positioned almost exactly in the middle of Nigeria. Unfortunately, this location puts Abuja squarely on the Nigerian fault line between the jihadist north and Christian south, sometimes called the “Middle Belt.”
A steady stream of murderous Islamic attacks against Christian churches, towns, and villages across northern and central Nigeria exploded into large-scale terrorist assaults in early November 2011 that killed more than 100 people. A car bomb that killed a number of security personnel outside a military barracks in the northeast state of Yobe was followed by a night of rampaging gunmen who blew up a bank, and attacked multiple police stations and churches, leaving behind a trail of destruction. That wave of deadly attacks was followed by U.S. Embassy warnings that Boko Haram planned to bomb three luxury hotels in Abuja over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which fell on November 8th this year. An August 2011 suicide car bomb attack against the UN Headquarters in Abuja that killed 24, including 12 UN staff, left no doubts about Boko Haram’s willingness to attack targets identified with the West.
Media reports that describe the violence and refer to Boko Haram as “Islamists” or a “radical Islamic sect” miss the point: just like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the mullahs’ regime in Iran, al-Shabaab in Somalia, or the al-Qa’eda rebels that have seized control of Libya, Boko Haram is following in the footsteps of Muhammad, obeying the command of Islamic law to wage war against infidels “…until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah.” (Q 8:39) According to shariah, there is nothing particularly radical about this command, which is the same command given to every generation of Muslims since the time of the earliest Muslim warriors.
Mistaking Boko Haram’s jihad for mere disgruntlement over poverty or wealth disparity plays into its hands, enabling this sophisticated Islamic terror organization, with possible ties to al-Qa’eda, to claim its war of conquest against non-Muslim Nigerians is nothing more than a righteous effort to end corruption.
Jihad is about waging war in the name of Islam in order to spread the religion. Nigeria, with its vast oil wealth, is a coveted prize and would make a formidable base from which the armies of Islam might link eventually with al-Qa’eda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to threaten all of West Africa.
Family Security Matters Contributor Clare M. Lopez is a strategic policy and intelligence expert. Lopez began her career as an operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), serving domestically and abroad for 20 years in a variety of assignments. Now a private consultant, Lopez is a Sr. Fellow at the Center for Security Policy and Vice President of the Intelligence Summit. She is also a senior fellow at the Clarion Fund.