‘Muslims Must be at the Forefront of this Fight’ Against Terrorism

Last week, terrorist attacks targeted Ankara in Turkey, and Grand Bassam resort in Ivory Coast. This morning, it hit Brussels claiming over 30 innocent lives and counting. There are countless attacks in North-East Nigeria often targeting people who are already poor at the very bottom of the income ladder, in Mali, increasingly Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, etc., and many Western capitals. In response to the recent incident in Brussels, Ahmed Sadiq posted this salient note on Facebook in condemnation of violent extremism: Read More »

Boko Haram Attacks: a Literature Review

SubhanAllah! What! I think another bomb just got detonated in my area. It shook the living daylight out of my house which is close to police headquarters, Bompai. From my room I can hear fierceful gun battle.” Friday 20th January, 5.13pm local time

Another bomb just went off, shaking the very foundation of our house. Now I see walls cracking and ceiling loosing grip. Gun fight is getting intense.” Friday 20th January 5.40pm local time

Rains of bullets and tornado of explosions…! We’re in a war zone! I’ve never experienced anything close.” Friday 20th January, 6.09pm local time

These were some of the frantic messages posted on Facebook Aisha Mohammed (not real name) on Friday evening in the city of Kano Nigeria as the Islamist insurgency group Boko Haram unleashed a series of bomb attacks in one evening and engaged in fierce gun battle with security forces. The deadly onslaught on Kano city claimed over 200 lives with estimates by medical personnel placing the figure at a much higher lever. While this is just one of numerous other onslaughts by Boko Haram in recent times, it is so far its most vicious, deadliest and most sophisticated yet. The numerous attacks it has unleashed in the last few months, each one more deadly and daring than the previous have made it quite difficult to keep track. It would seem examining the latest spate of attacks, the surrounding circumstances  and making comparisons with previous ones to find out the missing pieces of the puzzle would be in order, just like a literature review of sorts to find out what key points we are missing.

SIZE AND SCALE OF ATTACKS

On this occasion, one discernible difference is the size, scale and magnitude of the attacks. Over 20 bombs were reported to have gone off in different locations in Kano city, which several police stations, the Immigration headquarters, the Department of the State Security Service (SSS) and other government buildings. As if the deadly bomb blasts were not enough, the attackers are reported to have engaged in fierce gun battle with police officers especially at the SSS headquarters and at  the Police headquarters Bompai. The blasts were reported by witnesses and many living in the vicinity of the targeted building to have been heard within a radius of up to two kilometres. Such buildings in the vicinity of the attacks, were said to have shattered, ceilings of houses caved in, walls cracked. The level of sophistication, precision and co-ordination is incredible as well as hair-raising. Attacking Kano, the commercial and cultural heart of the North surely struck a nerve. If the aim was to strike fear, terror and indelible emotional and psychological scarring, then mission fait accompli.

BIG SPONSORS AND BIG FINANCIERS

It is also clear that substantial resources were invested in carrying out these attacks. Not only was this in terms of the level of sophistication, planning and coordination in the onslaught on major security installations in the city, but also in terms of the calibre of army-grade weapons and explosives used. Eye witnesses reported the use of rocket-propelled launchers by the attackers. The way Boko Haram was able to stake out its targets – security installations to be precise – plan and strategically place explosives begs the question as to how come there was no prior intelligence or inkling that alerted anyone of such plans, least of all the security agencies.

The explosives used were obviously not the locally-made, home-made Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) used by the group in its previous campaigns. These bombs whose impacts were heard and felt within a reported 2km radius are neither cheap nor easy to come by. When all these are considered, it raises the question of whether Boko Haram as we know it (what little is known of it anyways) an isolated group that abhors western education and all trappings of modernity can on its own afford such expensive gadgets and logistics. What comes to mind is that there are big financiers and sponsors behind this group – certainly people with enormous resources, clout, influence and a bloody vendetta. President Goodluck Jonathan himself said this much when he confirmed what many have long suspected: that the group’s sympathisers have infiltrated his government. If so the key question remains, who are they and what do they intend to achieve with this bloody campaign?

 

BEYOND SECURITY AND RELIGION, A POLITICAL MATTER:

In light of all this information, it is clear that the Boko Haram sect and its activities have clearly gone beyond being a mere security challenge by a group which aims to “impose the adherence to strict shariah law”. This is clearly a deeply political problem which requires appropriate political solutions. This perhaps explains why the security measures adopted so far to contain the insurgency have proven futile: attempts at negotiation have been blatantly rejected by the group’s members; the deployment of a Joint Military Task Force to Borno state, the group’s stronghold, has simply resulted in arbitrary killings and other human rights violations of the civilian population and the recent state of emergency declared in states regarded as Boko Haram strong hold have similarly failed as it neither stopped random attacks in Maiduguri and Bauchi nor did it prevent the Kano blasts from occurring. All the group’s top members who have been arrested have either been murdered or have escaped in mysterious circumstances.

Consequently, the recent appeal by the National Security Adviser (NSA) General Andrew Azazi, encapsulated in his article in the Washington Times for US assistance in tackling Boko Haram has been viewed with scepticism. This is because there is only so much the most efficient police organizations and intelligence agencies in the world can do in a terrain where little information and little intelligence has been gathered. M15 or CIA can do little in an environment they are not familiar with or where they will stick out like sore thumbs.

After conducting this literature review of sorts, the underlying fact here is that there are deep underlying political issues that need to be resolved. The top echelon of the government clearly has sufficient information to work with, apprehend these sponsors/sympathisers and deal with them accordingly. Whether this means negotiating and sorting out the deep political problems which are clearly bedevilling Nigeria, or apprehending and prosecuting them, ordinary Nigerians simply want an end to the carnage, mayhem and bloodshed lest the looming anarchy descends and prevails.

Oslo Terror Attacks: Whither Globalization?

…Cruelty is necessary…you should kill too many, not too few…” are some of Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous recommendations for a European cultural renaissance of sorts that would prevent the “Islamic colonization” of Europe, listed in his manifesto: “The European Declaration of Independence”. In said manifesto, Breivik – the ultra right-wing, white supremacist cum terrorist – detailed the meticulous preparation for his murderous carnage on July 22nd in Norway which left over 70 people- mostly teenagers – dead. Such far-right terrorism, along with the global economic crisis the world is still “recovering” from, is another blow to globalization and its core neo-liberal values and a crude wake-up call for developing countries especially in Africa.

Globalization generally refers to increased interconnectedness of economies, societies, people, culture and ideas across borders and boundaries through communication, transportation, trade and migration. The term came into popular usage in 1970s and 1980s with the breakthrough or revolution in Information, Communications and Transport Technologies (ICT) making the world a “global village”. This was spurred by the general economic boom in the post World War II era, especially in the 1960s, known as the development decade not only in the developed world – North America, Western Europe and Japan – but also in many parts of the developing world, including the newly decolonized African countries, the East Asian Tigers and other places.

At the heart of globalization is the free market approach to economic management, the core of neo-liberal values. This approach forms the basis of the economic model of the industrialized world characterized by limited government intervention in the economy; the liberalization and deregulation of trade, finance and capital and privatization of public enterprises. These, according to the argument, would enable market competition and innovation, would spur economic growth, lead to greater integration of economies around the world and usher in unprecedented prosperity for countries interconnected in the global economy. For instance competition and innovation ushered in the information age with advances in transport and communications technology mobile telephony and the Internet; faster and more efficient means of transportation and breakthroughs in medical and bio-science technology. Most importantly, such economic prosperity is believed to have aided has aided in the universalization of liberal democratic ideas and values as the most prevalent and pervasive system of government. Democracy and representative government are favoured against autocratic governments, dictatorships and military rule.

In the socio-cultural realm, a more diverse world is bound together by common values and respect for fundamental human rights for all and equality, tolerance and respect for all peoples of the world. To an extent we have seen this happening not only in the unprecedented economic growth and development of some developing countries like the East Asian Tigers such as Taiwan and South Korean; the assortment of new communications technology like mobile phones and the Internet; but also the near-global spread and persistence of the values of democracy and representative government. The interface between new means of communication and democratic values is embodied in the ongoing ‘Arab Spring’ where citizens of Middle-Eastern countries, after being subjected to decades of authoritarian rule, are now demanding representative government through mass protests facilitated by Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools, and have succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt.

In my opinion, this is about where the benefits of globalization end as the global financial crisis of 2008 and the global recession it has spawned has plunged many countries of the world into near-bankruptcy. This crisis in many respects can be attributed to the interconnectedness and integration not just between different parts of the world, but between the volatile financial sector and other parts of the economy.  As mentioned earlier, from the near collapse of the Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Greek economies and the large financial bailouts negotiated with more European countries possibly in tow; the future of the EU, the monetary zone and even the existence of the Euro is hotly debated. Bigger countries like the UK which are not on the verge of collapse are growing at a snail pace of just 0.25% in the second quarter of 2011. Elsewhere, the US is racked by its growing debt, financed mainly by Chinese investments in US Treasury securities and bonds. The global financial crisis and its aftermath have exposed the fundamental weakness of the core neoliberal values of globalization which have played a large part in bringing about the crisis in the first place.

More importantly, with economies continuing to shrink, politicians have responded accordingly with austerity policies. With the global recession, governments in Europe and other parts of the developed world have been made to cut-back on public spending in such areas as education and healthcare, they have increased taxes and are now increasingly reducing net immigration and inflow of foreigners. In the UK, the Coalition government recently said it would reduce migration to the UK from 200,000 per annum to “tens of thousands” because of increased pressure to the “society, economy and public services”. At the individual, group and societal level are some nationales of European countries who are of the view that it is those “bloody foreigners” who, with their hordes of dependents are not only: out-breeding their hosts, taking up all the jobs and claiming benefits but are also disturbing the delicate demographic balance in Europe. For instance, in Norway, a recent poll conducted showed that half of all Norwegians favour restricting immigration, or that immigration “had gone too far”.

It is from this perspective that there has been a resurgence and growing popularity of not only (moderate) right-wing politics but even extremist, ultra-right and far-right ideas which blame all economic woes on foreigners and immigrants. Thus, far-right movements in places like Italy; Switzerland, and Sweden;  parties like the National Front Party in France and the Dutch Freedom Party headed by the fiercely anti-Muslim Geert Wilders are gaining momentum and sympathy from ordinary people. These parties and movements “blame multiculturalism for the destruction of Western culture”and very much like Breivik, they blame previous left-wing governments such as the UK Labour Party and the Norwegian Labour Party for allowing such multiculturalism by enabling the influx of foreigners.

These parties have capitalized on a growing uncertainty brought about by recession and the economic difficulties people are going through, and have used a convoluted mixture of populism, thinly veiled racism and neo-fascist tendencies to resuscitate a feeling of nationalism or as The Guardian aptly captures the situation, a “nostalgia for a conservative, traditionalist, whites-only Europe of a bygone age combined with blind fury at its dissolution in a globalised world”. Logically and understandably, some of the citizens are transferring and directing their pent-up anger at the “foreigners” or the “immigrants” with whom they are competing for scarce economic opportunities which could explain the growing sympathy for right-wing policies and ideas in the industrialized world. Furthermore, foreigners and immigrants are increasingly equated with non-Europeans particularly with Muslims from the Middle-East and Pakistan and as well as African immigrants.

Most Africans would readily understand this situation, for the struggle for economic resources and opportunities is the bane of most inter-ethnic conflict and crisis in many sub Saharan African countries. From the indigene-settler issue which periodically erupts in Plateau state Nigeria between the Hausa-Fulani “settlers” and the Berom indigenes to inter-ethnic conflict in regions in Kenya like Western, Rift Valley, Nyanza, Coast and Nairobi. Unlike Breivik, it is hoped that few far-right zealots would go so far as to kill innocent teenagers in a bid to protect and maintain the racial purity of Europe from “Islamic colonization” or “Muslim takeover”, but as Nobel Peace Prize chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland rightly noted, extremists like Breivik are exploiting rhetoric used by European politicians to propagate their neo-fascist views. His comment was in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement in February 2011 on the failure of integration and multiculturalism in Britain which he said is “fostering extremist ideology and directly contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism”.

As Europe tightens its borders to non-Europeans, the implication for poor countries particularly African countries is that even brain-drain –a major developmental challenge where skilled Africans emigrate en-masse to developed countries in search of greener pastures – will be greatly reduced for the pasture is not-so-green these days. For instance, some European countries like the UK have revised their   immigration policies such that from 2012, the UK will close its  borders to long-term settlement by foreigners, except for those of “exceptional talent” , the well-to-do who can go afford to go for holidays or give assurances that their stay will not be permanent.  The difficulties faced by poor people from developing countries to migrate, live-in, work or settle-in developed countries questions the unrestricted movement of people and goods across boundaries which globalization proponents had assured. On the one hand, it could be a blessing in disguise, for those who earned their qualifications in developed countries could go back home and utilize those skills in developing their respective economies. Of course this depends on political and economic stability, job opportunities in African countries and most importantly when African leaders decide they are ready to provide desperately needed transformative leadership.

As the industrialized world struggles towards a painful recovery from the global financial crisis further exposing the flaws and weaknesses of the core neoliberalism and free-market system, it shouldn’t be surprising if more aspects of globalization unravel. Therefore, as more jobs are cut, taxes increased and the cost of living becomes higher, people are naturally bound to retreat to a comfort zone and heap blame on the foreigner. As competition for scarce opportunities intensify, extremists like Breivik are lurking, waiting to exploit fear and uncertainty. It is hoped that African leaders will take this cue and provide more opportunities for citizens at home in the wake of a shrinking global space.