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Understanding Boko Haram

… Rejection of Westernization is common in Islamic West Africa. The nature of contact with Western civilization is different than it is in Mediterranean Africa or even in the Middle East.

While North Africans were long exchanging goods and ideas with their neighbors in Southern Europe, and Arabic numerals were even introduced to Western Europe by Pope Sylvester II, who had studied in Muslim schools, the interior of West Africa had almost no contact with Christian Europe until the colonial “scramble for Africa” burst into the region around 1900.

Many Muslims withdrew to wait the second coming of Prophet Jesus, highly venerated though not worshiped by Muslims, or even the end of the world. They were little concerned about political events in the world outside their villages. Many such groups continue to ignore the modern world around them, neither bothering nor being bothered by colonial and postcolonial states….

How has Boko Haram been able to attract such a strong and persistent following through the years? Part of the answer lies in its similarity to the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo movement. Both were founded by megalomaniacal but charismatic preachers who turned their followers to terrorism when their message was rejected by their society. Both attracted many young people who had not been able to employ their education in productive ways and who could easily be turned by religion against the larger society and state.

In both societies young people had been taught that their education was an investment that would pay off economically. When it didn’t pay off they were ripe for terrorist recruitment. The main difference is that the Japanese government was able to suppress Aum Shinrikyo, while the Nigerian government is still struggling against Boko Haram.

Other social causes of Boko Haram are more unique to Africa. In polygynous societies where many men have multiple wives there tends to be a shortage of women relative to men. Women tend to be married early, often too early for their health, while men often remain involuntarily unmarried until much later in life, creating a floating population of single men, who are ripe for recruitment into any organization that promises a purpose in life, support and even adventure.

The chance of taking a young bride, by force if necessary, could have been a useful recruiting tool as well….

Read entire article at The Japan Times