That ‘mysterious’ NYTimes stance on Boko Haram

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Here we go again. There has been another horrific act of violence in Nigeria with militants bombing a bus station in Abuja, which is the capital of this painfully divided country. At this point, officials are reporting 71 deaths and scores wounded.

Here is a key piece of the New York Times report on this massacre:

Top Nigerian officials, whose offices are a short distance away, immediately attributed the bombing to the Islamist group they have been battling for years, Boko Haram.

If that turns out to be the case — and the group itself rarely acknowledges its actions — Monday’s bombing would represent a significant amplification of Boko Haram’s bloody campaign to undermine the Nigerian state. Over the last two years, it has largely confined its attacks to remote areas of the country’s northeast, killing scores of civilians in the region’s towns and villages. …

Despite frequent government claims of victory against the group, the killings have continued, with bombings, shootings and nighttime massacres of students at state schools, one of Boko Haram’s preferred targets.

Yes, here we go again. Note the reference to the frequent attacks on state schools. One can assume that a “state” school is, in this case, the opposite of some kind of a “religious” school?

Think it through. Why would militants from a group known as Boko (“books”) Haram (“forbidden”) keep attacking secular schools?

Nevertheless, later in the report the Times team repeated its mysterious mantra about this hellish conflict between these Islamist radicals and Nigeria’s secular authorities.

Boko Haram’s exact goals, beyond a generalized desire to undermine the secular Nigerian state, remain mysterious. Spokesmen purporting to be from the group sometimes release rambling videos, but these offer few clues of a coherent program or philosophy.

If that language sounds rather familiar to GetReligion readers, here is why. Just over a month ago, the Times used almost identical language in a report on another series of massacres.

Has this “mysterious” lingo actually been written into the official newsroom style book? That earlier story stated:

More than 400 people have been killed in Maiduguri and the surrounding area in less than a month as Boko Haram intensifies its campaign against civilians. The group’s mission, over the course of a nearly five-year insurrection, is mysterious, beyond a generalized goal of destabilizing the Nigerian state.

Really now. Are the editors at the Times truly arguing that Boko Haram has not made it’s goals clear? Once again, let me point readers toward a helpful explainer essay posted online by the BBC:

Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram … is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state. Its followers are said to be influenced by the Koranic phrase which says: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors”.

The BBC team also calls attention to the content of this radical group’s official and unofficial names:

The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. But residents in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where the group had its headquarters, dubbed it Boko Haram. Loosely translated from the local Hausa language, this means “Western education is forbidden”. …

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.

Thus, Boko Haram has focused many of its attacks on “state” schools, as opposed to schools that teach it’s own radicalized version of Islam. These militants are consistently attacking anyone — infidels and Muslims alike — who oppose the creation of a explicitly Islamic, sharia state. There is nothing “mysterious” or “generalized” about it.

So why attack the bus station, other than its symbolic location near government buildings? Was the goal to kill commuters and other people who are working in Western-oriented businesses that are not part of a truly Islamic economy?

I only see one mystery here and it’s in the Times newsroom.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia B

    That is truly bizarre, especially considering what the BBC is reporting. The BBC is not known for being unnecessarily negative to Islam.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go.” Google it for insights. (gotta look for them though, there’s more and more junk coming up on web searches these days) Such as:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/06/books/western-civ-fights-back.html – a 1998 review of a book on Western Civilization.

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-3882213.html – an article from 1988 about the incident where that chant appeared. Need to subscribe to get the whole thing.

    The Common Core is the latest iteration of the demise of specifically Western education.

    I have found the way that mainstream media (basically liberal) coddles Islam to be rather strange, considering their diverse stands on things like women’s and gay rights.

    Yet, they have many common enemies. Like Western Civilization.


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