‘The disease is unbelief’: Boko Haram’s religious and political worldview

Alex Thurston - Brookings

Boko Haram, a Nigerian jihadi group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015, has killed over 15,000 people in Nigeria and the surrounding countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. Boko Haram does not pose an existential threat to these states, but it has disrupted governance and caused a humanitarian emergency around Lake Chad. Its strident messages exacerbate intra-Muslim tensions and worsen Muslim-Christian relations in the region.

The Nigerian state and its neighbors have responded to Boko Haram primarily with security campaigns. Marred by abuses against civilians and detainees, these crackdowns have fueled Boko Haram’s politics of victimhood. The group is resilient and adaptive. In early 2015, Nigerian and neighboring militaries dislodged the sect from Northeastern Nigerian towns it controlled; Boko Haram responded with a new wave of rural massacres and suicide bombings, including bombings in Chad’s capital N’Djamena. Regional authorities lack long-term solutions for restoring peace and security, reflecting the tendency of many policymakers to treat Boko Haram solely as a security threat, while neglecting its political and religious dimensions. Despite the Nigerian government’s December 2015 announcement that it had ‘technically… won the war’ against Boko Haram, attacks by the sect continue.

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