Terrorism and barbarism

A few days ago I used the term “barbarism” in reference to the Nairobi mall attack. An excellent article by Brendan O’Neill appeared today in the Telegraph making a similar point, and entitled “I’m sorry, but we have to talk about the barbarism of modern Islamist terrorism.”

We do, indeed. But there was one part of the piece with which I disagree. O’Neill writes:

What we have today, uniquely in human history, is a terrorism that seems myopically focused on killing as many people as possible and which has no clear political goals and no stated territorial aims.

In that sentence I think author Brendan O’Neill underestimates the scope of what we’re dealing with. Yes, these terrorists seem to love brutality for its own sake; it makes them feel both powerful and powerfully feared. “Feared” is a concept that’s particularly important, though, because it ties into their “political goals” and “territorial aims” in a way that O’Neill does not seem to credit.

His article mentions two recent terrorist attacks: the church in Pakistan and the Nairobi mall. But both actually do have political goals. Although in Pakistan Christians are a rather small minority, and in Kenya they are a majority, the goal of the Islamic terrorists is the same—driving them away or wiping them out, but above all scaring and intimidating them into abandoning their faith or at least the public worship of their faith, and ceding the field to Islam. The terrorists’ “territorial aims” are quite clear too, and related—although this “territory” is partly one of the mind: to ultimately install Islamic sharia governments in these and/or other countries.

A good example of an Islamist terrorist organization with these goals is Boko Haram, a group based in Nigeria that has been responsible for a series of horrific attacks there, including one this past Sunday. Boko Haram is very upfront about its political and religious goals beyond the killings themselves. From Wiki:

[Boko Haram] is an Islamist movement which strongly opposes non-Sharia legal systems, and what they deem “Westernization.” Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2001, the organisation seeks to establish sharia law in the country. The group is also known for attacking Christians, bombing churches and attacking schools.

…The group seeks to “purify Islam”…In 2011, Boko Haram was responsible for at least 450 killings in Nigeria. It was also reported that they had been responsible for over 620 deaths over the first 6 months of 2012. Since its founding in 2001, the jihadist terrorists have been responsible for roughly 4,000 deaths comprising mostly innocent people.

But in much of its reportage on yesterday’s attack, the MSM could not quite bring itself to call these people “terrorists.” And this despite the fact that, as Brendan O’Neill writes in the last paragraph of his column (although not referring to Boko Haram itself), “even the term terrorist might be too good for them.”

Here’s what they did on Sunday in Nigeria (and also see how the NY Times dances around to avoid the words “terrorism” and “terrorist”—they are “militants,” “extremists,” “gunmen,” “attackers”):

The attackers drove into the campus of the Yobe State College of Agriculture, in a rural area just south of Damaturu, Yobe state’s capital, survivors said. A student, Musa Aliyu, 21, said Sunday that the attackers had entered the college’s dormitories as students slept and then opened fire randomly in the darkness.

The attack was the second large-scale massacre of civilians attributed to Boko Haram in less than two weeks…

In its war against the Nigerian state, Boko Haram has singled out government institutions, especially schools, for attack. One of its tenets is that Western-style education, not based on the Quran, in conventional schools is sinful and un-Islamic; the group has burned numerous schools in Maiduguri, the largest city in the region, and in early July it attacked a government secondary school in the town of Mamudo, killing 42 people, mostly students.

Sunday’s attack differs from the recent murders in Pakistan and Nairobi in that in Nigeria “almost all those killed were Muslims” rather than Christians. At first glance, this might seem bizarre, and would appear to tie into O’Neill’s theories about the lack of political aims in the strategy of such groups. But that would be wrong, because in this case the idea is to scare and control Muslims, close down schools, and ultimately to establish sharia law and even a fundamentalist Islamic state (think “Taliban”) in Nigeria and/or elsewhere. In the minds of Boko Haram members, Muslims who adopt Western ways—including studying Western methods of agriculture, or even scientific ones, as it seems these young people were doing—or who read Western books or don’t wear the proper Islamic outfits, are apostates and deserve death.

It’s not either/or with Islamic terrorists. It’s a toxic blend of “all of the above”: barbarism, terrorism, political goals, and territorial aims.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]