There is much to commend in the recent New York Times report that ran under the simple, but blunt, headline, “Deadly Attacks Tied to Islamist Militants Shake Nigeria.”
The violence in Nigeria is, alas, a tragically old story. It’s important that the Times team has continued to cover the bloody details. It would be so easy to try to look away at this point.
LAGOS, Nigeria — Dozens were killed, including many children watching a soccer match, in a series of deadly bomb blasts in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Saturday, officials said. The Islamist group Boko Haram was blamed for the attacks, which were the deadliest in months in the sect’s birthplace.
Gunmen from the group also struck a nearby village, Mainok, at the same time Saturday evening, a local official said, storming in on trucks, burning houses and killing at least 51. The death toll from the two attacks was more than 100 and rising, officials said.
In the Maiduguri bombings, children bore the brunt of the explosions, according to the health commissioner for Borno State, Dr. Salma Anas-Kolo. The youths had gathered at a makeshift stadium in the Gomari neighborhood to watch a soccer match when a bomb went off in a pickup truck loaded with firewood, she and others said. When people in the densely inhabited neighborhood rushed to help, a second bomb exploded, according to Maikaramba Saddiq, the Maiduguri representative of Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organization.
And it gets worse:
A hospital official in Maiduguri, who watched as charred corpses were brought in, said: “Most of the bodies we found were very young. Small. I saw a man who lost three children.” The official asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation and his position at the hospital.
Boko Haram is the key player in the campaign of terror in northern Nigeria and journalists should, by this time, know quite a bit about this network’s motivations and methods.
You would think so. However, what are readers to make of this rather mysterious section of this news report?
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.
In that aim, it appears to be increasingly successful, with a military unable to stop its repeated attacks despite an extensive mobilization in the country’s sprawling northeast, where Nigeria borders Cameroon, Chad and Niger in the semidesert terrain of the Sahel region.
That’s quite a “howler,” according to a veteran human-rights activist who sent me a private note.
Take it away, BBC, in a helpful explainer:
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”.
And then there is the content in the group’s official and unofficial names. I do not see a lot of “mysterious” content here:
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”.
The bottom line: books (“boko”) forbidden (“haram”).
More from BBC, including a crucial hint at the nature of these rather specific, strategic attacks. Is the violence “generalized”?
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.
Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.
In other words, Boko Haram is attacking anyone — Muslims and infidels — who opposes the creation of a explicitly Islamic, sharia state in Nigeria.
Thus, look for the patterns in the news coverage, including in the Times. These terrorists are attacking Muslims who disagree with their approach to the faith (especially those embracing any elements of Western education and culture) as well as Christians, animists and any police that get in the way.
The only thing random is where Boko Haram attacks, not who the groups attacks.