The news that the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram had abducted 276 schoolgirls broke into the mainstream media this week, with Western leaders falling over themselves to condemn this atrocity and with it Islamic Fundamentalism. However it is worth taking a step back and looking at the wider picture, and in particular just what it is that makes large numbers of people support or even join such an outfit.
Nigeria is an incredibly rich country, with huge oil reserves that make it the 11th largest oil producer in the world. It is also growing at over 7% per annum and has just overtaken South Africa to be the largest economy in Africa. However it is also a country riddled with corruption, where a wealthy elite keep most of the riches for themselves, leaving the vast majority of the people in poverty (over 60% of the population live on less than $1 per day). The Northern provinces of Yobe and Borno*, where Boko Harem has come from, are particularly deprived. As well as widespread poverty, the internal Nigerian security services are notorious for their extreme violence and the brutal way they deal with any dissent*.
So, vast swathes of the Nigerian population are angry and dispossessed, with little opportunity to change things for the better under their brutal and corrupt government. Against that backdrop it should come as no surprise that many of them turn to desperate measures, and the more impressionable of them (particularly the younger ones who see no hope for their future) fall under the influence of charismatic but violent zealots.
And how does the West react in the face of all this wrongdoing? No surprise, the lure of money means we’re more than happy to put all our beliefs in human rights to one side, as our oil companies fall over themselves to operate there, and so continue to prop up the regime. In addition, our oil companies have a terrible reputation in Nigeria for causing widespread environmental damage*; so as well as helping their government steal their oil, we’re also wrecking their ecosystem as well. It’s hardly any wonder that with the West so heavily involved in the abuse of their country, the Islamists see us as being guilty by association, and their hatred of their government also becomes hatred of the West and our values.
Now if all this sounds familiar then let’s turn to another, much more infamous fundamentalist Muslim group. A country incredibly rich in oil, with a wealthy elite that does little to improve the lot of its citizens, and which rules with brutal and repressive force. The West, lured by the attraction of untold wealth, is more than happy to put all its basic principles aside and ignore human rights issues, instead doing everything it can to trade with and prop up this regime. Eventually some of the people of this country get so fed up with the corruption they turn to Islamic Fundamentalism, and their hatred of their government transfers into hatred of the Western Governments that support it. The country of course is Saudi Arabia, and the group is Al Quaeda.
Now no-one can support rape, murder, torture, kidnappings and all the other dreadful aspects of extreme religious fundamentalism. But it is also incredibly naive to think that all those things exist in isolation, are simply the product of a few evil minds, or spring spontaneously out of nothing. If you treat people badly they will become desperate, and will eventually start behaving badly themselves. They will then target anyone they hold responsible for their lot, and unfortunately the West is knee-deep in the corruption and brutality that they are forced to endure. Which takes us all the way back to Free-Market Capitalism. Our behaviour in those regions is the result of a blind belief in the power of the ‘market’ and the lure of profit. Human rights have no value in such a system and so are ignored wherever possible. The end result is 276 innocent girls being kidnapped – and until we in the West can see the extent to which we and our economic systems are complicit in such behaviour, atrocities like that will continue to plague us all.
*Refs: Poverty: http://www.nigeriancurrent.com/ck88-news/poverty-is-cause-of-insurgency-in-yobe-borno-senator-lawan Police Brutality: http://saharareporters.com/press-release/increasing-spates-police-killings-brutality-and-abusenigerian-government-must-end-impu Environmental Damage: http://www.globalissues.org/article/86/nigeria-and-oil