Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Brecher on Boko Haram

The number of people who write interesting, nuanced pieces on Islam is shockingly low. Either all Muslims are crazy, or all Muslims are peace-loving, but it's got to be one of the two. More importantly, to the extent that anyone resiles from this position, it's as a wholly dishonest token ass-covering method that simply emphasises by comparison the main sentiment. In other words, you'll read either 'Of course, not all Muslims are crazy terrorists, but [implicitly they are nearly all terrorists]', or 'Of course, there are a tiny number of Muslim terrorist fanatics, but [implicitly they are nearly all peace-loving]'.

If you want to test whether a given piece has any nuance, you can check whether it makes any attempt to distinguish between different groups of Muslims. In other words, if there are 'a tiny number of terrorist fanatics', to me it seems mightily interesting as to how we might diagnose which ones are which. Bangladesh, for instance, produces relatively few jihadis. Neither does Turkey. Saudi Arabia and Yemen, however, produce quite a lot. But how often do you hear about that distinction? Or how we should set policy as a consequence?

Gary Brecher, however, is one of the best sources of actually informed, disinterested commentary on the subject. The standard problem, as he puts it, is thus:
A few days ago, a suicide bomber got on a luxury commuter bus in Northern Nigeria and blew himself up, along with 60 people who were heading home from work.
It didn’t get much publicity. African casualties rarely do, especially when there’s a depressing religious angle. The suicide bomber came from the Northern Nigerian Islamist group “Boko Haram.” The name is interesting: “Boko” comes from the English word “book,” as pronounced by the Hausa, the biggest northern ethnic group. “Haram” (“forbidden”) is an Arabic word, the Wahhabis’ favorite word of all. When people talk about “Northern Nigeria” they mean “Muslim Nigeria.” There are three big divisions in the country: The Muslim/Hausa North, the Christian/Igbo South, and the Yoruba West. (The Yoruba are the only big group that’s mixed, with Christians and Muslims). Boko Haram blew up those buses because the people on them were going to an Igbo/Christian neighborhood of Kano, a Muslim/Northern city.
That’s already more than most squeamish Westerners want to know. “Ah, it’s religious…” is about all they need to hear before settling back into their comfy stances. Conservatives figure it’s just one more proof that all Muslims are crazy. The left mumbles “Islamophobia” and tries to change the subject to Palestine. So from left to right on your radio dial, there’s not a lot of what my social-studies teacher called “hunger for knowledge.”
 I challenge you to argue that he's wrong.

Here's his latest piece, describing the disingenuousness of people who are suddenly interested in Boko Haram as a way of distracting attention from Charlie Hedbo.

It's awesome. Read the whole thing.

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