Thursday, May 8, 2014

Boko Haramis and their ilk

This is obviously a reworking of my earlier post. Written for Farooq Sulehria's excellent Viewpointonline (

Boko Haram is a Nigerian terrorist organization that claims to be fighting for the imposition of “pure Islam” in Nigeria. The Northern parts of Nigeria have been components of many Islamicate kingdoms and empires in the last few centuries, most recently the Sokoto Caliphate (a large slave-owning empire that started as a violent Jihad and was mostly run by Qadriyya Sufis who enforced Shariah law, thus creating postcolonial studies discomfort at many levels). This empire was defeated by the British and agreed to capitulate under fairly generous terms. The caliph was retained as “Sultan” and retained some autonomy, but submitted to being a British protectorate, etc…you know the drill. By the way, the Sultanate still exists and supposedly has some “spiritual authority” as well as temporal influence (though only a Nigeria expert can tell us how important that is, or is not) and is headed by a Sultan who used to be the military attaché in Pakistan! Connect the dots comrades ;)

Anyway, many people in the North have more than a passing loyalty to strict Islamicate mores, and ideas of Jihad and Shariah law were never far from the surface (though managed fairly well by the Brits, who told the Khalifa that prayer, Zakat and family life will not be interfered with, thus giving him the necessary fig leaf; imperialists who knew what they were about). The Nigerian government introduced Shariah law into its Northern provinces (states) starting in 1999 and this probably reflected the wishes of many, if not most, people in those states. But the Nigerian government (corrupt to the core) remained in charge and obviously did not satisfy those thirsting for more authentic Jihadism and Shariah. It is not hard to imagine that this thirst was also increased by Saudi money and propaganda, but again, a Nigeria expert will have to step in to provide such details.  

Whatever the details, some section of true believers managed to get into a violent conflict with the Federal state. In this, they may have been supported, or at least ignored, by many “moderate Muslims” in the North who had their own conflicts and competition with Southern (mostly Christian) Nigerians, or with local rivals. Again, the details are not for us to parachute in and reveal. Nigerians will have to do that job. But what we do find of interest is that Boko Haram (the word means modern education is a sin, perhaps more generally, that Westernization is a sin) has now become a menace of tremendous size and 3 weeks ago, they kidnapped 250 plus girls from a boarding school and now they are threatening to sell them as slaves (a practice for which they claim Shariah backing; but this seems to strerch even Shariah notions of capturing enemy girls a bit, since these girls are enemies? exactly how?). 
The generally incompetent, internally divided and corruption ridden (they have had their own long martial laws) Nigerian armed forces have been unable to do much to rescue the poor girls till now and after some weeks the leader of the Boko Haram, Abubakar Shikau (a man the Nigerian armed forces claimed to have killed several years ago; like our own blessed “bad jihadis” he seems to have nine lives) has emerged on video to take “credit” for this kidnapping. 

This video and the prolonged agony of the poor parents (and the heartless attitude of the Nigerian Federal Government) have managed to put this particular "non-western" alternative form of social organization, i.e. the partly imaginary, partly historical "Islamic model", front and center. I learn from Wikipedia (and from at least one Nigerian commentator) that this Abubaker Shikau is "bookish" and was once known as “Dar ul Tauheed” (the house of Tauheed; Tauheed being the oneness of Allah and the preferred name the Wahabis have for their own ideology). Subhanallah. Here he is on video:

The video, as you can see (though of course, thanks to Zardari and MNS, you cannot see in Pakistan) starts with Quranic verses and Jihadi slogans and bears more than a little resemblance to similar efforts from the Pakistani Taliban. The people who produced this video (and carried out the girls kidnapping) obviously believe they are on the right path and they are not doing something wrong; they are fulfilling the will of Allah. In fact, they are the only people fulfilling the will of Allah.

In this crucial respect they are one step ahead of other murderous gangs in ungoverned African countries (who are all capable of killing, kidnapping and raping). These Boko Haramis have a coherent ideology with worldwide reach, and they sincerely believe it is superior and is bound to triumph. In fact, so widespread are sections of this ideology that most of this speech could be repeated without adverse comment on PTV or Saudi TV (as long as you take out the specific threats to the current rulers of Nigeria). The bit about marrying girls at 9 years old and 12 years old reflects a continuing (unfortunate) Islamic clerical obsession with what we would now call pedophilia (though of course child marriage, with or without early sex, was pretty much normal in most of the world for a long time; being commonplace, though not universal, in India, China, the Middle East and Africa).
This is a problem.

It is, first of all, a practical problem; in the sense that murderous gangs with coherent ideologies (that provide hope for victory as well as solidarity) have a longer life span and greater staying power than murderous gangs that are just murderous gangs (see the 20th Century for many examples, most completely on display in glorious Democratic Kampuchea).

Another aspect of the problem can be seen in on display in what a White woman on twitter said yesterday (yes, yesterday, after all the news has been about): she doesn’t believe this story; she said Boko Haram “sounds so Hollywood”.  She said it is "a Western front meant to disrupt Africa to get at their natural resources”. I kid you not. She actually said all this on twitter! In other words, one aspect of the problem is that it is so strange to some modern ears that those unused to certain commonplace historical trends (people living their life in a small ideological bubble perhaps?) are simply unable to grasp what is going on. But this is a minor aspect. Who cares what some activist or op-ed writer for the Guardian thinks. There is a much bigger problem: the one faced by moderate Muslims...

For 50 years, the "moderate Muslim" response to the modern world has been based on fictive loyalty to the perfect model of early Islam, and EXTREMELY selective adoption of that model. This is an important point. There are Christians and Jews and Hindus and who knows, Shintoists, who believe they follow the "essence' of their great (and superior) religion and tradition (the two words are used interchangeably based on context and need) but who do not feel bound to imitate every particular act or order of their glorious ancestors. In fact, they are even willing to re-examine what those acts supposedly were...which ones actually happened, which ones are likely fake, which ones are apocryphal, which ones are now out of date, etc. But the "moderate Muslim" model adopted in most Muslim countries (Turkey being a notable exception under the Ataturkists, but now reverting to mean) adopted complete (insincere in many cases) agreement with classical texts and traditional accounts of early Islam as the publicly accepted consensus; while carrying on with very different lives by simply ignoring inconvenient traditions and theological points.

My description of the process as it happened in Pakistan was given in this earlier comment:

Phase 1: "moderates" obtain license to rule from colonial powers and being half-educated opportunists for the most part, and with some encouragement from the CIA (whose own ignorance of such things is legendary; and whose primary aim in any case was anti-communism at that point), some of them mindlessly repeat "Islamic formulas" in designing the curriculum and ideology for their new "nations".

Phase 2: In Pakistan's case, a specific CIA project to arm and train Islamic terrorists for Afghanistan, also leads to dissemination of tradecraft (how to make bombs, set up secret cells, take hostages, spread terror, etc.) to specially selected young morons. This is very important because ideology is not enough. You also need to know how to blow stuff up. That is not knowledge we are born with. Of course, all the while the magic curriculum adopted to “unite the nation” and “fight communist infiltration” infects PMA level "strategists" with just enough confusion to lose sight of their own future vulnerability to such nonsense. The high level of corruption and nepotism also creates resentment, pool of recruits, yadda yadda yadda. .

Phase 3. Idiot ruling elite now includes haramis who actually believe in boko haram level BS. They are a small minority (see Hamid Gul) but the majority of their colleagues (see Musharraf) has been ideologically paralyzed by their own over-smart curriculum and propaganda. BOOM BOOM BOOM...You know the rest.

But I do think it’s a passing phase. If the haramis win, it’s over in a few years, if they lose, it’s over in a few years.

But also, it will get worse before it gets better. See the above video. We have trained similar psychopaths in our Jihadi organizations. They will try to enforce their laws. Alhamdulillah.

I am going to post a comment thread from Facebook here as it may explain some of what I mean:

Omar Ali:  Boko haramis are going to send all of Karen Armstrong’s diligent apologia straight to hell
13 hours ago · Like · 2

Amer: Sex slaves and trading of women was very much part of Islamic history from day one so this man is just a shining example of an Islamic tradition.
10 hrs · Like · 1

Omar Ali: But to be fair, in early Islamic history all this was very much within period norms. WTF are the haramis doing in THIS day and age?
1 hr · Like

Ahmed : Well, if the general premise of Muslims is that the Prophet’s actions and teachings are good for all times and all humanity, then it’s quite natural to descend to this level of tragic absurdity.
1 hr · Edited · Like

Omar Ali: Ahmed you said "the general premise of Muslims is that the Prophet’s actions and teachings are good for all times and all humanity" ...Yaah, but you know Muslims don’t really mean that (except for the nutcases, retards and haramis, all of whom are in a minority). EVERYONE i know selectively borrows from the Quran and even more selectively from hadith and mostly ignores both. That’s just a meaningless line people repeat because they learned to repeat it in Islamiyat class. It’s not taken THAT seriously. Look around you.
1 hr · Like

About Pakistan in particular, someone asked if and when this may happen here? I think the Pakistani state is an order of magnitude more competent than the basket-case Nigerian institutions. so I think right now this is unlikely on this scale. But smaller scale events will surely happen and are already happening...

Of course, the Pakistani state and army have to come out of their Islamiyat-Pakstudies stupor to recover and move on. They may do it. They may not. If not, what then?
(please see my explanation of this scenario building in a separate post)
Here is my summary of who may be in a position to save us if the Pak army fails to change course (I sincerely pray to Allah that they do NOT fail)

1. IF the army fails to change direction, Punjab will have a short but terrible religious apocalypse. It’s inevitable in Punjab because Pakistaniat and Islamiyat are widely established and there is simply no armed group that can match the Jihadis if the army is gone. But post-apocalypse, we can be saved by the Khalsa. By that I don’t mean the literal Khalsa of yore, I just that once shariah law and jihadi rule is discredited (as it inevitably will be), Sikh rule may be the nearest palatable alternative, perhaps under overall Indian control. We can all hope and pray it does not come to that.
2. Pakhtoons can only be saved by Afghanistan. IF the army fails to change course, then there is simply no armed force IN KP that can fight the jihadis. But Afghanistan has an army…
3. The Baloch can only be saved by China (i.e. if the Chinese switch sides). No further explanation is necessary.
4. The Sindhis can only be saved by? ...India? I don’t know. I await input on this one.

I will also say this (since some Pankaj Mishra fan is sure to bring up “the Western nation state is not the only model’ yadda yadda yadda):  Yes. The modern ("Western") model of the nation state is not the only way society can be organized. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Show me where Haramis or Trotskyites or Leninists have created something better and genuinely different and we can talk.

Cuba, for example, is a modern nation state. More socialist than most and not as liberal as some (though maybe to the liberal side of others that still managed to survive). The essential elements of a modern state can be defined by academics, but seem to include borders, an army (except, I am told, in Costa Rica, bless their souls), the police, bureaucracy, schools, colleges, exams, nationalism, propaganda, etc. in no particular order. Various political systems (modern social democracy being the best of the lot till now?) can manage this state. And of course, avowed Marxists and Leninists have managed them too...I just meant that they managed them as modern states, not as some alternative "system" that rejects modern states. 
Something like that. More on this later..

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