News / Africa

Terror Label for Boko Haram Debated

A crowd gathers near a car damaged by an explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011.
A crowd gathers near a car damaged by an explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011.
Nico Colombant

While violence involving Boko Haram extremists occurs on an almost daily basis in northern Nigeria, a debate is taking place in the United States over whether the radicals should be labeled as a foreign terrorist organization.

The U.S. State Department currently designates 49 extremist groups as foreign terrorist organizations. Only one of those groups comes from sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia's al-Shabab extremists.

Peter Lewis is the director of the African Studies program at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington. He calls Boko Haram a violent insurgency, but says it would be a mistake for the State Department to add it to the list of terror groups. "We are short on facts other than the undisputed fact that Boko Haram has become a deadly insurgency, not just a security problem, or a challenge, but an organized, capable insurgency in northern Nigeria," he said.

Lewis says very little is known about the group's leadership structure or possible external ties.  He says much more is understood about the context of poverty, corruption, poor governance and religious rivalries within which Boko Haram operates.

"Boko Haram, while it is a small movement, while it is essentially a sect that has a claim on the loyalties and ideas of only a tiny minority of northern Nigerians, nonetheless taps into a broader sense of resentment, of anger, a sense of marginality and a broader catchment and demographic of alienated, unemployed, poorly educated northern youth," he said.

Lewis says alleged Boko Haram spokespeople may even have ties to the Nigerian government and pretend they have links with regional terrorist groups to attract more attention and outside funding in the effort to stop the insurgency.

One analyst in favor of the terror label is former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter.  He disagreed with Lewis at a recent Washington conference. "It is really a terrorist group.  And Peter said let us not designate it [as such].  I would like to hear your explanation as to why.  It is a terrorist group.  If you kill 28 innocent people worshipping in a church, it is a terrorist group," he said.

Jeter was referring to bombings during Christmas holiday church services last year on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja.

Other Boko Haram attacks have targeted security forces and Muslims.  Leaders who have come forward in the media have said they want to impose Islamic Sharia law.  The name Boko Haram, which means "Western education is a sin," was initially given by critics of the radicals as a way to make fun of them.  

Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York, recently wrote about Boko Haram in an opinion article in The New York Times.  Herskovits said that if the United States placed the group on the foreign terror list, it would make more Nigerians fear and distrust America.  She also said such a decision could turn the U.S. government into an enemy of many of northern Nigeria's  Muslims.  Herskovits says pressure is growing from some lawmakers and U.S. government agencies to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

John Campbell, from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, says U.S.-Nigerian ties are extremely important, and that these debates should not be taken lightly. "We face the challenge of developing a policy response to Nigerian developments that reconciles our strategic interests with our abiding goal of promoting democracy and sustainable development in the giant of Africa," he said.

Last year, U.S. lawmakers from the House Committee on Homeland Security also proposed that Boko Haram be added to the list of designated foreign terror groups, but so far officials from the State Department's Africa bureau have disagreed, and the northern Nigerian radicals have remained off the list.

On its website, the State Department says the designation plays a critical role in the U.S. fight against terrorism and is an effective means to curtail support for terrorist activities and for pressuring groups to get out of the terror business.

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid