Boko Haram, Nigeria's al-Qaida-tied Islamist terrorism organization, is part of a growing trend toward violent Islamism in Africa, writes Nigerian Tribune Regional Editor Olawale Rasheed. While military means are needed to defeat the movement, its ideology can be defeated only by cutting the funding supply to local extremists and empowering moderates.
"The problem is that even when the manifestation is destroyed, the ideology remains, leading to fears that in the future the ideology may sprout another manifestation with even more violent orientation," Rasheed says in a Feb. 17 article. "The nation cannot just fight the manifestation but should strategically tackle the ideology to prevent it from gaining permanent foothold in the country."
Boko Haram launches attacks almost daily, targeting Nigerian churches and government buildings.
The primary problems, Rasheed says, are money and ideology coming in from Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf countries, as well the increasing radicalization of Muslim nations surrounding Nigeria.
Although Sufi Islam has long been the dominant tradition in Nigeria's Muslim areas, local moderates struggle to keep up with the funding and support provided by Saudi petrodollars. In a relatively short time, extremism in Nigeria has moved from support of outside terror groups to fundamentalist demands inside of Nigeria, including the ultra-conservative application of Sharia law. This has even led to persecution of the dominant Sufi majority by more radical Islamists, who are pushing for the control of mosques and Islamic organizations.
Rasheed suggests that the Nigerian government follow the solutions proposed by moderate Imams throughout the country. The state should monitor foreign funding of religious activities, including their motives. It could provide state support for Sufi Muslim leaders, who are already the vast majority in several Nigerian regions, and strengthen local traditions against foreign extremism. Downplaying talk about American involvement in counterterrorism would also take away some of the propaganda of the extremists.
Failure to break the extremist hold on the nation could be devastating. "A foreseeable scenario for the nation may be a Wahabi domination of the South and a Salafi entrenchment of the North, a possibility that may further heighten future fears of confrontations," Rasheed says. That means suffering for Nigeria's large Christian population and the growth of new and competing terrorist groups, even if Boko Haram were defeated.