Mystery solved? Has NYTimes seen light on Boko Haram?

Mystery solved? Has NYTimes seen light on Boko Haram? May 5, 2014

There may be some news for GetReligion readers who have been following the “mysterious” case of The New York Times foreign desk and the history and motives of the deadly Islamist network in Nigeria popularly known as Boko (“books”) Haram (“forbidden”).

I am sorry to keep repeating some of this information, but in recent weeks it has been truly enlightening to contrast what has been published, for example, by the BBC and also The Washington Post with the “mysterious” wording approved on multiple occasions by editors at the great Gray Lady.

So here, yet again, is the crucial language from an earlier Times piece:

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.

Again and again: Say what? In an earlier post I noted:

… (The) ultra-violent network’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” and the unofficial name, Boko Haram, is usually translated as “Western education is forbidden.” A crucial fact is that, in addition to slaughtering Christians and other minorities, Boko Haram specializes in killing Muslims who cooperate with the West, especially in the education of women and children.

The goal, the “program” has been crystal clear: To kill or intimidate all who oppose Boko Haram’s truly radical approach to Sharia and to Islamic life.

So what has changed, in recent days, at the Times? First of all, the “mysterious” language is gone. And what has taken it’s place? It appears that someone has decided that these events have something to do with fights about education and, yes, religion. Consider this:

DAKAR, Senegal — In a video message apparently made by the leader of Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls nearly three weeks ago, called the girls slaves and threatened to “sell them in the market, by Allah.”

“Western education should end,” Mr. Shekau said in the 57-minute video, speaking in Hausa and Arabic. “Girls, you should go and get married.” The Islamist leader also warned that he would “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of nine. We would marry them out at the age of 12,” he said.

The message was received by news agencies in Nigeria on Monday and is similar to previous videos purportedly from Boko Haram.

And then there is this:

The incident is the latest assault by Boko Haram, which has committed dozens of massacres of civilians in its five-year insurgency in Nigeria’s north with the aim to destabilize and ultimately overthrow the Nigerian government. Earlier this year, for instance, more than 50 teenage boys were slaughtered — some burned alive — at a government school in the north.

Note, this was at a “government” school. As opposed to what alternative model?

And then at the very end of the story there is this:

The message from the Boko Haram leader once again highlighted the extent to which secular, Western-style schools are a principal target of the group, whose name roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden,” in an amalgam of pidgin English, Hausa, one of the most commonly spoken languages in Africa, and Arabic. Mr. Shekau emphasized that the girls were taken because they were attending such a school.

“Western education is sin, it is forbidden, women must go and marry,” he said in the video message. Mr. Shekau also tried to justify the abduction of the girls by noting that Boko Haram members remain imprisoned in Nigeria.

So what is missing from this description of Boko Haram? For some reason, editors at the Times continue to insist that these rebels have no specific stated goal, that they simply want to “destabilize and ultimately overthrow the Nigerian government” for some mysterious reason, but with no specific end game in mind after that.

Why is this? Perhaps it is because the word “Sharia” is involved and it would be hard to describe the differences between Boko Haram’s approach to Islamic law and doctrine and the approaches favored by other Muslims in this troubled land and in others nearby.

However, in this case it is absolutely crucial to let readers know why some Islamist radicals are working so hard to kill other Muslims, as well as to kill Christians and believers in other religious minorities. The details of these kinds of debates INSIDE Islam are crucial — especially, in this case, on issues linked to the rights of women and children — and they must be acknowledged and explained. Otherwise, why attempt to cover these stories at all?

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