Boko Haram and ISIS are two sides of the same coin

Boko Haram is a prime example of how ignorance and a shallow understanding of religion can transform into something dangerous and sinister

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
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Events around the world have proven that extremist ideologies breed terrorism. This extremism transcends borders and language barriers; and affects people across all sectors of society, regardless of religion, class or gender.

The Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria is a prime example of how ignorance and a shallow understanding of religion can transform into something dangerous and sinister. They do not represent the religion, but give fodder to those hate-mongering Islamophobes who want to portray Muslims as narrow-minded and intolerant.

It is extremely disconcerting to see Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau threatening to sell into slavery the hundreds of female students his group abducted. Extremism has blinded the hearts and minds of Shekau and his followers. They have become hostages to their distorted views of the world, and even expressed pride in the deaths they have caused by their terror operations.

It is obvious that they have a little learning: “I like to kill whoever God orders me to kill, just like I kill sheep and chicken,” said one of Boko Haram’s members. There seems to be an almost farcical disconnect from reality, as they have also threatened to kill the late Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister.

The kidnapping of the Nigerian girls has rightly resulted in global outrage and concern. It has also been particularly appalling for Muslims to hear these terrorists shouting “Allah-o-Akbar,” thus further sullying everything that Islam stands for.

Muslims everywhere are facing a growing threat from extremist groups. The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Al-Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria, and Al-Shabaab, the group in Somalia, to name a few, essentially share the same beliefs. Some of them have even developed close ties and launched operations together.

Boko Haram is a prime example of how ignorance and a shallow understanding of religion can transform into something dangerous and sinister

Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi

That they have been able to operate in several countries, demonstrates the limited success of military operations against them. There clearly needs to be a different approach taken. Islamic history shows that the Kharijites were defeated, and their influence radically reduced, by leaders providing an alternate worldview.

Many conferences are currently being held to discuss the phenomena of these extremist Islamic movements and the way to confront them. Most studies and research show that an incorrect understanding of religion leads to extremism. In many instances, certain groups have used their dominance in society to manipulate educators to impart a slanted view of Islam. The results have always been violence.

Terrorism is the scourge of this generation. These groups are like a new mafia operating in the shadows by using new media to their advantage. They have been able to secretly connect with each other on the Internet and branch out in many locations. The Saudi government recently arrested 62 members of the ISIS who had planned to launch attacks on local and international facilities, and assassinate various leaders, including scholars and government officials.

Terrorist cells flourish in chaos. This is certainly the case in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. There is also significant evidence that Boko Haram has made contact with so-called jihadist groups in the Maghreb, including Al-Shabab in Somalia. An additional danger for all countries is that there are people out there supporting, justifying and promoting the views of these groups, often in an indirect manner.
The fight against Boko Haram is not a Nigerian problem, but an issue that faces all humanity. The international community needs to fight these groups, and the Muslim world has to raise its voice against this distortion of Islam. Religious institutions have to review their advocacy programs, open up and communicate with the modern world.

It would be no exaggeration to say that our future as a nation is going to be determined by the way we deal with this issue. We face a stark choice — of either having a future of chaos and destruction, or one where moderation prevails.

This article was first published in Arab News on May 14, 2014.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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