Sunday, May 6, 2012
Weighing the Mind of Boko Haram
The Boko Haram video of the bombing of ThisDay on April 26, 2012 is a gory one. The question that comes to mind is: “How did we arrive here?” A man in white dress drives a black SUV into the premises of a newspaper house and detonates a bomb that explodes in a fiery ball. And the very moment of impact is captured on video. Incredible! Again, how did we arrive here in the premier league of terrorism? The question has since refused to vacate many a viewer’s subconscious. The more we look, the less we see of the rationale for descending to this level of animality in modern-day Nigeria.
That is no good news for a nation that has been sitting on the edge of a knife since Independence. Boko Haram seems not to care a hoot, though, about national integration or cohesion. It has a mission, whether holy or unholy, to carry out. Showing mercy or respecting humanity is, therefore, out of the question. In Boko Haram’s jurisprudence, offence is offence, whether deliberate or inadvertent. And in its own peculiar nature, time does not heal. It does not change anything. Hence its decision to bomb ThisDay and other media houses.
“Some of the reasons we decided to attack some media houses, especially ThisDay, is because the paper was used in dishonouring our prophet, Muhammed (SAW) during a beauty pageant in Kaduna in November 2002,” the Boko Haram “Public Awareness Department” explains in the video. It will be recalled that the bone of contention was a seemingly harmless write-up by a ThisDay reporter as part of the media hype for the first Miss World Beauty pageant to be held in Nigeria. A somewhat naive reference to the Holy Prophet by the inexperienced reporter was more than enough spark to ignite the dynamite of opposition that eventually led to the cancellation of the event. ThisDay duly apologised for the uproar inadvertently generated by the publication, and now the media house is being bombed for the mistake committed ten years ago! They try to justify this in the video: “No one has the power to forgive anyone for an offence that God himself has given judgement, especially on an offence that has to do with dishonouring Prophet Muhammed (SAW)... This lady that committed this crime, the judgement on her is to be killed at any opportunity, and the media house is also supposed to be driven out of existence...” Chilling?
That’s not all. For allegedly not being accurately reported, all media houses are now under threat of demolition. “These media houses have committed a lot of offences that are detrimental to Islam, and we don’t have the power to forgive them. We will take revenge on them by God’s grace...” Surprisingly, VOA (Hausa service) is included, too, for having recently “started campaigning for people to support the government against us by exposing us.” There is no doubting the fact that Boko Haram means business. In the process of doing this, it wants the media out of the way. How realistic is this? The press (media) is the barometer by which you gauge the pressure in the polity. Through the press, you are able to feel the prevailing mood among the people. It is a two-way traffic. You need it to know what is going on and what is coming in. A society without a press is a society in darkness. In every democracy, the press has a formidable, constitution-assigned role to play as the Fourth Estate of the Realm.
Hear what Thomas Jefferson, a former US President, said about the press: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” But Boko Haram wants a society without the press. It does not want criticism of its apocalyptic mission even if it debases and denigrates our humanity. That’s missing the point. You cannot afford to antagonise the press no matter the level of mutual distrust. Osama bin Laden, as hateful of the Western world as he was, he never downplayed the role of the media in propagating his self-appointed mission of confronting the West.
There is no doubt that Boko Haram has got it completely wrong. By declaring it is fighting a jihad in the video, it has laid bare its lack of adequate understanding or deliberate misinterpretation of what jihad is all about. A jihad, in the literal sense, means “a struggle,” just as Islam, in its literal sense, means “surrender,” but over the years, these meanings have been subjected to different interpretations and have suffered from the usual “wear and tear” in the hands of various moderate adherents and radical imams. In a jihad there are three different types of struggle. The first deals with the individual believer’s internal struggle to live out the Muslim Faith as well as he can. The second is the struggle to build a good Muslim society. The third refers to holy war, which is the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary. It is in this third struggle (holy war) that Islam assumes a more pungent meaning. In the beginning, it connoted “surrender to the will of Allah” but in the quest to expand the frontiers of the religion, surrender has come to denote “conquest.” This is what today’s radicalised, militant Muslims have interpreted to mean physical conquest of land and people “until the sword is finally dipped in its sheath.” Further interpretations seem to vary from one group to the other and from one clime to another.
Boko Haram has borrowed a wandering leaf from latter-day groups like al Qaeda to spread the influence of Islam in Nigeria through its home brewed jihad, a jihad in which anybody, including a fellow Muslim, is target for slaughter. What kind of religious extremism is this? As it is usual in a copycat game, suicide bombers are today queuing up to take part in the “holy war,” ready to die as martyrs and go to heaven to marry virgins. Unknown to Boko Haram, and its followers, the reward of suicide bombers is no longer in heaven but right here on earth.
Recent revelations as to how Osama bin Laden lived his secretive life in Pakistan before being found out and killed by the Americans last year show that some fundamentalists do not really live what they preach. Bin Laden reportedly never encouraged his children, and they are many, to become suicide bombers. He apparently believed life is too precious to be blown away in a backpack. Until death came calling last May, he had three women in his harem in Abbottabad, his Pakistani hiding place. The youngest is 29. The two more elderly ones, 55 and 62 respectively, are PhD holders. For Boko Haram, education is anathema! One day the people would ask: Who are you deceiving? And Boko Haram would need the media to pass their reaction back to them, which is what they tried to do with their video.