Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Nigerian Kidnappers’ Ideology

LONDON – The abduction of more than 240 Nigerian girls has shocked the world. But, unfortunately, their case is not an isolated one in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria’s torment is shared by many other African countries, and the motivation behind the kidnapping derives from an ideology that is global.

That ideology is based on a warped and false view of religion. It is taught in formal and informal school settings worldwide. Of course, the hideous and crazed words of the leader of Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped the girls, are representative only of the most extreme fringe of this ideology. But, until we clean the soil in which this poisonous plant takes root, it will continue to blight the life chances of millions of young people around the world – and jeopardize our own security.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, this problem is now vast. Mali, Chad, Niger, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Kenya, and even Ethiopia have all suffered or face acute anxieties about the spread of extremism. Many other countries have now identified extremism as their single most important challenge.

Governments are often confronting the challenge with courage and determination, and the use of African forces in many countries to try to keep peace is a tribute to that resolve. But the fact is that the problem is continuing to grow.

This is not by accident. When I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1997, Nigeria served as an example of productive cooperation between Christians and Muslims. The destructive ideology represented by Boko Haram is not part of the country’s traditions; it has been imported.

As the population grows, so will the problem. Nigeria has approximately 168 million people today, with some estimates putting the population at 300 million by 2030, split roughly equally between Christian and Muslim. Without a climate of peaceful coexistence, the consequences for the country – and the world – will be enormous.

Poverty and lack of development play a huge part in creating the circumstances in which extremism incubates. But poverty alone does not explain the problem. And a major factor now holding back development is terrorism. Who would invest in northern Nigeria under current conditions? How can local economies thrive in such an atmosphere?

This challenge is not confined to Africa. The Middle East, as we know, is immersed in a process of revolution and upheaval that has been immensely complicated by Islamism and its extremist offshoots. In Pakistan, more than 50,000 people have lost their lives in the terror attacks of the last decade. Violence linked to the same ideology has taken innocent lives and destroyed communities in India, Russia, Central Asia, and the Far East as well.

What is that ideology? Here is the crux of the issue. Because misrepresentation follows any pronouncement on this question, let me state some things very clearly. This ideology does not represent Islam. The majority of Muslims do not agree with it. They are repulsed by it. This should give us hope about the future.

But this ideology is a strain within Islam that represents an organized, substantial, powerful, and funded minority. What might loosely be called Islamism is based on a politicization of religion that is fundamentally incompatible with the modern world, for it assumes that there is one true religion, only one interpretation of that religion, and that this interpretation should prevail and dominate all countries’ politics, government institutions, and social life. Those who do not share this view must be overcome.

This Islamist ideology is a spectrum. At one extreme are groups like Boko Haram. Other groups may not advocate violence (though sometimes they do) but still preach a view of the world that is dangerous and hostile to those who disagree. To see what I mean, read the Muslim Brotherhood’s statement in 2013 denouncing the UN women’s declaration for, among other things, defending women’s right to travel or work without their husbands’ permission.

It is the ideology, not just the acts of extremism, that must be confronted.

My foundation, which provides practical support to help prevent religious prejudice, conflict, and extremism, has been active in Nigeria for several years, bringing together Christian and Muslim clerics to foster mutual understanding. In more than 20 countries worldwide, we have schools programs that connect children of different faiths to learn about each other. Even in the most challenging places, the results are clear and powerful.

In Sierra Leone, where we are part of the campaign against malaria, we mobilize churches and mosques to work in their local communities and help families use bed nets effectively to protect themselves against a disease that still kills 750,000 pregnant women and children each year in Africa. We have reached two million people in an act of compassion and care, with results that are as remarkable as the interfaith cooperation that produces them.

So the battle is not lost. But it has to be seen for what it is. Every year, the West spends billions of dollars on defense relationships and on fighting terrorism. Yet the very thing we are fighting is given license to grow in the education systems of many of the countries with which we are engaged – even in our own.

Education today is a security issue. The G-20 should agree that open-minded education that promotes religious tolerance should be a responsibility of all countries. We should insist upon it in our own school systems – and then insist upon it in others’ systems.

Nigeria’s kidnapped girls are victims not just of an act of violence but of a way of thinking. If we can defeat that ideology, we will begin to make progress toward a more secure world.

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    1. CommentedOnyedimmakachukwu Obiukwu

      Hello Ken,
      I am Nigerian,
      The Nigerian government is not nominally Christian, it is almost evenly split, with actually more muslims when you take into account the heads of other federal govt parastatals. this itself is a problem- the overt focus on pleasing religious and ethnic sentiments than getting the right people for the job.
      The President is Christian, his vice is Muslim.
      The Head of Senate is Christian, The head of he House of Representatives is Muslim.
      The Chief of Defence Staff is Christian, The Head of Police is Muslim.
      The head of the army is Christian while the heads of the airforce and navy are muslims.
      These are a few examples, please always try to get your facts right.

    2. CommentedOnyedimmakachukwu Obiukwu

      I am a Nigerian, a christian from the south-east, but born and raised in the north. I agree with Mr Blair's summation; "It is the ideology, not just the acts of extremism, that must be confronted".
      Long before Boko Haram reared its beastly head in Nigeria, the north has been a bed of religious and socio-cultural intolerance- laid by the ideology that Islam should subsume all aspects of society- political and socio-cultural, regardless of the fact that not all Northerners are muslims (and not all muslims generally want their religion to dominate their lives). This has several times in the past (before boko haram) led to violent confrontations in the north between muslims and christians in the north.
      Here's an example of the ideology of religious domination; 12 northern states have Sharia as a main body of civil and criminal law, regardless of the fact that
      1. Nigeria is a secular country,
      2. There is a significant non-muslim minority in those states- both indegenes and non-indegenes
      3. There are muslims who may not necessarily want to live by the sharia law.
      -These sharia laws, although claimed to be for only muslims, are often forced down on the throat of everyone in those states. For example, Beer and alcohol are banned in those states- only in very few areas can Christians find such, mainly bus terminals for travels to southern states (several of those bus terminals hae now been bombed by boko haram)...
      -Women with dressings deemed inappropriate under the states' understanding of sharia law are also often clamped down on, regardless of the fact that the women are often not muslims.
      -While the federal constitution clearly prohibits child-marriage, these northern states refuse to acknowledge the prohibition in the guise that their religion permits it. And even in some cases force young girls into marrying against their wish. Recently a fourteen year old muslim girl poisoned her 'husband' after she was forced to marry him....
      So when Mr Blair talks about an Ideology that needs to be confronted, he's totallly making the right call. Islam is a religion- its practice should only be down to personal free-will and not a politicization and societal enforcement of some sort.
      And Mr Blair's faith based NGO's ideology - by emphasizing 'mutual understanding between religions' is, I believe, the path all religions should tow.
      It is this ideology of religious domination propagated by some muslims that has served as the seed for the growth of islamic extremism and terrorism.

    3. CommentedKen Presting

      Thanks to Steve Schmitze for his remarks.

      My point is that a phenomenon like Boko Haram should not be understood as an ideological movement at all, but instead as a criminal organization. We can’t conclude that a certain behavior is a consequence of a certain “ideology” when the same behavior is displayed by so many various groups.

      The example of Nigeria is especially apt when we consider the government there. The USA is prevented by law from helping the Nigerian military, because of their own reputation for human rights violations. And the Nigerian population lives in poverty despite their unique oil resources. The Nigerian government, while nominally Christian, is in fact another sad example of strongman kleptocracy.

      I am sure Mr. Blair is helping the world with his charitable work. But he is not helping readers here to understand terrorism around the world by blaming it on “a strain within Islam.”

    4. CommentedLiton Roy

      Religious fundamentalism is a global problem. Innocent people are real victim of that. Boko Haram is representing a bundle of character of Islamic fundamentalism. Fundamentalism can never bring any benefit to any one. Boko Haram is not only destroying the future of innocent Nigerian school girl but also creating a culture of intimidation and fear for the rest. As Mr. Blair rightly mentioned that this problem is not confined to Nigeria, rather it is a global problem. For solving global problems, consorted initiative is required.

    5. CommentedKen Presting

      Mr. Blair acknowledges briefly that the vast majority of international Muslims reject and abhor the criminal activity of the so-called "extremists." Then he goes on to attack at length what he calls an Islamist ideology. He is able to distinguish the positive work of his own faith-based organization from the terror tactics of, e.g. Boko Haram. But he is completely incapable of recognizing the similarities among violent groups around the world, from the drug cartels of Latin America to the Taliban of central Asia.

      These movements all employ criminal tactics including kidnapping, smuggling, and extortion. They are also typically the most effective authority in the regions they operate. They opportunistically employ race or religion or political ideology to emotionally unify their adherents. But that is no more or less opportunistic than any other aspect of their criminal enterprise.

      It is absurd to imagine that the underdeveloped world needs ideological enlightenment from the Christians. Adherents of terror groups are largely illiterate, as well as starving or dependent on the very narcotics they traffic. Terror organizations flourish in failed states, and in regions where established states fail in their civic responsibilities.

      We can all applaud the work of NGO's like that of Mr. Blair in the world's neediest regions. If we also want to identify the world's most dangerous ideologies, we can all do better by examining the culture we ought to know best - our own. It’s the developed world which buys the coca and opium, and the conflict diamonds and minerals. And then props up the strong-man dictators who perpetuate exploitation.

      Mr. Blair, it is *your* ideology which stands judged by history.

        CommentedSteve Schmitze

        Hi Ken,

        in a globalising world it is always possible to somehow create a link between virtually any social dynamic, anywhere on the globe and the central driving forces of globalisation - global economic interests. Yet, it is precisely this universal presence and integration of global economic interests, which makes it so difficult to use them as an explanation for social dynamics. Stressing their mere importance in causing an event is as much true as it is meaningless because it simply always possible to create this link. Reducing the explanation of an event to global economic interests, however, mostly is plainly wrong. This is, again, because they are present everywhere and therefore they can be used to explain any outcome. In China they are lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and Nigeria they lead to civil war. Their effect therefore is entirely arbitrary and needs to be singled out case by case. Globalisation is a form of background radiation that leads to different effects depending on the specific context in question. So, yes, you are right, the rise of the Boko Haram certainly has to do with global economic interests, but that doesn't mean that one can blame globalisation for what is happening in Nigeria, or for that matter, Mexico, Colombia or Congo.

        Against this background it is even more problematic to not only try and explain civil conflict in the developing world by pointing at global economic interests but to then go on and equate 'global economic interest' with 'economic interests of the developed world' and, even worse, to explain these interests with some opaque 'ideology'. What has Mr. Blair's or any other western leader's *ideology* to do with the drug smuggling Italian Ndrangheta, or, for that matter, Chinese oil and mining corporations operating all over Africa? Global economic interests are just as heterogeneous and diverse as the impacts they contribute to.

        So let's stay focused. The tragedy in Nigeria is mainly caused by horrible people who make cold-blooded use of a horrible ideology. We need to combat both and education seems just the way, no matter if it's a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist, who pushes it forward.