Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

Boko Haram hides behind religion

A Box of Soap

Mother’s Day got me thinking about terrorism this year.  Like many of you I was humbled by the debt of gratitude owed my mother, the mother of my children, and all the mothers I know.  Then in Nigeria nearly 300 mothers had their children stolen.

Until now “War on Terror” has meant military intervention in Middle East countries, expensive shakedowns at airports, and NSA looking at our communications. That’s an unfair characterization, but even behind-the-scenes intelligence work and prevention haven’t stopped acts of terror around the world.

How could we stop terrorists in an African nation of which we know little from stealing children or burning a village and gunning down 300 innocents? Terrorism will end only when it ceases to gain anything but swift retribution.

In this particular instance, a group known locally as Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 girls to use as leverage for political power.  They could not have done this without serious weaponry.  They might not have done this without a spurious claim of religious justification. They wouldn’t have done this if they believed their government would refuse to bargain for the captives’ release.  They may not have done this if there were no black market customers for girls and young women.

Prominent display of weapons is central in every evil, grinning picture of Boko Haram.  Religious fanatics in the impoverished north of Nigeria are able to arm themselves well enough that the regular Nigerian army is reluctant to go hunting them.  Where Boko Haram fails with persuasive argument its armory makes it impossible to ignore. Until arms dealers decide it is important to stop terrorism, terrorists will have lethal arms.

Nigeria has a population of about 180 million.  No online source seems willing to number the Boko Haram membership, but it has to be a microscopic percentage of Nigerians.  As in any nation, terrorists will operate with impunity until that nation’s citizens rise against them.  We can’t do it.  If Baptist terrorists overrun Wisconsin would you want Russia to intervene with heavy artillery?

Boko Haram does this hellish work behind the veil of religious fervor.  Muslims must be heard.  Islam is a faith of good works and peace.  If people outside the faith believe that Boko Haram represents Islam there will never be peace. The cover of religious validation must be taken from terrorists.

Some online observers speculate that Boko Haram is not so renegade as portrayed.  They are positioning themselves to improve the influence of impoverished northern Nigeria in dealings with the Christian south of Nigeria, the power in the current government.  No government should reward terrorism by making concessions to terrorists in response to violent attacks.

No terrorist group should be able to make a viable threat to sell young women into slavery.  The penalty for one who buys a stolen life should be forfeiture of life.

Does it matter to an old white guy in Keizer what happens to a seldom thought of nation in Africa?  I think so.  Mothers teach most by example.  My mother loved all children as her own.  There is no limit to the size of my family or the nearness of my neighbors. The least I can do is recognize the agony of those Nigerian mothers at the brutal theft of their daughters.  I have a daughter.

Several nations of Europe have declared war on Boko Haram.  Even if it has little more than symbolic value I would be gratified to have Keizer join them.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer. He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)