THE WHY-QUESTIONS ABOUT TERRORIST AND TERRORISM.
The aim of this piece is to provide a treatise on terrorism and hope that through this, politicians and their advisers may come to an understanding of the magnitude of the problem facing Nigeria and start doing something concrete instead of the usual political mudslinging which they have been doing while many innocent Nigerian lives are been lost in their hundreds everyday through their inability to do something concrete. To treat religious terrorism as if it is an aspect of political agitation is a grave mistake and it is disheartening that politicians and their 'expected knowledgeable' political advisers seem to be ignorant of this fact.
The world today is experiencing many terrorisms (narcotic, cyber, biological and internet), and so it is therefore important to be very clear about the differences between the various types, even if most Nigerian politicians and various advisers are not, having by thinking that it is politically correct to clamour for negotiations with the perpetrators of religious terrorism in Nigeria. This is basically because they have failed to understand that there are basic but fundamental differences between political and religious terrorisms. In their naivety, they have also failed to understand that while it is very rare for political demagogues to use religious means to perpetrate their political goals (PLO for instance), religious terrorists are not averse to using political means to further their religious aims. Even those who should know, such as the security advisers, the military, Police and state's secret services, have all dismally failed to understand the basic fact that terrorism is just one of the many means and strategies of insurgence available to both political and religious insurgents. The eventual choice of terrorism over other means or forms of insurgence such as revolution, coup d'etat, guerrilla war and even riots, is a deliberate one and it is preferred solely because of its psychological impact. Thus, there is need to conceptualise and understand each one of them for what they are and for the value they have for the struggle initiated by insurgents.
Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary has defined a coup d'etat as a sudden, forceful stroke in politics; especially, the sudden, forcible overthrow of a government. Another learned scholar has defined it as the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder. As a form of violent insurgency, a coup is always planned to be swift although failed coups have sometimes developed into prolonged civil wars. But on the other hand, riot is a mob violence that feeds off the inchoate and unorganised mob mentality without a clear leader or some structural hierarchical system. Basically, it is a form of disorganised political protest engaged in by those who have become highly distrustful of existing political institutions. Riot as a form of violence may not fit the characterisation of an insurgency but nevertheless constitute a spasmodic eruption rather than a planned, organised, protracted campaign. Guerrilla war is a diffuse type of war, fought in relatively small formations against a stronger enemy. As a strategy of insurgency, guerrilla warfare avoids direct, decisive battles but rather opts for a protracted struggle consisting of many small skirmishes and clashes. It should be understood as an insurrectionary armed protest, implemented by means of selective violence. So a general characteristic of guerrilla warfare is that guerrillas compensate for their inferiority in manpower, weapons and arms by adopting a flexible style of warfare based on a hit-and-run tactics. The guiding principle is to always avoid and prevent government forces from employing their full might in any confrontation. Going by the Marxist conception of a revolution, it is a violent insurgence aimed at effecting social change by smashing the existing social structure, it is a rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership and government activities and policies. The leader of the USSR 1917 Socialist Revolution, V.I. Lenin has acclaimed it as festivals of the oppressed and exploited. In summary, a revolution seeks to effect deep-seated and radical changes and transformations in socio-economic, cultural, and political institutions accompanied by class upheavals from below. It is in respect of the radical change and transformation that a revolution seeks to achieve that differentiates and sets it apart from social reform, failed rebellions, coups or even national independence movements.
So how is political terrorism different from religiously motivated acts of terrorism like the Nigerian Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and Al Shabab? These differences is what make negotiations with religious terrorists impossible. First is that while politically motivated violence attempts to find conclusions within the life times of the insurgents, religious violence outlives their participants. This is predicated on the belief that the rewards of those involved in this cause are trans-temporal and the time limit of their struggle is eternity. Second, the targets of religious terrorism are not chosen for their military values but rather they are chosen for the sole purpose of making an impact on public consciousness both by its brutality and suddenness. The constant recourse to a 'god' to justify their action has the power of 'satanising' the enemies while making the perpetrators of religious terrorism 'godly'. The effect of this is that religion has become politicised and politics has become religionised and what seem like worldly struggles have been lifted into the high proscenium of sacred battles. Third is that the targets of religious terrorism and violence also have the tendency to assume and acquire a similar religious mien, explanation and perspective. For instance, following the 9/11 attacks, the US public and its leaders became more religious and God-minded by adopting the song, 'God bless America' as the country's unofficial national anthem. The then US President, George Bush whipped up national sentiments when he invoked the image of America's 'righteous cause' to combat and bring to an end the 'absolute evil' of its enemies. Fourth, is the 'divine' nature of religious terrorism, the notion that the battle is between 'good' and 'bad', 'truth' and 'evil', the expectation of heavenly rewards for the terrorists all rule out the possibility of a compromise or a peaceful negotiated truce. The fifth issue concerns the spiritual dimension of the war which makes it to go beyond the confines of human law and ideal of morality. Society's law are subordinated and in extreme cases are deemed non-existence or inapplicable because of the recourse to a higher authority. In this case, there is no need to contend with society's laws and limitations when one is obeying a higher authority. Sixth and finally, the end result of religious terrorism is that it impacts a sense of redemption and dignity on the perpetrators. It is at this level that religious terrorism acquires a personal willingness on the part of the perpetrators who often times are men who feel alienated and marginalised from public life. Their efforts become conscious attempts at ennoblement and empowerment. Such efforts would have been poignant if they were not so destructive.
What is Terrorism?
Academics will agree with me that terminology is always a matter of agreement for the purpose of common understanding; therefore there is no point in searching for logic-based definitions of terms that belong to the realm of political or social science, especially when the term in question carries a negative emotional connotation. Therefore, a one sentence definition of terrorism and religion may not serve our purpose especially when the term 'terrorism' connotes a violent behaviour that is deplorable in the eyes of the user of the term, therefore its utility is in propaganda rather than in furthering understanding. Lenin had simply explained that the purpose of terrorism is to terrorise. The root word comes from Latin terrere, 'to cause to tremble.' Terror therefore, becomes a symbolic act designed to influence political behaviour by extra-normal means, entailing the use or threat of violence.
However, to aid our understanding of this phenomenon plaguing Nigeria and the rest of the world, it is better to historicise the origin of the concept. Although individual acts of terrorism can be traced to the ancient Greek and Roman republics, the official use of the term 'terrorism' emerged from within a political context and this is usually traced to the period of the French revolution and the Jacobin reign of Terror (1792-1794). Since then, the term has suffered from a consensus of agreement as to its actually meaning. A major reason for this has had to do with the varying contexts within which the term has commonly been used. Since its first usage in the period of the French revolution, its reference has become enlarged to include violent revolutionaries, who revolted against governments, violent activities of groups such as labour organisations, anarchists, nationalists demanding independence from foreign rule and the activities of violent left-wing groups. It was also used to include various types of war such as commando tactics and guerrilla warfare. Even in some situation, political repression has been deemed as a form of terrorism. In recent years, even the manifestation and violent activities of extreme religious beliefs has also been labelled terrorism. In recent times, the definition of the concept has acquired an ethno-character depending on whether one is considering the American, British, Israelis or even German definitions. Thus, the rather simple question; What is Terrorism?, may be answered in a number of ways; either by attempting to identify crucial components of terrorism which distinguish it from other forms of insurgencies such as guerrilla warfare, conventional wars, riots and so on or by delineating between the many types. All these dimensions to a 'simple' word merely add to the confusion inherent in understanding and conceptualizing it.
Without wanting to sound too polemical, I shall attempt to show some of the most popular definitions. I think this is useful if only to facilitate our understanding of this term and how other people perceive and understand it. So within the academia, specific attempts to define it can be grouped into two; official and academic definitions. Official definitions of the term will include the U.S. Vice President's 1986 task force definition of terrorism as the unlawful use or threat of violence against persons or property to further political or social objectives. It is generally intended to intimidate or coerce a government, individuals or groups to modify their behaviour or policies. A British legal definition has terrorism as the use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) states that terrorism is any activity that involves an act that is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and … must also appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. The US Department of Defence defines terrorism as the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological objectives.
Not surprisingly, these various definitions betray the priorities and interests of the different governmental bodies. For instance, given the specific mandate of the FBI, it is not surprising that its definition address the psychological aspect of terrorism, stressing on the intimidatory and coercive aspect of terrorism. The Department of Defence definition seems to be the more complete than the others because it focuses on threat as much as the actual act of violence and the targeting of the whole society as well as the government even though the definition did not distinguish between attacks on military combatant and non-combatant civilians. Three commonalities can be discerned from these definitions; (1) the use of violence, (2) political objectives; and (3) the intention of sowing fear in the target population.
However, academic definitions are rather more complex, all-embracing and more diverse. Among some of the most interesting and illuminating ones are those given by Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University and director of RAND Corporation's Washington D.C. office, that terrorism is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change. Another scholar, Combs has defined it as a synthesis of war and theatre, a dramatisation of the most proscribed kind of violence - that which is perpetrated on innocent victims - played before an audience in the hope of creating a mood of fear, for political purposes. Nicholson, in an essay on terrorism has defined it as the deliberate killing of non-military personnel in order to pursue a claimed political goal through exertion of pressure on a society'. Shimko has defined terrorism as the indiscriminate use or threat of violence to advance social, political, economic, or religious objectives by creating a climate of fear. A rather interesting attempt is that by Rourke who instead of defining it merely highlight the features common to it thus; terrorism is (1) violence; (2) carried out by individuals, non-governmental organisations, or covert government agents or units; that (3) specifically target civilians; (4) uses clandestine attack methods, such as car bombs and hijacked airliners; and (5) attempts to influence politics. The duo of Kegley and Wittkopf have defined it as criminal acts and threats against a targeted actor for the purpose of arousing fear in order to get the target to accept the terrorists' demands.
However, a close look at these various definitions should assist our understanding of what terrorism actually is. For example, deriving from the various definitions of terrorism, it should be clear that terrorism involves three basic components: the perpetrator(s), the victim(s) and the target(s) of the violence. Popular perception therefore is that the perpetrators are fanatics, disaffected groups or minorities who employed terrorism as a tool to oppose the rule and the oppression of an established and militarily superior power. The victims are seen as innocent people who have no part or are directly involved in the struggle and the struggle or target is political. Terrorism is thus as act of violence deliberately perpetrated on innocent victims (third parties) in an effort to or with an intention to coerce or force the opposition or persons or government to act in a desired way. Victims are not chosen because of their involvement or guilt but because their death or injuries are determined to create not only fear but also to shock the sensibilities of normal people such that pressure can be made to bear on the opposition or in most cases on the government to concede to the demands or make some concessions to the terrorists. If this is the case, then it means that terrorist violence is merely a means to an end. Violence, mass deaths and injuries caused by terrorists' attacks are basically geared towards achieving an end. Within a state system, like Nigeria the end can only be a political goal, although much academic controversy attends the admission of a political goal for religious terrorists' attacks.
Why is there Terrorism?
It is interesting that both the academic and official treatment of terrorism have not differentiated the political form from the religious one. But the difference as pointed out earlier is so strong as to make the distinction important and not a mere academic exercise, especially when what we are facing now in Nigeria is religiously motivated terrorism. Religious terrorism differs greatly from secular terrorism basically because they are predicated on different value systems, mode of justification and legitimacy for their actions rests on a different concept of morality, belief systems and world view. While for the secular terrorist, terrorism becomes a means to an end, for the religious terrorist, terrorism is an end in itself. Violence, therefore, becomes a sacred instrument or means to achieve a divine duty in response to a divine imperative. They are not guided by any man-imposed political or social imperatives, but see their acts as a sacramental duty with transcendental dimension expedients for the attainment of their goals. This explains in part why religious motivated acts of terrorism are more intense and claim more fatalities than the less relatively more discriminating violence perpetrated secular terrorists. Guided by a perception that sees themselves; that is, religious terrorists, not as 'insiders' or members of the system, but as 'outsiders' seeking to effect fundamental changes in the existing order along certain doctrinal lines, the religious terrorist has a high sense of responsibility coupled with a sense of alienation that enables him to distance himself from the victims of his atrocities and thus able to contemplate ever more destructive means of expressing his dastardly acts. This explains the rhetoric common in the vocabulary of such demagogues denigrating and dehumanising their victims in terms such as 'infidels,' 'dogs,' 'children of satan,' and many others. The deliberate use of such terms not only justify the acts of violence since the victims are not seen or regarded as human beings, but also justifies and erodes away very form of constraints on violence and emboldens the perpetrators.
The question; why is there terrorism, especially religious terrorism can only be answered within an explanation that inculcates the development or evolution of religious beliefs. Between 800 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E., the world has witnessed four great systems of thoughts and religions which have, consequently, imparted on the history of world. The Chinese provided us with a combination of philosophy and religion emanating from three schools; Confucianism, Daosim and Legalism. The religious doctrine derived from each of these three was concerned with issues of how individuals can interact with each other while attempting to answer the question of how to lead an ethical life that would be in harmony with nature and the cosmos. The Indian religious doctrines which emerged from Jains, Buddhism and Hinduism saw existence as an endless cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara or reincarnation). However, how one lives his life while here on earth may determine how he will return at rebirth. If one has been good while on earth, he may be reborn at a higher state, even as a god. If one had been bad or evil, he may be reborn at a lower state or even as an animal. This belief rests on the concept of Karma which says that every good or evil action has its effects. However, quiet different from the two above is the Hebrews or Israelites religious philosophy which rests on the existence of an all-powerful God, thereby making them the first people in history to base their identity as a nation on faith in a single God who made ethical demands and placed responsibilities on them as individuals and as a nation. Through the Christian and Muslim traditions, Hebrew monotheism had had profound influence on the history of the world. Finally, were the Greek philosophical traditions which emerged in the sixth century B.C.E. Much of what goes for Western philosophy and science today are derived from the Greek tradition of rational inquiry.
Religion had always been used to justify violence, war and repression from antiquity and therefore, religious violence cannot really be said to be a modern phenomenon. As a matter of fact, as a scholar Rappoport has reported, until the 19 th century, religion has provided the only justification for terrorism and it was not until 1980, as a result of the repercussions of the revolution in Iran the previous year that the first 'modern' religious terrorist groups emerged. By 1992, the number of religious terrorist groups had increased and expanded to embrace major world religions as well as obscure religious sects and cults. Today, we know that religious violence centres on three sources; (1) the feeling, expressed as a religious obligation, by some religious group to purify the world for a new epoch. This is best refere to as religious eschatology, (2) the feeling that a religious group has been specifically chosen and so may destroy others in the cause of righteousness. This type of feeling leads to zero-tolerance of others who are not of the same religious belief and, (3) some people may become so consumed with a particular cause that they create surrogate religious belief to advance it. These three seem to characterise instances and places where religious violence has predominated.
To understand the justificatory basis of the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria, one must first understand that Islam, traditionally, is in one sense a religion, a system of belief and worship; and in another sense, the civilisation that grew up and flourished under the aegis of that religion. Thus, the term 'Islam' denotes more than fourteen centuries of history, a billion and a third people, and a religious and cultural tradition of enormous diversity. Islam actually became prominent and represented the leading civilisation in the world during the interlude between the decline of the ancient civilisation of Greece and Rome and the rise of modern western civilisation of Europe. Historically, the rise of European civilisation eclipsed the prominence of Islam hence the tendency among Muslim to see western civilisation and all of its trappings as evil and America as its bastion. This tendency had always been reflected in many of the pronouncements made by Osama bin Laden, especially in his videotape of October 7, 2001 where he alluded to the 'humiliation and disgrace' that Islam has suffered for 'more than eighty years.' Like every nation or religion, the Muslim peoples are aware of their history, they are shaped by it and their awareness dates back to the advent of Islam. Islam, as far back as the time of Muhammad, developed a strong interface between it and the state with Muhammad assuming the headship of both, thereby uniting them under one inseparable authority. Islam therefore offers religious truth and political power that are indissolubly associated: the first sanctified the second, the second sustained the first. While the idea of a nation based on religion belief or theocracy may seem anachronistic, it is not so to Islam and its adherents. As a matter of fact, Islam does not accept any separation between religion and state because governments' claim to legitimacy and authority to rule are derived from the Muslims' Quran and the peoples' submission to the religious dogmas makes them equally subservient to the rulers in authority over them. This is basically the linkage between religion and terrorism in Islamic world.
Throughout the Muslim world there is widespread bitterness not only against America but against believers of other religions especially Christianity. This bitterness has bred an atmosphere that is highly conducive to extremism. The present crisis of religious terrorism must be understood within the rubric of the process of modernisation. It is a historical fact that Islam had once been a religion of success. Within the first hundred years after the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, the Muslims had conquered and had control over a territory that extended from the Himalayas to the Pyrenees. By the 15 th century, Islam had become the greatest world power, not dissimilar to the US today. However, the expansionist programme of the Western powers which coincided with the great Western transformation started a competition with Islam everywhere they went, from the Middle East, to India, Persia, Southeast Asia, China and Japan. In the 16 th century, when Europe was in the early stages of its transformation into world power, the Ottoman Empire which ruled Turkey, virtually the whole of the Middle East and North Africa was probably the most powerful state in the world, perhaps more powerful than any single state in Europe.
With the reformation of the military, economic and political structures of the European powers, the Islamic nations were not able to withstand their incursion into territories once controlled by Islam. In 1798 Napoleon defeated the reigning Muslim Mamelukes of Egypt, a stronghold of Islam in Northern Africa. Other Muslim strongholds soon fell to the military supremacy of the Western nations such that between 1830 and 1915, the European powers have effectively ousted Muslim occupation but not the Islamic religion and imposed Western rule in occupied Algeria, Aden, Tunisia, Sudan, Libya and Morocco. Like all Western colonies, these states were exploited as sources for raw materials which fed European industries. Perhaps the most tragic was Egypt which was saddled with the responsibility of providing the funding, materials, labour and 200 square miles of its territory for the building of the Suez Canal. The profits and shares of this project were held and appropriated exclusively by Europeans. This cost outlay of this project eventually bankrupted Egypt and this gave Britain an excuse to set up a military occupation there in 1882.
While the evil effects of colonialism were not exclusive to the Muslim nations alone, the nations of the Middle East had always have autocratic rulers which had not provided them with the conditions to fully develop a democracy and modernise along the lines of their closest neighbours in Europe. Thus, in the Muslim nations, modernity did not bring freedom and independence rather; it came in a context of political subjection. The baton of power shifted after World War II with the relegation of Britain and France to secondary powers and the emergence of America as the leader of the Western world. Just like the nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America, although the Islamic countries were no longer colonies but were nominally independent, America still controlled their destinies. During the Cold War, for instance, the United States sought allies in the region by supporting unsavoury governments and unpopular leaders, largely to protect its oil interests.
Many Muslims resented America for its support of unpopular rulers such as President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the Saudi royal family and the State of Israel. In their frustration, many have abandoned Westernisation and adopted religious fundamentalism as an acceptable alternative. Fundamentalism therefore represents their rejection of western secularism and modernism. Every fundamentalist movement and this is not peculiar to Islam alone, is convinced that the modern, secular society is anti the true faith and religious values. Fundamentalists therefore tend to downplay the compassionate teachings of their faith and overemphasise the more belligerent passages in their article of faith. However, fundamentalism in every religion tends to be localised initially; that is, their fiery passion is usually turned against co-believers whom they viewed as not being pious enough or as having watered down the religious values. Initial confrontation is therefore intra-religion. This explains some of the actions of Boko Haram against other Muslims, a glaring example being the burning of mosques, and the killing of Muslims like the assassination of the Emir of Gwoza. It is only at a later stage that fundamentalists export their religious fervency and confronts foreign enemies that are seen as behind the evil and non-acceptance of the faith by their people. The change in the nature and character of these recent religious crises, violence and terrorism from the earlier holy wars fought by Mohammed and later by his generals can only be accounted for as responses to contemporary theme in the world's political and social life: globalisation. Modern day religious acts of terrorism, whether local or international, in a sense, are statements of resentment against modernity and globalisation. The clerics and leaders resent the western-style modernity that secular globalisation is imposing on them. At the local level, believers in other faiths and religious values are seen as the impostors while at the international level, western nations and in particular America, are seen as the main culprits. The US role in creating a 'new world order' of globalisation and forcing it on other nations especially the Third World has created a sinister image of the United States. In certain respect, this distrust of globalisation is justified for the great imbalance and distortions which it has engendered in the political, social, cultural and economic lives of the nations.
A major factor in the justification calculus is the role played by the religious clerics or Imams (teachers) whose sanctioning or blessing of terrorism is of critical importance, at least, to the Shi'a and Sunni Muslim perpetrators. Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa (a legal ruling or order issued by mufti; a qualified jurist at the request of religious court) on Salman Rushdie in 1989 and the fatwa by Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman obtained by the Sunni bombers who bombed the New York City's World Trade Centre in 1993 are pointers to this fact. The implication of the role played by these Muslim clerics is to spiritualise violence thereby giving religious violence a remarkable power. Thus, in Nigeria, it should not be any wonder why most cases of religious terrorism happened spontaneously after the Fridays' Jumat prayers when the Muslims would have been incited by the clerics in the mosques. Closely linked to this is the role played by the madrassa (an Arabic term meaning 'school'). The Nigerian experience has shown that majority of the street urchins used for perpetrating religious violence in parts of Northern Nigeria are madrassa-educated.
Madrassa, therefore, offers an avenue for propagating the ideology of religious exclusiveness, hatred and irrationality apart from providing sources of breeding, training and preparing future terrorists. In the July 2004 report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9-11 Commission), madrassas were described as 'incubators of violent extremism.' The Secretary of Defence, David Rumsfeld, in October 2003, has been reported as wondering if 'we are capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?' Going by the experience in Nigeria, madrassas are veritable sources and instruments for training people to be suicide killers and violent extremists, a kind of hate factories. The process of rote learning of the entire Quran with its fiery admonition to kill the 'people of the Book' can only breed hatred and solidify obedience to authority of the Imams whose claim to legitimacy is derived from the same Qur'an. Thus, in any claim to combat terrorism, the relevance and the socio-political role played the madrassas cannot be ignored, at least, to the extent that they constitute a domestic problem. Only by recognising the roles of madrassas in producing terrorists capable of carrying out major attacks can Nigeria and the world shape more effective policies and strategies to ensure national and global security.
Deriving from the above, a plethora of reasons can be deduced for why Islam inspired and motivated terrorist groups like Boko Haram has emerged. In summary therefore, we could deduced that the eclipse of Islam as a world power coupled with the displacement of Islam by western civilisation was not a happy occurrence for the Muslims. This was compounded by the presence of the infidel nation, America, in most of the Muslim nations especially in Saudi Arabia where most of the holy relics of the religion are located. In addition to this is the feeling that American presence and influence had resulted in the eroding of Muslim fundamentalism and adherence to the tenets of Islam. More important is the fact that America's presence and military capability has been used to shore up autocratic regimes such as the Saudi government whose claim to Islam are in doubt because of their acceptance of western beliefs and way of life are seen as unacceptable. However, in Nigeria, other factors have added to these ones. Prominent is the Qur'an injunction to kill non-believers if they refuse to be converted and the urge to continue the jihad even in this modern day. The psychological belief of superiority, Islam being the superior religion, made all other religions inferior and their practitioners included. The Al Qaeda has not only emerged as the leading religious terrorist organisation in recent times, but also its ideology and modus operandi have had effects on other organisations such as the Boko Haram.
Who are the Terrorists?
A major misconception is to think of terrorists as the down-trodden of the earth, the disenfranchised and marginalised, illiterate and uneducated people in the society. This misconception is as a result of the fact that terrorism has been more frequently associated with violence committed by the politically disenfranchised and marginalised people in the society seeking for political accommodation in their society. Even at time, the examples of revolutionaries such as Walter Rodney (a University lecturer), Che Guevara, Frantz Fanon (a medical doctor) have shown that political revolutionaries are well educated citizens. The findings from a research conducted by two scholars, Bergen and Pandey into the background of the 79 terrorists responsible for five of the worst anti-western terrorist attacks in recent times - the World Trade Centre bombing in 1993, the African embassy bombings in 1998, the 9/11 attack, the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002 and the London bombings on July 7, 2005 – revealed that more than half of the group had university education, two with doctoral degrees and two working for their doctoral degrees. Of the sample, 48% were western educated and 58% had science and technical degrees. According to them, engineering was the most popular subject studied by terrorists in their sample. They concluded from their findings that there is a strong correlation between technical education and terrorism, thereby suggesting that perpetrating large-scale [terrorist] attacks requires not only a college [university] education but also a facility with technology.
As it relates to leaders and perpetrators of religious terrorism, a similar trend in terms of their social and educational backgrounds can be discerned. Of course, it is a popular knowledge that Osama bin Laden was an American trained engineer from a very wealthy Saudi family. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri is a surgeon from a distinguished Egyptian family. Ali Mohammed, Al Qaeda's long time military trainer, was a former Egyptian army major with a degree in psychology who started work on his doctoral degree in Islamic history before moving to America in the mid-1980s. Others are equally well educated and held white-collar jobs before joining Al Qaeda. Nigeria's own export and claim to international terrorism, 23 years old Umar AbdulMutallab, is from a wealthy family, educated and well travelled. According to Sanni Shehu the former leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Lawan, left for further studies at the University of Medina thereby paving the way for Mallam Muhammad Yusuf who was described as being brilliant and a civil servant with Yobe State government. As Sanni Shehu had stated, Boko Haram under the leadership of Yusuf, was able to attract membership from the families of the high and mighty in Borno State. In fact, at a point, one of the sons of the former Secretary to the State government in one of the state of the north east region was a member of this group. Many other members of prominent families from Borno and Yobe states reportedly join or later became sympathetic to his cause and supported it financially.
Certainly, those who bombed the Christian place of worship in Bayero University in Kano are not street urchins; those arrested by the police have been found to be students of the same university. The arrested alleged leader of the Boko Haram group in Kogi state is said to be a lecturer in the state's owned university. All these are facts that negate the argument made popular by political advisers and the mass media that religious terrorists are recruited from the madrassa and hence they are street urchins without education. This either merely shows their naivety and ignorance of the Arabic educational system or a grand attempt at obfuscating the truth. The form which madrassas take may vary from country to country. For instance, they can be a day or boarding school, a school with a general curriculum, or a purely religious school attached to a mosque. In Nigeria, it is deemed appropriate for these students to be taught and later released to the street to beg for food both for themselves and their masters. The act of begging in itself is geared towards a purpose, to enable the Muslim adherents an opportunity to fulfil one of the tenets of their religion, which is alms giving. Whatever form it takes, a certain type of education is offered such as the exclusive and rote learning of the Qur'an and by their standard, the students enrolled in these madrassas are intelligent, educated and cannot be called illiterate except by western standard. The fact that madrassas serve as avenue for recruitment, a source of steady supply, inculcation of hate and irrationality to the students cannot be denied.
Several questions have always been asked concerning the mind set of terrorists. For instance, what kind of person becomes a terrorist? What kind of people will wantonly desire and rejoice in the destruction and killing of other people? Are they religious fanatics or ideologues? Is there even any way to tell who would likely become a terrorist? This last question concerns the attempt by psychologists and sociologists to identify the traits most commonly related to willingness to either join or become a terrorist. It is believed that if these traits can be identified, it then becomes possible to predict, identify and hence prevent the emergence of terrorist groups. A psychologist, Hacker, has offered three categories of persons who commit terrorism and these are 'crazies, criminals and crusaders.' According to him, the 'crazies' are emotionally disturbed individuals who are driven to commit terrorism by reasons of their own that often do not make sense to anybody else. The 'criminals' perform terrorist acts for more easily understood reasons: personal gains. These transgressed the law of the society being in full control of their faculties and senses and both their motives and goals for doing so can be clearly understood by everybody even though it is deplorable to us. The 'crusaders' commit terrorist acts because they seek not personal gain, but prestige and power for a collective cause. Like the 'crazies' their reasons for doing this are often unclear both to themselves and others, their ultimate goals are even frequently less understandable. They commit these acts because they believe that they are serving a higher cause. The basic difference in the mindsets of these three types is very clear. For instance, the criminal does what he does with anticipation that he will live to enjoy the reward of his illegality whereas, the crusader will be more willing to blow himself up along with his targets or victims because their service carries the assurance of a greater reward in the hereafter. The crusader is always a well trained professional, disciplined, obedient and committed to the cause. They are not ready to negotiate any resolution because such action is viewed as a betrayal of the cause and there is little the negotiator can offer because the crusader does not desire any personal gain or safe passage out of the situation. Their belief in the cause and justification of their action makes death not a penalty but a path to glory and a greater reward than can be offered here on earth by either the negotiator or government.
The search for a terrorist personality or mindset that would act as a common denominator is legitimate but may prove futile. However, this has not dissuaded profilers from embarking on this journey. One of such forensic profilers O'Balance has offered one of such profiles of a successful terrorist. He identified certain characteristics such as (1) Dedication which implies being a 'fedayeen', a man willing and ready to sacrifice everything for the cause. Dedication also implies absolute obedience to the leader of the group. (2) Personal bravery which includes the possibility of death, injury, imprisonment or even tortured. (3) Devoid of human emotions of pity or remorse. This is necessary because most of the victims of terrorist attacks are made up of innocent victims; men, women and children, who are not in any way related to the cause but who he must be prepared to kill without hesitation in pursuit of the cause. (4) Fairly high standard of intelligence. As have been noted, many recruits into the terrorist group have above average western education. This is necessary because they are expected to collect, collate and assess information, devise and put into effect complex plans and evade police, security forces and other hostile forces. (5) Fairly high degree of sophistication. This is particularly essential because terrorists are expected to mingle with the most sophisticated crowd without standing out. (6) Reasonably well educated and possess a fair share of general knowledge. So, looking for terrorists among the down trodden and the illiterate is pathetic. At best, they may offer support and safe haven for the terrorists but policy makers should look for their terrorists among the educated masses; students and lecturers alike, the wealthy who financed them and intelligentsia sympathisers.
When and where do they Operate?
A simple answer to this question and which present reality agrees with would be anywhere and everywhere. The transition from worldly struggles to sacred battles has been greatly influenced and perhaps accelerated by globalisation and modernisation. The present crisis of religious terrorism must be understood within the rubric of the process of modernisation. The change in the nature and character of these recent religious crises, violence and terrorism from the earlier holy wars fought by Mohammed and later by his generals can only be accounted for as responses to contemporary theme in the world's political and social life: globalisation. Modern day religious acts of terrorism, whether local or international, in a sense, are statements of resentment against modernity and globalisation. Islamic history has an important religious and legal significance for Muslims. For instance, while the western world view the basic unit of human organisation as the nation or the country which can then be subdivided in various ways one of which is religion, Muslims however, tend to see it the other way round; a religion subdivided into nations. This is because in the early centuries of the Muslim era, the Islamic community was one state under one ruler. This perception has not changed even when that community was split up into many states. Thus, for the Muslim, the ideal of a single Islamic polity still persists till today; the Arabs simply do not think in terms of ethnic or territorial identity. A Muslim in Saudi Arabia is deemed as one with any other Muslim from any other part of the world. The bond that binds them all together is religion irrespective of nationalities. This makes it easier for Muslims to refer to their opponents not in territorial or national terms but simply as infidels (kafirs). Similarly, Muslims never referred to one another as Arabs or Pakistan or Nigerian, they simply identified themselves by their religion. This perspective helps explain why, for instance, Pakistan is concerned with the Taliban and their successors in Afghanistan. That is why, for instance, the Taliban could fund religious insurrections and violence in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia would want to finance an Islamic bank in Nigeria. Conversely, an Afghanistan or Turk or Nigerien identified by his religion would be a natural ally to a Muslim in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Although the very idea of such a grouping, based on religion, in the modern world may seem anachronistic and even absurd. It is neither anachronistic nor absurd in relation to Islam. Thus, Islam is not only a matter of faith and practice, it is also an identity and a loyalty, for many, it is an identity and loyalty that transcend all others.
In addition to the five pillars on which Islam rests and which Muslim faithful are expected to strictly adhere to and observe, relevant passages in the Quran and the hadiths have also stipulated the need for a jihad. This has become the fundamental basis for Muslim militancy and terrorism and has always been discussed in military terms. According to Islamic laws, it is lawful and legitimate for Muslim faithful to wage war anywhere and everywhere against 4 types of enemies; infidels, apostates, rebels and bandits. Of these 4 only the first 2 counts for as a religious obligation for all Muslims, hence a jihad. As Bernard Lewis, an authority n Middle East history, has noted, classical Muslim jurists have made a distinction between offensive and defensive wars. It is only in offensive war that jihad becomes mandatory and an obligation to all Muslims and may therefore be performed by volunteers and professional soldiers. The defensive war becomes an obligation of every able bodied individual to defend Islam everywhere and anywhere. It is this principle that Osama bin Laden invoked in his declaration of a universal war against America and its allies. It is also on this principle that the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria can be and should be understood. They are waging both a defensive and offensive wars against the Nigerian state, infidels and apostates (those leaders that have been deemed as compromising and not following the true teaching of Islam).
The mentality and justification of Islamic fundamentalists rests on this principle which have been upheld and held sacrosanct by all faithful Muslim for most of 14 centuries of recorded Muslim history. To aid our understanding of what has been dubbed indiscriminate attacks and killing of innocent civilians and the tenacity of Islamic jihadists, we must also look inward to the Muslim tradition as enunciated in the hadiths. According to the Muslim tradition, the world is divided into two houses; the House of War (Dar al-Harb) and the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam). In the House of Islam where Muslim governments rule in accordance with Islamic laws and principles, there is no need for a jihad, but in the House of War where the world is still ruled and governed by infidels, then jihad becomes an imperative and an obligation. The presumption here is that jihad becomes a continuous duty until the whole world has accepted the Muslim faith. The willingness and tenacity of Muslims to fight and die is derived from the perceived benefits which accrued to martyrs. The word martyr is derived from the Greek meaning 'Witnesses', those who are prepared to suffer torture and death rather than renounce their faith. The Arabic word for this isshahid which also means 'witness'. So Muslim terrorists can operate anywhere and everywhere as long as there is Dar al-Harb, the continued existence of which provides a basis and justification for continued attacks and killing.
How do they Operate?
Since the purpose of terrorism is to terrify and put terror in the minds of the people, draw public attention to the issues generating the use of terrorism and in the case of religious terrorism, to bring about compliance with the demands of the terrorists which is the acceptance of the new faith, in Nigeria, the imposition of shari'a, they operate by assassinating and killing not only military personnel, government officials and those deemed to be apostates, but in most cases, also innocent civilian victims. However, this simple answer needs further elaboration because it includes explanations of how they are trained, where they are and the topics taught at their training camps, how they are equipped; that is, the weapons available for their use and what tactics they employ and why they choose to use or not to use certain weapons. Space would not allow us to proffer detailed answers and explanations to the questions that are germane to this section. However, suffice to say that from 1960 to 1990, a number of countries have been identified as providing training camps and logistics for terrorists. Among the prominent ones are Algeria, Iran, Iraq, China, Poland and former Soviet Union. Countries such as Cuba, Syria and North Korea are either unwilling or unable to provide training facilities because they could not politically or financially afford to openly flout Western censure and thus incur their wrath and sanction. However, after the 9/11 attacks, information revealed that Afghanistan had become a major training camp for terrorists with the permission of the Taliban. Nigerian members of the Boko Haram have also testified to the fact of their close association and support of the Taliban and that they were trained in their terrorists' camps. US bombing attacks in the fall of 2001 had devastated many of these facilities and had eventually led to the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Reports got through interrogation of captured members of the Boko Haram and other terrorists worldwide, have confirmed that among the curricula taught at these facilities include bomb making, assassination and ambush techniques, weapons training, intelligence and counterintelligence methods, recruitment and communication, extortion, bank and car robberies.
Prominent among the many tactics available for terrorists' use is tyrannicide which is the assassination of a tyrant political (secular or religious) leader. The leading advocate of the doctrine of tyrannicide was a Spanish Jesuit scholar Juan de Mariana whose principal work De Regis Institutions, was banned in France. Although the practice of tyrannicide was not an Islamic innovation, it is recognised in Islam and justified by the fact that such leaders have deviated from the 'path of God'. Such leaders and individuals are regarded as apostates and the rule of war against such are stricter than against unbeliever. In the average Muslim's eyes, the apostate or renegade is worse than an unbeliever because while the unbeliever has not seen the light and may eventually see it, the renegade has known the true faith and abandoned it. For this offence, an ordinary person punishment is death, but for the ruler, death usually comes through assassination. This point is made clear by 'Abd al-Salam Faraj, an Egyptian executed for assassinating President Sadat in 1982. He is reported as saying that there is no doubt that the first battlefield of the jihad is the extirpation of these infidel leaderships and their replacement by a perfect Islamic order, and from the will come the release of our energies.
The practice of assassination in the Islamic world dates back to the disputes over the political headship of the Muslim community. As Middle East historian and authority, Bernard Lewis has noted, of the first four caliphs of Islam, three were murdered, the second by a disgruntled Christian slave, the third and fourth by pious Muslim rebels who saw themselves as executioners doing the will of God. The word 'assassin' is derived from the Arabic word Hashishiyya, the name given to a Muslim sect active in Iran and Syria from the 11 th to the 13 th century. This sect is credited with transforming the act of assassination into a system and later an ideology. Their actions were directed against Muslim leaders whom they saw as impious usurpers and it is in this sense that this sect can be said to be the true predecessors of modern Islamic terrorists. In fact the name Hashishiyya was given to them because of the fact that members of the sect involved drugged themselves on hashih (hemp, marijuana) before going for their assignment, although they refer to themselves as fedayeen derived from the Arabic word fida'i meaning 'one who is ready to sacrifice his life for the cause'. It is important to point out that in two respects, their choice of weapons and victims, the assassins were markedly different from their present day suicide bombers successors. The victim was always an individual, either a highly placed cleric, political or military leader who was seen as the source of evil and only the victim was killed. In the real sense of it, their action may not pass for terrorism but targeted assassination. However, their choice of weapon was always the same, a dagger, which shows a disdain for personal safety or even a desire not to survive the act because of the expected benefit which is eternal bliss. It would seem that Boko Haram has also perfected these acts of assassination and tyrannicide.
Modern day terrorist actions would be useless if not directed to attract attention, the attention of a specific audience in which a particular mood of fear is sought to be created. The violence of terrorism is not an end in itself. Rather violence is employed precisely to create a sense of fear, terror and uncertainty in the people, the audience of terrorism. The fear or terror thus created or caused by terrorism is linked to the nature of the victims of terrorist attacks. The victims are not specifically defined. Even the terrorists seem not to be able to determine or define who their victims or the numbers will be. The fact that they are only interested in maximising the impact of their attacks without regards to the victims further served to intensify the mood of fear and uncertainty precisely because anyone could be a victim. The slaughter of innocent victims and uninvolved civilians is not 'collateral damage,' it is the prime objective. The use of bombs does not discriminate or is selective over who the victims would be or should be. In fact, to qualify as a victim of a terrorist today, one need not be tyrants or their sympathisers; one need not be connected in any way with the evils the terrorist perceives; one need not belong to any particular group. One need only to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
An emerging but significant method of operation now is suicide terrorism. In a sense this is new because going by the trend; political terrorists usually carry out their attacks from a safe distance. Suicide mission seems to have been pioneered by religious organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and now refined and extensively used by Al Qaeda and its allied organisations such as Nigerian Boko Haram which seems to have adopted this technique and has recorded a number of successes from using it. A remarkable innovation now is the use of women or female suicide bombers started by the Kurdish terrorists in Turkey in 1996-1999 and by Palestinians from January 2002. The issue of suicide terrorism has raised fundamental issues and important questions concerning Islamic teaching. Islamic doctrines and teaching are against suicide and the suicide is punished by eternal damnation in the form of endless repetition of the act by through which the suicide died. The passages from the traditions of the Prophet have him saying that whoever kills himself with a blade will be tormented with that blade in the fires of hell. The prophet also said: He who strangles himself will strangle himself in hell, and he who stabs himself will stab himself in hell …whoever kills himself in any way will be tormented in that way in hell… Whoever kills himself in any way in this world will be tormented with it on the day of resurrection. Boko Haram in Nigeria has perfected the tactics of suicide bombing. Many incidents stand to attest to this fact such as Police Stations, and even the Police Headquarters in Abuja.
In conclusion we want to reiterate that the phenomenon of terrorism in Nigeria cannot be understood or fully appreciated outside of the trajectories of the wider example of political terrorism as provided and exemplified by the PLO and in particular, religious terrorism as orchestrated by Al Qaeda. Boko Haram is just one aspect of the wider ongoing struggle between secular modernisation and religious bigotry and fundamentalism. It is hydra headed and what we are experiencing in Nigeria is just one manifestation of the many heads. It is in this respect that any attempt to think that the Boko Haram phenomenon can be solved using different tact and strategies from the way that the PLO and Hamas its militant arm are being dealt with by Israel and how Al Qaeda is being handled by the rest of the global world led by US, is merely an exercise in futility. It can only be dealt adopting and using similar strategies. The fear that need be expressed and which authorities at both the sub-regional (ECOWAS) and continental (AU) levels are ignoring now, is that the 'successes' recorded by Boko Haram and the inability of Nigeria government to deal decisively with it, may trigger off similar actions in other parts of Africa. After all, the Muslim brotherhood is 'stateless' and the religion is more binding than any geographical and territorial delineation. Boko Haram is being treated erroneously as a phenomenon exclusive to Nigeria alone and this is very misleading and entirely myopic.
Written by Tunde Agara (Ph.D). Lecturer, Centre for Strategic and Development Studies, (CSDS), Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Nigeria