Friday, May 25, 2012

Two views of Boko Haram and northern Nigeria

This morning I read this comment piece in the Daily Mail. In it, historian and author Michael Burleigh says the international press have it dangerously wrong on Nigeria, and Boko Haram violence is being understated by journalists, who have a "rosy view" of the militant group. This group will stop at nothing to attack western interests and bring about a "grim hand-chopping regime", he says.

I was reminded, in a curious way, about this op-ed piece sent to me by a fellow Naijaphile a few days ago. In it the President of the American University Yola, Margee Ensign, says that religious intolerance is not Nigeria's problem, much of the Boko Haram violence has been overstated, and the press (particularly the international press) are getting it dangerously wrong on Nigeria.

They are almost diametrically opposite views, except they both agree that journalists (people like me) have it wrong.

Burleigh doesn't acknowledge that Boko Haram is a sect, a group with extreme views. He conflates Boko Haram with all muslims, and sees the forces affecting northern Nigeria, which help Boko Haram, in very simplistic terms. His very scanty knowledge of the situation doesn't seem to be a hindrance on his writing about the subject.

But he may have a point when he says that many of Boko Haram's attacks on Christians don't really fit into the motive of "vengeance against a corrupt state" used to explain Boko Haram's existence.

On her part, Ensign almost acknowledges too much complexity, as if she has trouble seeing the bigger picture. She seems to say if someone who burned a church down was NOT in fact a Muslim, it is evidence that society isn't broken; a baffling position for someone not used to northern Nigeria.

But she is right when she says it is not religious intolerance that will cause Nigeria to split. If that happens it will be because the people who wield power can no longer agree to divide up the spoils, not because of their religious differences.

A few weeks ago I deleted a comment that had been left on my post about police execution and the role it plays in strengthening Boko Haram.

The poster accused me of being too sympathetic to the group and told me that I was deluded if I thought that Muslims weren't trying to take over the world. People like me should stop making excuses and wake up, the comment said.

Only they said it in much more forceful and unpleasant terms.

It has also been said by friends that my opinions on Boko Haram are too sensationalist and over-dramatic.

I have a publication coming out soon on Boko Haram, but after that I'm going to take a break from writing about these people I think.

I'm tired of being in the middle of these two views of northern Nigeria and I want this blog to be about more than just these Boko Haram people.

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