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Can Boko Haram win? (2)


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The Umayyads crushed the Kh?rijites of the Middle East, but similar revolts reoccurred in the `Abb?sid period, such as the Black slave revolt in Ba?ra, which lasted from 869 to 883, and the Qar?mi?a in the Arabian peninsula.

In recent times, Sayyid Qu?b, a Muslim Brother put in prison for refusing to cooperate with Nasser, wrote a commentary on the Qur'?n.  In it, he abandoned several Brotherhood positions.  Most notably, he reverted to the Kh?rijite principle that a regime that does not apply Shar`?a fully is un-Islamic (j?hil?) and imposed by force (??kim?).  In countries of Islamic tradition, that is equivalent to an apostate regime.  For Qu?b, jihad is an obligation of every individual, who must constantly fight for the establishment of Shar?`a law, first in traditionally Islamic societies, and then in the whole world.  Qu?b looked forward to the revival of an Islamic state with an imam or caliph really devoted to Shar?`a.  This would be the kingdom of God on earth and real Utopia.

Qu?b accused Mu?ammad `Abduh and Rash?d Ri?? of falling under the influence of Christian orientalists and Jews, who distorted Islam with their critical and deviant interpretations. For Qu?b, Muslims should not try to confirm the Qur'?n by modern science or try to adapt it to modern thought. Rather science and history must give in to the supreme truths of the Qur'?n.  Besides, reason as distinguished from revelation can say nothing about morality and social life.  So, for Qu?b, one must apply fully all the Qur'?nic provisions concerning the non-exposure of women, polygamy, divorce and inequality in inheritance and witnessing in court, and prohibition of banking interest.  Otherwise, one is not a Muslim, for all one's trappings of Islam, including professing the shah?da.

Christians and Jews have no right to the tolerance given to them by the early verses of the Qur'?n.  Having gone back to polytheism and broken their pact with God, they are unbelievers (k?fir?n).  Therefore they should be attacked, according to the provisions of Qur'?n 9:1-35; and this is what the followers of Qu?b do up to today. Although executed in prison in 1966, Qu?b's influence has continued to grow.

In Egypt, Qu?b influenced the more radical movement, Jam?`at al-Jihâd al-Isl?m?.  Its founder, Mu?ammad `Abdassal?m al-Farj, author of The Unseen Obligation (al-Far??a al-gh?'iba), insisted on the obligation of each individual Muslim to fight for the establishment of an Islamic state.  Unlike Qu?b, this movement -in its various transformations and varieties- did not insist on starting at home, but also went after high-profile targets abroad. Al-Farj's followers assassinated President Sadat for not fully implementing Sharî`a.  Ayman a?-?aw?hir?, present leader of al-Q?'ida, was an early member of al-Jih?d.  He helped Us?ma Ibn-L?d?n in forming al-Q?'ida, and assisted the Taliban party in Afghanistan. The Taliban, in particular, set the example for similar movements elsewhere.

In Nigeria, the actions of the Maitatsine movement (Kano in December 1980, Maiduguri in October 1982 and Yola in February 1984) had all the characteristics of Kh?rijism. It was a revolt of the poor against corrupt government, which it fought as having betrayed Islam.  Unfortunately, in those days there were no GSMs or Internet for Maitatsine to publicise its agenda, and no one bothered to interview any of them.  Statements by Muslim leaders at that time simply put them outside the pale of Islam, with the addition of accusations of sorcery etc., for which no evidence was presented.  In Yobe in 2002, a similar uprising claimed for itself the name and ideology of 'Taliban'.

Boko Haram follows in the footsteps of Maitatsine; only it is articulate. However offensive these are, and how erroneous in declaring Muslim opponents apostates, their Muslim opponents still regard them as Muslims, so long as they profess the two-fold shah?da. They do not loose their right to life, but must only, as outlaws (bugh?t), face restraining force (Qur'?n 49:9).  The case calls to mind the Donatist heretics of 4-5th century Algeria, who would not recognize Catholics as Christians, but St. Augustine replied that we must accept them as Christians, because of their baptismal profession.

Boko Haram's assets and liabilities
If any Muslim grabs power, he must first claim to be a reformer (mujaddid) of the Muslim community, or at least its defender, committed to champion the cause of the downtrodden, and assure justice as decreed by God (in the Qur'?n and ?ad?th).  Abubakar Shekau makes this claim for Boko Haram, and that clothes it with an aura of legitimacy.  Its deeds, however, reflect a skewed understanding of divine justice, and have offered nothing to benefit the downtrodden.

Boko Haram's  second asset is the devotion and expertise of many of its members, not only military, munitions and strategic expertise, but also in the use of media, especially Internet.  Boko Haram's rejection of secular education, however, deprives it not only of military sophistication, but more importantly of public-relations or image-marketing strategy.

External assets consist in support from politicians and people in public service, and foreign training and financing. Who are sponsoring the movement, and how they operate, is still a largely undisclosed secret. Yet Boko Haram does have patrons and sympathizers in high places, particularly the northern 'establishment'.  In spite of their condemnation of bombings, many are still smarting at the results of the last presidential election, and would be quite happy to weaken Federal power, and put Christians down.  Boko Haram is a useful tool for that.

As for liabilities, Boko Haram's fundamental weakness is its takf?r (declaring an unbeliever) of anyone who dissents from any point of its interpretation of Shar?`a or of its application. It tolerates no disagreement in its ranks, or among Muslims it interacts with.  Of course, it writes off Christians universally as avowed opponents.  Apart from the flimsy foundation of such a position, it fails to acknowledge the extent to which other Muslims and even Christians share their vision for a just society under God.  Instead of welcoming their support, Boko Haram alienates it. While Shekau trusts absolutely in the divine wisdom of the Qur'?n, he fails to take into account the imperfection of its human administrators.  Thus even his own movement is splintering and becoming like a mafia, with rival bosses fighting each other, and the common people reduced to silence, for fear of assassination.

Boko Haram's second liability is failure to distinguish between self-defence and (chain-reactive) reprisals, and between aggressors and anyone belonging to the same religion. Therefore, under the guise of self-defence, it targets the innocent, people who had no part in attacking them or other Muslims. Shekau lists many incidents where Muslims were attacked. He is right to complain.  But he does not acknowledge the many gratuitous attacks on Christians and their churches. And he is outraged that these people, like Muslims, claim the right to defend themselves.  Should he be surprised if, in response to the bombings, the government resolves to 'crush' them?

A third liability is Boko Haram's failure to distinguish, in educational policy, between true science, 'to be sought even in China', and secular ideologies that are hostile to Islam (and Christianity as well).

A fourth liability, which should concern all northern leadership, both political and traditional rulers, is the impoverishment of the North.  The insecurity is driving away industry and business, and depriving the region of professional people who can provide basic services.

Boko Haram's chances of establishing an Islamic Republic

Abubakar Shekau aims to replace the Nigerian Constitution with Shar?`a. Although no one gives him any chance of imposing Shar?`a on the whole country, that does not daunt him, for: 'Allah ya ce, in ka bi shi, zai ba ka ?arf? - God said, if you obey him, he will give you power.'  No one doubts God's capability, but few agree that Shekau correctly reads God's intentions.

What are Boko Haram's chances of success on a state or regional level?  To answer that, let us review the factors of internal regime change in the Muslim world.  Until recent times, the prevalent pattern has been that of one army defeating another, e.g., Mu`?wiya against `Al?, the `Abb?sids against the Umayyads.  Another pattern was military coup, e.g. Nasser against King Faruk, Ghaddafi against King Idris.  The winner usually (but not always) exploited popular support.

Recent times have witnessed revolutions from below, depending almost entirely on broad popular support. The Arab Spring uprisings are obvious examples, but they do not share the narrow Islamist aims of Boko Haram. The Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 resembled Boko Haram, by defining itself in Islamic terms, but, unlike Boko Haram, enjoyed strong popular support. Before his return from exile, Ayatollah Khomeini had convinced most Iranians to support the revolution. True, he convinced them by words, not deeds, but they believed him then, and that assured the revolution's success.

?izbull?h has become a semi-autonomous government in southern Lebanon.  Its success comes not primarily from its ability to defend itself with arms, but from its transformation of an impoverished Sh?`ite region, which now enjoys schools, hospitals, water, electricity, internal security, roads etc.  ?izbull?h is not just a ruling party; it has become part of the people.

As noted above, although the Muslim Brothers did not spearhead the revolution in Egypt, they swept the elections.  That is because of their record of honesty and service to the people.

Boko Haram, however, has no such popular support, but relies solely on terror attacks.

Is terror paying off? Recently, the President has suggested 'dialogue', or negotiations.  That, in political language, means giving up on victory. The government would cut its losses and yield to some Boko Haram demands. Abubakar Shekau has categorically rejected any sulhu (compromise truce).  But Boko Haram's military success depends much on the good will of its patrons.

This cozy relationship faces two dangers. The first is, should Boko Haram challenge its patrons, they will use every means to crush it.  The other is that the patrons may tire of Boko Haram, and view them as a liability. That may already be happening, as northern leaders see their jurisdictions go down the drain.

Boko Haram, like Greece on the brink of bankruptcy, must make painful changes or fold up.

  Rev. Father Kenny is Professor Emeritus of Islam at the University of Ibadan.


Time is the greatest innovator, he who does not accept new time shuold expect new evil
By: Sunny Datz