Boko Haram and the Kidnapped Schoolgirls
The Nigerian terror group reflects the general Islamist hatred of women’s rights. When will the West wake up?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Since the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria last month, the meaning of Boko Haram—the name used by the terrorist group that seized the girls—has become more widely known. The translation from the Hausa language is usually given in English-language media as “Western Education Is Forbidden,” though “Non-Muslim Teaching Is Forbidden” might be more accurate.
But little attention has been paid to the group’s formal Arabic name: Jam’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-da’wa wal-Jihad. That roughly translates as “The Fellowship of the People of the Tradition for Preaching and Holy War.” That’s a lot less catchy than Boko Haram but significantly more revealing about the group and its mission. Far from being an aberration among Islamist terror groups, as some observers suggest, Boko Haram in its goals and methods is in fact all too representative.
The kidnapping of the schoolgirls throws into bold relief a central part of what the jihadists are about: the oppression of women. Boko Haram sincerely believes that girls are better off enslaved than educated. The terrorists’ mission is no different from that of the Taliban assassin who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai—as she rode a school bus home in 2012—because she advocated girls’ education. As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal and educated women.
How to explain this phenomenon to baffled Westerners, who these days seem more eager to smear the critics of jihadism as “Islamophobes” than to stand up for women’s most basic rights? Where are the Muslim college-student organizations denouncing Boko Haram? Where is the outrage during Friday prayers? These girls’ lives deserve more than a Twitter hashtag protest.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, in a video released in 2012. Associated Press
Organizations like Boko Haram do not arise in isolation. The men who establish Islamist groups, whether in Africa (Nigeria, Somalia, Mali), Southeast Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan), or even Europe (U.K., Spain and the Netherlands), are members of long-established Muslim communities, most of whose members are happy to lead peaceful lives. To understand why the jihadists are flourishing, you need to understand the dynamics within those communities.
So, imagine an angry young man in any Muslim community anywhere in the world. Imagine him trying to establish an association of men dedicated to the practice of the Sunnah (the tradition of guidance from the Prophet Muhammad ). Much of the young man’s preaching will address the place of women. He will recommend that girls and women be kept indoors and covered from head to toe if they are to venture outside. He will also condemn the permissiveness of Western society.
What kind of response will he meet? In the U.S. and in Europe, some moderate Muslims might quietly draw him to the attention of authorities. Women might voice concerns about the attacks on their freedoms. But in other parts of the world, where law and order are lacking, such young men and their extremist messages thrive.
Where governments are weak, corrupt or nonexistent, the message of Boko Haram and its counterparts is especially compelling. Not implausibly, they can blame poverty on official corruption and offer as an antidote the pure principles of the Prophet. And in these countries, women are more vulnerable and their options are fewer.
But why does our imaginary young zealot turn to violence? At first, CLICK HERE