Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, January 22, 2015

International or local terrorism

Mostly for teacher background.

The difference doesn't matter to the delegitimization of the Nigerian government, but it does matter to policy makers figuring out how to combat terrorism.

This op-ed piece is from The Monkey Cage in the Washington Post. The author, Hilary Matfess, is a student at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where she works on issues of governance, security and development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Boko Haram is not al-Qaeda
The international community is abuzz… expressing solidarity with victims of the Parisian terrorist attacks and acknowledging that, not only have the Chibok girls not been “brought back,” but that Boko Haram has extended its power across northeastern Nigeria in a particularly brutal manner.

Observers and pundits have caved to the temptation to draw similarities between these attacks, highlighting the global scope of the jihadistthreat and rehashing the importance of a multilateral approach to the Global War on Terror…

Abubaker Shekau
Though Abubaker Shekau — the current head of Boko Haram — has expressed solidarity with the missions of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, partnerships between the groups have not developed…

More importantly, lumping these organizations together ignores the local conditions that give rise to their specific characteristics. Attempting to understand Boko Haram from a transnational perspective yields very little…

It’s critical to note that Boko Haram began as a largely non-violent (though anti-system) Muslim reform movement, targeting local imams and politicians that were unsympathetic to their strict interpretation of sharia law. The movement only became radicalized following the Nigerian government’s 2009 offensive, in which an estimated 700 people, including Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf, were killed by members of the Nigerian security sector, while members of the Joint Task Force engaged in egregious human rights abuses and violations of the rule of law…

In Nigeria, the long-standing economic and political marginalization of the north has prevented the government from mounting a robust response to Boko Haram, and has allowed the insurgency to gain access to sophisticated arms through Sahelian trade routes; the abuses of government forces have given Boko Haram a platform from which to mobilize and a motivation for their ideological goals.

Treating terrorism as a monolithic, global network serves a specific political agenda, mobilizing support for well-intentioned but homogenous and ineffective counter-terrorism programs. Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism programs that fail to acknowledge the context and characteristics of specific movements have failed and will continue to fail.

The international community owes it to the survivors of such horrific attacks to assist in the design and implementation of effective programs, recognizing that while the struggle is global, all politics are local.

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